Best-of-Class Toolkit for
Virtual Learning and Collaboration

What should such a kit include?

Only the best!

Virtual teamwork and online teaching are true crafts. Every great craftsperson needs a good toolkit.
     After many years of researching the best of the best communications and learning technologies we have created a recommended toolkit for getting these jobs done and doing them right.
     Further down the page, you will find brief descriptions of several specific brands of tool. But before you jump there, check out our thoughts about what ought to be in such a toolkit, regardless of brand. Watch for links to specific brands and click on any of the brand names you see to read more. These are the generic categories that will make your life easier, whether building and teaching an online course or planning, hosting and facilitating online meetings and events.

We continuously monitors the evolution and development of technology solutions for teamwork, meetings, and learning, looking for the best of breed among all the products on the market. It's a rare day when we endorse any product. To date, only a handful have made the cut. Each one has features that set it apart. We use these products ourselves and support them willingly with our own approach to making IT investments payoff.

The products described on this page are the ones we use ourselves and recommend to our clients. For the handful that we feel strongeest about, we have developed special focused training programs. You can identify these by looking for this icon: Koosh ball

First, we have organized our generic reccommendations into two categories: content creation and content delivery. Then we have provided an annotated list of specific brand products below that.

Content Creation: Authoring and Editing

    Content Editing: Classical Mid-20th Century Typewriter. They didn't even have white out.
  • Start with a basic text editor that will allow you two or three different ways to view a web page:
    • view and edit source code
    • preview in browser
    • WYSIWYG edit

    Being able to view the source code and make changes gives you the most control over the final look and function of your pages.
          The preview allows you to see what it would look like in a browser.
         WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) is like preview except that it also allows you to make edit changes. (We use Homesite, NVU and Kompozer as our in-house standards—mostly Homesite).

  • An image creating, editing and archiving tool. (Koosh ball SmartDraw is a great image editing tool with compound clip art so you can take pieces apart and make your own images. Picasa is among the top free editors in this category.).

  • A library of clip art and photographs for creating high quality visuals for use in Web pages or PowerPoint presentations. There are numerous sources of clip art. (iStockphoto is a popular one, for which you can often find discounts or free sample coupons. If you pick up a copy of SmartDraw, it has one of the biggest clip art libraries built in.)

  • A web-page capture tool with a way to capture images, text, and mouse movements from a computer screen and to add annotations, hot spots and voice-over narration. (See Koosh ball SnagIt below).

  • A PowerPoint recording tool to capture live presentations for later, on-demand playback that integrates the slides with narration and a picture-in-picture video of the instructor. (Apple's iMovie is arguably the most consumer friendly. Windows MovieMaker is also good. Each of them is frequenlty bundled with new PCs. You can find an older, free, open-source tool called CamStudio online, though it is no longer in development. Adobe Premier is popular, but complicated and expensive. We recommend the very capable and reasonably priced Koosh ball Camtasia Suite from Techsmith.

  • A PowerPoint compression tool to compress the size of large PowerPoint presentations so that people with slow connections can still view them without a loss of text features, animation, and other effects. (See Impatica for PowerPoint and Koosh ball PowerPoint to Flash below).

  • A web page building tool that is easy to learn, easy to use and doesn't require you to learn a programming language. Then you can assemble web pages from existing text, images and other media files. Your resultant web pages should be standards based so that they easily integrate with any standards compliant course-management or learning-management software. (See Koosh ball LessonBuilder and ReadyGo Web Course Builder below).

  • A web-based document authoring tool that makes it easy to jointly author and annotate documents. (The standard for collaborative authoris is Adobe PDF. See below. But Google Docs is rapidly becoming a useful tool for this and it's free.).

  • One or more brainstorming/concept mapping tools. (See Inspiration; FreeMind, which is free, and Mind Manager below).

  • Robust blogging and wiki software. (See WordPress and MediaWiki below).

  • Audio editing software for creating soundtracks, voice overs and audio podcasts. (See Audacity with LAME and WinAmp below).

  • There are many other specialized tools that you might want, depending upon your circumstances, such as a file compression utility (think 7Zip or WinZip for windows, MacZip or Zipit for Macs) or file transfer software (FTP. Think FileZilla for Windows or Fetch for Macs). below).

Content Delivery

    Content Delivery: Early 20th Century Car. They had to get out and crank.
  • An online "space" to support group learning and team work across distance or time zones. (See Koosh ball Moodle below).
  • A real-time, virtual classroom for "same time, any place" meetings. (See Koosh ball Elluminate Live! for Mac, Windows, Linux or Solaris or GoToMeeting for Windows only below).
  • Desktop video conferencing that is very basic and cheap and easy to learn and use. (See below).

As we said above, it's a rare day when FutureU endorses any product. To date, only the few described below have made the cut. Each one has features that set it apart. Each one gets our vote for being easy to learn and easy to use or a best-buy value. You may not know them all by name. Not yet. But, you can be sure that if a product appears on this list, it deserves a place in your future.

By itself, of course, even the best technology won’t guarantee success with distance education or virtual communication. Other essential ingredients are:

  1. A current understanding of the technology marketplace
  2. Careful planning
  3. Accurate needs and readiness assessments
  4. Participant buy-in
  5. Training in technology skills and best practices
  6. Superior content
  7. Skilled facilitation
  8. Professional evaluation

This is a fast-changing market. To avoid costly wrong turns, organizations as diverse as the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the California Virtual Campus have turned to FutureU for help in identifying the right solutions for their needs.

In addition to our tool kit of best-of-breed technology, FutureU delivers value-added services that address these markers of success. Our analysts, consultants, instructional designers, researchers and trainers are all seasoned professionals with national and international reputations. FutureU is here to help you identify and choose the most appropriate technology for your needs and to bring maximum value to that investment.

Recommendations

A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

SmartDraw

Image library & drawing tool for charts, graphs, images, and PowerPoint.

"Best Business Program 1995, 1997, 2002" from the Shareware Industry Awards.

Download Free Trial.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

Picasa

Google's photo organizer. Lets you locate and organize all the photos on your computer, edit and add effects with a few clicks, and share your photos with others through email, prints, and on the web. It's easy to use and free.

March 2005 5-Stars-Award from CHIP Online.

January 2005 "Editor's Choice Award" from PC Magazine.

Digital Imaging Marketing award "2005 Innovative Product Award."

Download Free Trial.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

SoftChalk's Lesson Builder

Cut and Paste from any "office suite" application and generate course pages with built in navigation. Add learning activities or media clips. Integrates easily with Angel, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, WebCT or any other SCORM compliant virtual learning environment.


Named a winner in the prestigious Technology and Learning magazine 2005 "Awards of Excellence" program.

Download Free Trial.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

ReadyGo Web Course Builder

Easy to learn, easy to use, template driven course content authoring tool. Integrates with most learning management systems including Avilar, Claroline, Click2Learn, Docent, GeoMetrix, Hospital U, ILIAS, KMS-inc, Knowledge Planet, LearnFrame, MaxIT, MeridianKSI, Moodle, OnTrack, Oracle, Pathlore, PeopleSoft, Plateau, Questionmark, Saba, Sun, Track-ED by MRT Multimedia, Test Track, THINQ, and Ynot Learn


Virtual Pedagogue: Wins 2006 "UK National Training Award" using ReadyGo in a blended learning solution.

Download Free Trial.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

Impatica for PowerPoint

PowerPoint file compression utility. Make your presentations more accessible to viewers on the Internet.

Winner of 2004 Brandon-Hall "PowerPoint to E-Learning Shootout" for Ease of Use.

Download Free Trial.

DreamingSoft's PowerPoint to Flash

Instantly convert any set of PowerPoint slides to Flash slides. Cheap, fast, easy to use.

A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

TechSmith's SnagIt

The leader in PC screen capture.

PC Magazine "Editors' Choice Award" for three years running.

Download Free Trial.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

Techsmith's Camtasia Suite

Easily turn your live PowerPoint presentation into a Flash movie complete with audio narration and talking head video window.

Winner of Technology & Learning magazine's 2005 Award of Excellence.

Download Free Trial.

A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

Inspiration

Brainstorming and Creative Learning Tool.

Winner of 2005 Codie Award for "Best Education Technology Solution for Productivity/Creativity" presented by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA)."

Download a Free Trial.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

FileZilla

An open source FTP software. Every bit as powerful and easy to use as WS-FTP, CuteFTP or any other commercial package...and it's free.

SourceForge.Net 2006 People's Choice Award winner.

Download.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

FreeMind

Open-source mind-mapping and brainstorming tool.

"Soft32.com Editor's Pick and a finalist in the SourceForge 2008 Community Choice Awards for "Best Project"

Download a Free Trial.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

MindManager

A commercially licensed product with lots of bells and whistles. This is the product leader in the mind mapping market niche.

Intranet Journal's Document Management/Collaboration Product of the Year for 2008.

Download Trial.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

WordPress

Arguably the best blogging software available. WordPress.Com offers free hosting as does EduBlogs.Org. If you want full control over your WordPress installation, several ISPs offer hosting. We like SiteGround.com for its relatively quick email-based support and the fact that they will install WordPress for you. If you've already got a blog and find that you like WordPress, there are utilities to import files from Movable Type, Textpattern, Greymatter, Blogger, and B2.

Winner of the 2007 PackT Publishing Awards for "Overall Open Source Content Management System" and "Best Open Source Social Networking Content Management System"
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

MediaWiki

This is the free, open source wiki platform that WikiPedia, Peanut Butter Wiki, and a host of other wikis run on. Hosting is offered by several ISPs. We like SiteGround.com for its relatively quick email-based support and the fact that they will install MediaWiki for you. Instructions for how to install MediaWiki yourself on a GoDaddy Linux hosted domain can be found at Eric Hartwell's InfoDabble.

Winner of the 2007 Intranet Journal's "Product of the Year" contest for "Best Wiki Software."
 
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

Audacity with LAME MP3 Encoder

For recording multiple audio tracks and saving them as a single MP3 file for podcasts or as sound tracks for a Camtasia production.

When used together, these two open source packages give you as much audio editing capability as the most expensive commercial software.

Winner of the SourceForge.Net 2007 Community Choice Awards for "Best Project for Multimedia."
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

WinAmp

A free audio player.

It loads a lot faster than I-Tunes or Windows Media Player, so you save a lot of time when you're sorting through files trying to find that one that you know has the perfect sound byte in it.

Winner of the 2002 Shareware Industry Association's "People's Choice Awards" for "Best Sound Program or Utility."

Download.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

Elluminate Live!

Full-featured, real-time Web conferencing from anywhere.

Winner of HR Executive Magazine's "Top Training Products of 2006."
Winner of "2005 Live Online Award" (LOLA) for the "Most Meaningful New Feature in a Synchronous Product."
Winner of Technology & Learning magazine's 2005 "Award of Excellence".
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

GoToMeeting

Easy to learn, easy to use, key-featured, Windows only web conferencing.

Winner of PC Magazine "Editors' Choice Award" two years running.

Sign Up for Free Trial.
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

I-Visit Video Conferencing.

Full-featured, real-time Web conferencing from anywhere.

Winner of HR Executive Magazine's "Top Training Products of 2006."
Winner of "2005 Live Online Award" (LOLA) for the "Most Meaningful New Feature in a Synchronous Product."
Winner of Technology & Learning magazine's 2005 "Award of Excellence".
A FutureU Blue-Ribbon Winner!

Moodle

Provides online course space with many learning tools and activity builders. Arguably the best course management software available. At the time of this writing (2010) there are more than 50,000 registered Moodle sites hosting nearly 4 million courses and 37 million users. (See http://moodle.org/stats/ for current information).

Widely distributed as part of the Fantastico collection of self-installable software in the C-Panel website management tool. Ask your ISP if you have C-Panel and Fantastico and you can very cheaply setup your own Moodle version (no support from most ISPs though...so you also have to join the very active Moodle community at moodle.org.)

We have used SiteGround.com and like it for for its relatively quick email-based support and the fact that they will install Moodle for free and give you basic Moodle support for an additional fee. Siteground is not a "certified" Moodle partner but if you're not trying to go beyond the basic Moodle feature set, there isn't really much that needs supporting.

If you need certified commercial support, Moodle also has many official partners around the world who charge a fee to install, support or customize the software.

Visit Moodle.Com for more information.

Winner in 2007 of eLearning Guild's Platinum Awards as best learning management system in both the education and business sectors in the category of "Satisfaction."

Sign Up for Free Trial.
Winner in 2008 of Best Learning Platform Repository Integration and Best Interoperability innovation from Global Learning Impact Awards of the IMS Global Learning Consortium.
Martin Dougiamas, Moodle's founder and lead developer, won the award of Best Education Enabler at the 2008 Google-O'Reilly Open Source Awards


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About our Software Guru

Fifteen years before the Internet became a household word, FutureU co-founder Claude Whitmyer was already writing a software column for workplace publications. Claude knows software! Today he heads up FutureU's technology tool evaluation team, applying his 30+ years of experience to the ongoing search for best of breed in software (and hardware) for virtual communication and learning.