The (Open) Online Tools We Use–and Why You Should Too!

What’s the point of using online tools if your goal is a student-led, engaged learning course?  Tech for the sake of tech is ludicrous, expensive, and exploitative.  For me, the only reason to use a digital tool is to do something that would be impossible or difficult without it.   In our course, we use digital tools to facilitate interactions outside of the classroom that are student-to-student rather than one-way communication through the prof.  Another purpose is to make as much of our knowledge a public contribution as possible (for example, this blog).   A final reason is to model good digital praxis that one can apply to other areas of one’s life (i.e. how much does it cost? what is required for access?  how is one’s data being used?)

So in “Black Listed” use three digital tools that serve facilitate interactions outside the classroom, plus an array of online digital resources–archives, open educational resources, and all the rest.

First and foremost, it’s important to use free tools, open source, and ones that have responsible data policies.   That’s mainly as a Group for public work and a Word Press site for more of our internally blogging.  (Full disclosure: we also use Google docs for syllabi, agendas, and collaborative note taking and no one would say Google is great about our data but  . . . well . . . Google is pretty inescapable.

Online conversations and engaged pedagogy

In this class, “Black Listed,” we emphasize active learning and student-led pedagogy, where the intellectual action is not just “student performing to profs’ expectations” but also student-to-student intellectual interchange.   One commentator has recently noted that much of education, K-graduate school, is about “learning helplessness,” which is another way of saying it is about subjugating learning to evaluation, to doing something one’s prof things is excellent.  Active, engaged, radical pedagogy is about learning–in all the ways that learning works.

Online tools aren’t necessary but they are useful for student-to-student and student-to-public communication.  However, much proprietary educational software is (a) expensive and (b) really about surveillance not communication and egalitarian interchange.   So, no Blackboard in this course.  Instead we will use three online tools (and others too, such as the Equality Archive, should students wish.)

Anyone can make a HASTAC Group

Anyone who registers to can also create a Group–for a class, for a project, for an event.  Anyone else registered to the Group can post there.  You can mark posts “private” (visible only to your Group) or “public” (visible to anyone, whether they are registered to HASTAC or not.


(Adapted from our “Black Listed”  Syllabus):

Much of the activity of the course will be made public on a course website and in a “group” made for our course as part of the network. Students will be expected to learn minimal digital literacy skills as part of the contribution to public knowledge that is at aim in the course.

 We will use three online tools for this course:

(1) A shared Google Doc for weekly agendas and assignments and collaborative note-taking (you will need a link to contribute)

(2) a class Black Listed WordPress website

You need to register, be approved, and be logged in to post or comment or to see “Private” blogs.  One week you will comment on the readings or assignment (approx 400 words); the following week you will write a brief comment (approx 100 words) on each of your classmates’ blogs.

(3) HASTAC “Black Listed” Group on the public social network

You need to be registered, be approved, and be logged in to post or comment or to see “Private” blogs. This site is not just for our course.  Any HASTAC member can sign up and join our Group.  Anyone can join HASTAC by registering (it’s free; data is never misused) and observing community respect rules.  They can even add content to the site and they can see public and private posts.   Anyone anywhere can create a class Group on

This site connects you to the 16,000 person HASTAC social network.  You can list your posts on your CV as non-. peer reviewed online publications and people will be able to go and read your work.  It’s almost like a portfolio, since your registration page will list all of your contributions. 

This should be your most finished, professional work.  You can also use this to fill out resources for others, posting your Group recaps here, links to published work, bibliography, and other items of interest to a larger public.