All posts by Derek Embry

6 Companies Crowdsourcing Our Education

Whether we realize it or not, most of us help contribute to crowdsourced companies every day. It’s as simple as creating a profile on Twitter and sending a tweet, picture, or link; whatever the content, you have just successfully contributed to Twitter’s business. Youtube did nothing except provide the framework for other users to submit original videos and now it’s among the top 5 most popular websites in the world.

Now, companies like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Threadless, and 99Designs are allowing the crowd to provide the product and the money (99designs, a web company that hosts virtual competitions for designers to compete for contracts released this awesome infographic showing the impact of crowdsourcing).

Crowdsourced companies all have something in common: they have given control of the product and the result to you, the users. They’ve given us a chance to do something like this guy: Starting a Movement.

It’s not a new phenomenon, but crowdsourcing education has been making moves recently. New Education 2.0 sites are popping up all over the place and it seems like the education industry is finally starting to accept the migration to the web. Here are six examples of awesome online education sites that encourage you to be the teacher.

  • Course Hero

Google is a life-saver for a lot of things, but often times it’s not quite so helpful when searching for high quality learning content. That’s where Course Hero comes in. Course Hero lets students easily search through a vast database of academic documents, flashcards, and even fully online courses to help make education and studying easier – all created or uploaded by other students.

  • Sophia

Supported by Capella University, Sophia provides a service that reminds us of Udemy. Sophia lets users create lessons using all kinds of media to help other users learn. “Pathways” organize these lessons into units that resemble a college course. Other users, including Sophia staff, review and rate each lesson to ensure its educational value.

  • Duolingo

How did Wikipedia translate so many articles into different languages? The Wikipedia team asked you to do it for them. Same with Facebook. Now, Duolingo is giving you the chance to translate the web and learn a new language for free. Duolingo matches users with sentences from the web in the language they want to learn, but at their level of fluency, to be translated. While you translate, Duolingo’s system can help if you get stuck on a word — teaching you the language at the same time.

  • MentorMob

MentorMob takes a new approach to online learning in a way that is actually very simple. In this case, users don’t actually create the educational content. Instead, users help other users find the content by making “playlists” of websites, articles, videos, and other resources that are already on the web.


  • Lynda

Ok, so Lynda has been around for a while, but it’s more popular now than ever. Lynda has a vast selection of professionally made tutorial videos. The tutorials are created by experts in their fields, so you know that you’re learning the best stuff. Many universities throughout the country have also adopted Lynda’s academic platform that gives students free access to the videos. If you are an expert and you want to teach a course, all you have to do is reach out to the Lynda team.

  • Knowmia

You’ve heard of Khan Academy and other video-based educational services, and Knowmia adds an exciting new name to the bunch.  This brand-new startup boasts more than 7,000 video lessons with more showing up daily.  The videos come from real teachers all around the country, and are easily searchable from a large search bar at the top of the page.  Plus, Knowmia isn’t just about videos — they’ve already got a free iPad app for teachers and are working on web tools that will allow teachers to implement a flipped classroom and even share video lessons with other instructors.

It’s now easier than ever to start learning what you’ve always been interested in and never had the chance to explore. Take advantage of these tools and the others that we’ve talked about and dive right in. There’s no end to education!  You don’t have to be a student to learn, and you don’t have to be a teacher to teach.

Tips for PowerPoint – 5 Time-Saving Techniques for Killer Presentations

Creative destruction is a term that I’m sure all of us have heard by now. We’ve all contributed to it whether or not we’re even aware of it. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I made a presentation with poster boards?” My answer: the 8th grade science fair. Like you, I quickly discarded the plain poster board for the much more impressive Microsoft PowerPoint software. Now, poster boards don’t even cross my mind; PowerPoint is essentially synonymous with presentation.

So what makes PowerPoint so awesome? Simply put, it gives you—the presenter—seemingly limitless freedom and opens up all kinds of opportunities for creativity when it comes to presentations. But, many of us frequently fall into the trap of relying on the standard black text and white background format. For presentations that truly stand out, consider the following often-neglected features:

1. The Slide Master:

What it is: Adding a pre-set theme to your presentation is a really easy way to make your slides much more appealing to your audience. Don’t like any of the themes available or want to personalize one a bit more? To save a whole lot of time, simply make changes to the Slide Master.

Why you use it: All changes to the slide master will be made to each slide in the presentation until another Slide Master is inserted. Each presentation has at least one Slide Master by default.

How to find it: To access the Slide Master, click on the View tab in the ribbon (Mac users, click on “Edit Master” in the Themes tab).

2. Action Buttons

What they are: If you’re sick of the plain “left and right” association of slides in a presentation, try experimenting with the underutilized Action Button feature. An Action Button is essentially a hyperlink that can be applied to any object (including a text box) that you insert into a slide.

Why you use them: You can link to any slide in your presentation, a web page, even an entirely different file on your computer by using Action Buttons.

How to find them: To format an object as an action button, click on “Action” in the Link section of the Format tab. Or, you can simply insert an Action Button object which can be found under Shapes in the Insert tab. (Mac users, click on “Action Buttons” in the Shapes menu under the Insert section in the Home tab).

3. Quick Access Toolbar

What it is: Ever wonder why the Save, Undo, and Redo buttons in the top-left hand corner of the screen are separated? That area is called the Quick Access Toolbar and you can actually change it by adding more shortcuts to save time.

Why you use it: By default, the quick access toolbar provides shortcuts to the most common features in PowerPoint – Save, Undo, and Redo. However, you can customize the toolbar and add almost any feature in PowerPoint as a shortcut.

How to use it: If you want to add a feature to the toolbar, all you have to do is right-click anything in the ribbon (tabs, sections, even fonts) and select “Add to Quick Access Toolbar”. Consider adding the Slide Master and Action Button functions for faster editing. (Bonus—you can also learn the keyboard shortcuts so you don’t have to use the toolbar at all.)

4. Quick Styles

What they are: To keep the audience’s attention, you probably don’t want to go with the simple black and white text that you find in a Word document. But don’t waste time looking through all the font colors and shape effects that are in the Drawing Tools tab when you click on a text object. You can add a pre-set design to your text box by clicking one of the Quick Styles.

Why you use them: Try adding one of these to your Titles and Headings to give them an extra aesthetic boost that the audience will appreciate.

How to find them: You can choose a Quick Style by navigating to the Drawing section of the Home tab.

5. Insert Excel Spreadsheets

What it is: You’ve spent time and effort making an incredibly impressive Excel spreadsheet using all sorts of formulas that you can’t use in other programs. Now you want to present your results in PowerPoint and you’re about to type all that information into a new table object. Pump the brakes, there’s a much easier answer—you can just insert your Excel spreadsheet directly into a slide.

Why you use it: PowerPoint easily allows you to insert your awesome spreadsheet into your presentation. This saves you the time and effort of having to re-create your spreadsheet using PowerPoint’s formatting. Using this feature allows you to access all the toolbars and functions of Excel without loading the software. If you know that you’re going to be presenting spreadsheets in PowerPoint often, you can actually make your Excel spreadsheet right in PowerPoint by starting with a blank table.

How to use it: Just navigate to the Insert tab and under the Table menu, click on “Excel Spreadsheet”. This creates an Excel object and opens the Excel toolbar in addition to the PowerPoint toolbars. All you have to do from here is copy the information in your original spreadsheet in Excel and paste it into the cells of the object on the slide.


Familiarize yourself with these time-saving PowerPoint tricks and you’ll be a master presenter in no time! Try our PowerPoint test and see what you already know.


Adaptive Learning: Improving Education Through Technology

Thanks to improving technologies of online education, we are continuously reminded that the classic chalkboard and textbook style of education is no longer going to meet the needs of all students. Though the education industry is rapidly evolving, there are still problems left unanswered. Big problems, as Jose Ferreira puts it. Ferreira is the founder and CEO of Knewton, an online adaptive learning platform for students across the globe. Adaptive learning, the idea that teaching should be tailored to each student’s needs, is now becoming an education standard.

In an interview with Mashable, Ferreira talks about the history of Knewton, its vision and end goal, in addition to the role of gamification in learning. Knewton uses a point and badge system to reward students for achievements while encouraging them to continue learning. Here’s some of what Ferreira said about gaming in education:

We can also trick you into working harder with a game-like interface. We have points and badges, which we use as “microrewards.” Adaptive learning will optimize every minute you give us. Adaptive engagement is a way to trick you into giving us more of your time to hit more material and learn more concepts, because we can measure your engagement. We’re going to constantly tease with “Oh, you’re so close, keep going, great job,” to keep the student engaged.

Read the full interview with Jose Ferreira on Mashable here: Adaptive Learning: Why Your Kids Will Be Smarter Than You | Lauren Drell

Today’s Online Learning Options: 5 Things to Know

With new services popping up all the time for those of us who desire to learn more, online education is no longer a novel idea, but rather an industry of innovation. Education 2.0 is now giving us opportunities to extend our knowledge, especially as it is becoming more apparent that jobs for graduates are harder to find. But with all the different online services out there, how can you know which ones to trust to give you a high-level learning experience like that of a classroom?

Edudemic, an online magazine focused on education, and STIZZiL, an online tutoring platform, both agree that there are certain criteria that are crucial to positive learning experiences. STIZZiL suggests evaluating any online learning platform on the following 5 components:

  • Human Guidance—to what degree can you interact with instructors and students?
  • Pedagogical Expertise—do instructors know the subject matter and effective ways to engage students?
  • Real-time Interaction—can you communicate in real time with your classmates?
  • Personalization of Content—will your curriculum fit your learning style?
  • Innovative Use of Technology—are instructors using technology to their advantage?
Read the full article here: 5 Things to Know About Today’s Online Learning Options | Terry Heick