Tools of the Trade: July 2020

The latest resources, products, and tools for educators.
Tools of the Trade


In April, the online test proctoring company ProctorU released a Student Bill of Rights for Remote and Digital Work. Drafted with the help of faculty and academic leaders, the document outlines an approach to academic honesty, privacy, and data security for students pursuing online education and assessments. It also presents the rights that students can expect regarding submission of online assessments, data tracking and storage procedures, fairness, and privacy.

The document outlines four rights for students and three expectations that everyone in online learning communities should uphold. These include students’ right to have their questions answered, to review and understand policies protecting their work, to review and understand policies that protect them from being disadvantaged by the misconduct of others, and to understand why data is collected and whether it’s disseminated. The list also includes the expectation that students will submit accurate and honest work, that their online programs are compliant with laws and regulations related to student privacy and student data, and that data collection will be specific and limited.

“All students, online and otherwise, should expect that there are set policies for integrity and privacy and that those policies are designed and used to protect their work, the value of their learning, and their privacy,” says Scott McFarland, CEO of ProctorU. “But more than that, students should be able to see those policies, understand them, and make good decisions. It all starts with open and clear communication.” 


The learning platform Top Hat has launched Top Hat Basic, a free version of its service. A limited number of professors have been testing a beta version this summer, before it becomes more widely available in the fall. The platform will enable professors to stream live lectures, record lectures, present and edit slides, host live chats, administer polls and quizzes, and take attendance.

Top Hat Basic also can produce analytics such as a weekly course report that helps professors identify students who might need interventions.

The all-in-one teaching platform is intended to help professors more easily teach the same course both online and in-person, in ways that might address student complaints about poor online instruction. Students were more forgiving of professors’ efforts to move courses online abruptly in an emergency scenario, but “they’ll be expecting professors and institutions to get it right, especially if classes will be taught online. Students in a remote setting want to feel truly connected to their professors,” says Mike Silagadze, Top Hat’s founder and CEO.

The company offers a more robust version of the platform, Top Hat Pro, which includes everything in the basic version plus options such as embedded readings and assignments, auto-grading, and the ability to export grades to learning management systems. The upper-level option is available for US$30 per student per course.


In November, the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center (FSBC) at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany launched the Frankfurt School Blockchain Academy. Delivered in cooperation with the educational platform BTC-ECHO, the Academy’s ten modular online courses will explore topics such as blockchain basics, cryptocurrency, cryptography, and regulation. Each course costs €139 (approximately US$158).

These courses are intended to support and accelerate Germany’s national blockchain strategy, explain Philipp Sandner, center director, and Stefan Schmitt, center project manager, in a November 2019 blog post on “We are stepping on the gas pedal [to push] ahead with digitization by making clever minds even smarter,” they write. “Education is always the basis for innovation.” 


Foundry College—which provides live, face-to-face classes in an online environment—has begun offering its learning management technology platform as a managed service to educational institutions. The platform, called the Forge, engages students in active learning, provides faculty with real-time data, and facilitates a sense of community. A scrolling video grid allows all students to be seen on video and to engage with the professor by raising their hands, answering questions in the in-class chat window, or answering polls. Faculty can also “spotlight” students, moving them into position to address the full class.

The Forge can create breakout rooms of between two and eight students, using data to group them by comparable abilities, if that’s desirable. Within the breakout groups, students can engage in debates, role playing, and other types of experiential learning. Faculty can monitor breakout groups to see who is participating and can interact with groups to provide guidance or make announcements.

Contact [email protected] for more information.


Prendo Simulations offers six simulations to train students to become better decision makers, particularly as they navigate complex challenges such as leading change and managing wide-reaching projects. The facilitated simulation workshops can be run as standalone events or integrated into existing programs; they can be used by teams or individuals, virtually or face-to-face. For example, the “Kerovka” simulation, developed in collaboration with Witold Henisz of the University of Pennsylvania and Daniel Diermeier of Northwestern University, focuses on corporate diplomacy. The company’s “Pactio” simulation helps students fine-tune their stakeholder management skills.

According to Alastair Giffin, co-founder of the company. “Simulations provide intense, engaging, and transparent experiences, and people remember experiences better than theory or frameworks.” 


Circa Health, a new digital mental health support platform, was made available in April to higher ed institutions free of charge. The effort is a collaboration between Mindful Labs, a Colorado-based digital health company, and Circa Interactive, a California-based higher education digital marketing agency. The platform can be branded according to each university, and its content can be tailored to address the needs of different populations. Users can access tools to help overcome test performance anxiety, navigate life changes, or develop mental resilience; these tools include guided meditations and mindfulness content; unlimited chat and text support; and a telehealth option that connects students with clinicians. The platform can be integrated into learning management systems, so that schools can better track how specific interventions affect student performance.


EdSights, an edtech company focused on student retention and wellness, has created a new chatbot powered by machine learning. The chatbot can send text messages to students asking how they’re feeling about upcoming tests or how well they’re balancing coursework with full-time jobs. By analyzing students’ responses, the tool can uncover situations that might increase students’ drop-out risk and suggest interventions that improve student retention.

Schools are encouraged to name the chatbot after their mascots and introduce it to incoming freshmen. In one pilot program, a school saw a 12 percent increase in retention from freshman to sophomore year by implementing the chatbot program.