The Best Tech Tools for Getting Students to Think Critically

March 15, 2017

Technology is a great way to get students to engage in higher-order thinking, if the right tools are used.

I recently wrote a post titled 10 Skills All Students Need to Be Successful, followed by a post titled How to Get Students to Engage in Higher-Order Thinking. The first post discusses the skills which we need to help students develop. The second post suggests concepts and strategies which educators can use to help students acquire these skills.  

In this third post, my goal is to share some of the best technology tools, software, and applications for helping engage students using these strategies.

I believe the most effective way to help students develop skills they’ll need to be successful, is to engage them in higher-order thinking. Instead of assessing students by having them read, take notes and regurgitate facts on multiple choice tests, get them to apply the information and concepts.  Empower them to analyze, create and critique projects for authentic audiences.  

Some of the best ways to accomplish this using technology, through the use of video and audio software, screen capture, web design, blogging and social media. In this post, I want to share some of my favorite tech tools for accomplishing this.

Video Tools

One of the best ways to engage students in higher-order-thinking is to have them apply the information they learned by creating videos. As the instructor, this is a great way to assess how well your students truly understand the information and concepts you are teaching. Doing this will also help students develop important technical and critical thinking skills along the way.  

Have students create a mini-documentary, awareness video or flipped class in which they explain a specific topic. Also consider having students record a presentation, or capture a screencast, and add elements to the video.  

The following are some of my favorite tools for accomplishing this:

  • Camtasia: A powerful, yet easy-to-use, video editing program. This program isn’t free, but I don’t feel there are free or cheaper options that can compete with this tool.

  • PowToons: It allows students to create animated videos and presentations. Free to use with an option to upgrade.

  • Snagit: A tool that allows users to capture their screen and add narration over their video.

  • ViewedIt, Screencastify and Screencast-o-matic: Three free screen capture tools that also work well. They’re not as powerful as Snagit, but they are still great tools.

  • YouTube: Once students have created videos, empower them to share them with an authentic audience. YouTube is a free video hosting site which allows you to share videos, customize privacy settings, track analytics and more.

  • Office MixThis is a PowerPoint add-on that allows you to record presentations, then edit them and add interactive components.

Audio Tools

Another great way to engage students in higher-order thinking while having them develop important technical skills is by using audio tools. This is a great way to have students work on their speaking skills while applying information and concepts they are learning. Consider having students record audio answers to essay questions or have them create a short podcast to discuss concepts in your class, for example.

These are a few audio tools I suggest:

  • Audacity: An open source, digital audio editor. Audacity is an example of a tech tool that seems too good to be true. It’s free, it’s easy-to-use and it’s incredibly powerful. Students can use this to create podcasts, record music, record and edit answers to essays, and more.

  • Microphones: Usually the audio on a computer or smartphone mic is of low quality. Investing in some quality microphones can make a big difference. There are some, such as the Rode SmartLav+, which connect with smartphones to provide improved audio. Other options include purchasing a handheld recorder, such as the Zoom H1 or investing in a microphone to connect to your computer. An example of a low-cost microphone that will upgrade the audio quality when using a computer is the Samson Go Mic, which connects via USB.

  • Spreaker: If you want students to be able to share their work with an authentic audience, check out a podcast platform, such as Spreaker. It’s a free platform, with the ability to upgrade.

Web Creation

Another way to have students apply their learning is by creating digital content. This also helps students develop important design-thinking skills. You could do this by having students create a website, a digital tutorial, a blog or other digital elements.  

Here are a few recommended tools:

  • Canva: This is an awesome and free tool for creating digital content. Students can use this to create elements for social media, blogs, websites and more.

  • Wix, Google Sites and Weebly: These are all platforms that allows users to create websites. These are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) that do not require users to be able to know computer programming, so they make website creation easy by allowing users to drag-and-drop elements to customize them. Google Sites and Weebly for education are free options, but can be somewhat limited in functionality and customization. Wix is a site that does cost money but allows for more functionality.

  • Microsoft Sway: A free digital storytelling application that allows students to create interactive content. This is a great tool for having students create digital tutorials, which they can share with others.

  • WordPress: Another great tool for creating highly customizable blogs and websites. WordPress is more difficult to use than some of the WYSIWYG programs, but it’s a wonderful skill for students to learn. Challenge students who have more knowledge about computer programming and website design to use WordPress.


This is a tremendous way to have your students apply their learning, while practicing their writing and communication skills. Rather than having students write papers and reflections, and submit them to the teacher through email or by handing them in, have them blog.  

This provides a great way to teach students how to write in ways that capture people’s attention and is easy to understand. Most blogging sites will allow you to customize the privacy settings so they can share it with the instructor, the whole class, or the world! So you can utilize blogging as a way for students to share their work and receive peer feedback.

Here are a few recommended blogging platforms:

  • Blogger: A free and easy-to-use blogging website is Blogger. It allows for a customized look and layout, as well as customized privacy settings and the ability to track analytics.  

  • LinkedIn: Another excellent site to blog on. LinkedIn is a powerful social networking site that I believe that some high school students and all college students should be utilizing. The LinkedIn platform has a free, easy-to-use blogging platform that is connected to your LinkedIn profile. When students are writing about something they are passionate about or considering as a future career, this provides them with an opportunity to share their work with the world in an environment that can help them be recognized for future jobs.

Social Media

It is difficult to deny the huge impact that social media has had on the world in the past decade. Helping students learn how to utilize social media sites is a great way to engage them in applying their learning, building a positive digital footprint, learning digital literacy skills and other technical skills that they will likely use in their future.  

These are a few social media sites that work well in education:

  • Twitter: A great platform to use for keeping your class updated and engaging them in online discussions. You can do this by creating a hashtag, specific to your class, for students to use. Learning how to communicate online in a concise manner is an important skill to develop and a great way to show that you understand the material. It also provides a way for students to begin connecting with like-minded people.

  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn has become the go-to social media site for professionals. Helping students create a great LinkedIn profile, connect with people in their field of interest and publish blog posts may be the best way to get them “career ready”. It’s also a great way for them to stay up-to-date on news customized to their professional interests.

  • Pinterest: A great website for having students curate articles, resources, and more. Helps to customize learning and assessment.

Hopefully this post helped introduce some great technology tools to help you engage your students in higher-order thinking while developing critical 21st-century skills.

Check out my weekly series, Teacher Tips Weekly, in which share technology tools useful for education. If you have any technology tools that have helped you improve student learning, I’d love to hear about how you have used them. Connect with me on Twitter @schink10.