Thanks to the amazing Ed Tech Leader Gina Stefanini’s presentation at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) Conference in January 2011, I learned about five tools that can help students and teachers create visual, interactive timelines. I finally had the chance to sit down and experiment with them! There are infinite ways in which you can use interactive timeline tools in your classroom, including the following:

  • Chart whole-class understandings of an overarching theme over a period of time
  • Learn about the order of actions or happennings
  • Put items in order according to a story
  • Plan actions before or as you carry them out
  • Map the history of a person, place, or event
  • Record individual student growth and learning over time
  • Conduct research and record your findings
  • Have others comment and give feedback on your work
  • Showcase on-going work using many mediums including music, video, images, text, voice recording, and more

For a brief introduction to using timelines in the classroom, check out this article in Edutopia, titled, Timelines 2.0: A Fun, Easy, and Free Classroom Tool by Chris O’Neal.

The following are notes that I hope will help you decide which timeline tool is best for your needs.

Capzles http://www.capzles.com/#

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: A Brief History of Apple
  • Sharing: embed in websites (though I was unsuccessful at embedding A Brief History of Apple into this post), link, share on social networks, email, RSS
  • Interface: slickest and coolest looking of the tools on this list, easy to use, drag-and-drop to re-order, auto-saves as you work
  • Customization: neat backgrounds, fonts, colours
  • Privacy: full range of options from completely private to allowing others to edit your work
  • Content: photos, videos, audio, text uploaded from your computer
  • Community: add and message friends, bookmark favourites
  • Other views: none so it would not print well
  • Cons: can’t add captions to photos unless you add a caption as the name of the photo before you upload it

TimeToast http://www.timetoast.com/

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: The Life of Galileo
  • Sharing: embed in websites, link, share on social networks, RSS
  • Interface: very simple and clean, easy to use
  • Customization: none
  • Privacy: full range of options
  • Content: photos uploaded from your computer and text that you type
  • Community: none
  • Other views: text view available (good for printing)
  • Cons: must upload photos one at a time, no customization options

OurStory http://ourstory.com/home.html

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: it was very hard to find one due to a lack of organization and navigation options on the site
  • Sharing: embed in websites
  • Interface: cluttered and confusing
  • Customization: saw some that were different colours but couldn’t figure out how to do it for my test timeline
  • Privacy: full range of options
  • Content: photos that you can search for via Yahoo images, images uploaded from your computer, and text that you type
  • Community: meant for people to create timelines of their lives and share with their families and communities, can also join groups
  • Other views: none
  • Cons: incredibly confusing and hard to use!

Dipity http://www.dipity.com/

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: The History of Legos
  • Sharing: embed in websites, link, share on social networks
  • Interface: not quite as slick looking as Capzles, but still pretty neat, easy to use, first part of the creation process is mostly text-based
  • Customization: a few backgrounds to choose from
  • Privacy: full range of options
  • Content: photos, videos, audio, text uploaded from your computer, 20 most relevant images from online searches, a pre-set number of your most recent uploads to Flickr, YouTube, and other networks, blog posts and tweets
  • Community: add friends, follow favourites
  • Other views: default timeline, list, flip book, and map
  • Cons: sometimes frustrating when clicking on individual timeline items because it moves whenever you move your mouse and movement is not quite smooth

XTimeline http://www.xtimeline.com

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: History of Mobile Phones
  • Sharing: embed in websites, link, share on social networks, but there is an extra step to sign up for this
  • Interface: 90% text-based, not very intuitive
  • Customization: none
  • Privacy: full range of options
  • Content: photos uploaded from your computer
  • Community: add favourites
  • Other views: none
  • Cons: text-based, boring looking, not very intuitive

The Verdict

  • Best tool overall: Capzles
  • Accommodates the widest range of media: Dipity
  • Most ways to share: Capzles
  • Easiest to use: Capzles and TimeToast
  • Most customization: Capzles
  • Coolest looking: Capzles
  • Best for sharing blog or tweet updates: Dipity – if you create one with your tweets/blog, it will keep it updated with your latest posts
  • Best for printing in b/w: TimeToast

Have you used interactive timelines for teaching and learning? How have you used them? Can you share some tips for making the most of them? Which interactive timeline tools do you use and why?

(Image: Nu Food Timeline #2, by Bennet for Senate. 2009. Available under a Creative Commons License.)
Time to Timeline: A Review of 5 Free Tools
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