Wonder Tools for Running a Program

From Pathwright, Notion, and Otter to Grain, mmhmm and Slido

Welcome! I’m Jeremy Caplan. In today’s Wonder Tools post, I’m highlighting some tools I rely on to run the Journalism Creators Program at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. The program is online — we never meet in person. I’m sharing our toolkit in case it’s useful for you or your team.

Next week we’re welcoming a new cohort of 20 independent journalism entrepreneurs for our 100-day program. Here’s who they are + a Twitter list

Teaching and Learning Online

We use Pathwright to host our program’s learning materials.

What this replaces: Developed by twin brothers at a small South Carolina-based startup, this superb Web-based software is an alternative to bloated learning management systems like Blackboard or Canvas.

Why we chose it: Each learning topic has a simple, clear, step-by-step learning path comprised of short readings, activities, videos, and discussions. The streamlined approach makes it easy to use for both teachers and learners.

Program Planning 

Notion helps me organize materials we’ll need before, during, or after the term. 

What this replaces: Collecting docs in a Dropbox or Google Drive folder.  

Why it’s useful: When I update a master table, other pages referencing it are automatically updated. One item can be visible on multiple pages at the same time without having multiple copies. No need to dig through subfolders.  

Bonus tip: Create a gallery view to give your Notion table a more visual look, like this page, or use a combo page like this Notion stay-at-home wiki.

Find out more: Here are my prior posts about how Notion can be useful and how to start using Notion.


Special Events

We use Run the World (RTW) to host special online events, including a recent summit. 

What this Replaces: Yet another Zoom meeting. 

Why it’s useful: RTW has various unique features, including a speed-networking function for one-on-one chats among participants, and a table-talk feature akin to breakout rooms. We use the speed networking feature for a feedback roundtable where program participants meet one-on-one with various guest experts.

Alternatives: Airmeet and Meetaway also offer one-on-one speed networking functionality that I’ve tried and liked. While Zoom is great for our live weekly sessions — it’s reliable and easy to use—these other meeting platforms are useful for breaking the routine. 

Bonus tip: Use RTW’s “groupfie” feature to snap a group photo and its music feature to welcome guests, to signal a stretch break, or to mark a session transition. 

Find out more: Here’s my prior post on Run The World and new approaches to live gatherings.

Enhancing Camera Views

mmhmm and Prezi video are both handy in letting presenters refine how they appear on screen. You can try either free on Mac or Windows. Use either as an alternative camera for whatever meeting software you use — Zoom, Google Meet or whatever else. 

mmhmm and Prezi video both allow you to position text or images creatively next to you while presenting, and to shrink, enlarge, fade or otherwise alter how you appear on camera. mmhmm’s recent update lets you add slides and gifs to your camera.  

Why it’s useful: If you’re spending hours in video meetings, take more control over how you appear on screen. 

Bonus tip: If you’re making a presentation alongside a colleague, use “Copilot” mode to present as a duo with a shared background, or to get help help from a collaborator.  Or use mmhmm on its own to record an interactive presentation. Here’s a funny example preso on how mmhmm got its zany name.

Find out more: My post on mmhmm expands on how it’s useful, with examples. To see it in action, join me today March 18 at 12pm ET to see how mmhmm’s CEO Phil Libin uses it. RSVP for today’s live session or to be notified about the recording. 


Otter works well with Zoom for closed-caption transcripts. We turn that feature on for live sessions so we always have an automatic transcript. Having subtitles also helps some people with live comprehension.

What this replaces: Paying for a more expensive service like rev.com — or having no transcript.  

Why it’s useful: To catch up on a meeting, it’s easier to read through a transcript than to watch a long recording. 

Bonus tip: Regardless of what meeting service you use, Otter can transcribe your system audio through your browser during any online meeting. So just start your meeting then go to your Otter online account and start recording. Ask permission from those you’re meeting with. 

Find out more: Here’s my post on Otter, with more on why I like it. And an older Medium piece in which I assessed 28 tools for transcription.  

Stay in touch on Twitter

Sharing Meeting Highlights

Grain is super useful for sharing highlights from live sessions. It’s a plug-in for Zoom. Free for 5 transcribed meetings a month. After a recorded session, you can highlight part of the transcript and export a video clip and transcript for just that little clip. It’s useful for sharing short, important moments from a meeting when you know people aren’t likely to watch the full recording.

I detailed Grain’s value in this post

In-Meeting Polling

Slido works well for polling during live sessions. Zoom’s built-in polls only allow for multiple-choice questions, whereas Slido lets you ask open-ended, ranking, and other kinds of questions. For word-cloud questions ask for a one-word response “what are you most optimistic about?”

Bonus tip: Type poll.new in Chrome’s URL bar to automatically launch a new Slido poll, if you’re already logged in. I often use this to launch instant polls.

Here’s more on how Slido is useful

Poll Everywhere is a good polling alternative, with a bonus capability: people can respond by text message. That’s less crucial when everyone’s remote, but for in-person presentations, people sometimes prefer being able to quickly text in responses rather than opening up a mobile browser. 

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  • Here’s why I think this is an exciting new era for independent journalism creators.

  • Our first cohort recently completed its 100-day journey and wrote up their experiences here

  • The 20 creators in the new cohort are joining from 11 countries — Austria, Brazil, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. Each participant is developing a newsletter, podcast, local site, or other news product to serve a niche community.

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