Review by Vanessa Aranda, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2018

TimelineJS

Timeline tool is useful but limited for coding novices

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Creativity
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
7–12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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5 images

Pros: Adding media from sources like YouTube and Twitter make moments memorable.

Cons: Limited layout options for those not familiar with coding.

Bottom Line: Check it out if you're a Google classroom looking to create simple, appealing timelines that integrate media and allow for collaboration.

Traditional timeline assignments -- such as biographies or personal narratives -- are perfect for TimelineJS, but the easy-to-update feature makes it best suited for developing stories over time. Here are some examples. 

  • Shake up back-to-school night a bit by presenting families with a visual timeline of the year. Embed YouTube videos, Twitter posts, or relevant Wikipedia links to important dates to keep content inviting and exciting. Post it in Google Classroom for students and parents to see updates throughout the year.
  • For civic-minded classes, have students create a timeline on a relevant issue and update that timeline with breaking stories and new content. This turns what would've been a stagnant assignment with a set deadline into a semester- or yearlong investment increasing engagement and expertise.
  • Journalism or newspaper classes with online publications may reap the greatest yearlong benefit from TimelineJS. Student editors can create a timeline at the beginning of the year for a topic of their choice (sporting events, news stories, arts and entertainment performances), and student staff can update it throughout the year. 
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TimelineJS is a web-based interactive, multimedia timeline creation tool. There are two notable features that make TimelineJS memorable among its formidable crowd of competitors. First, its open source mentality. TimelineJS uses a preformatted Google Sheet template, which automatically saves into Google Drive for sharing and future editing. No fears about unsaved work or lost logins for yet another educator account. Advanced users can take this template and run with it, building truly custom, specialized timelines. Second, TimelineJS encourages mixing in media from sites like Vimeo, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, and more. This allows for more than the typical presentation of a date, image, and some text; instead, TimelineJS allows each date to be opened and fill the screen, timeline advance and other triggered actions, and more.

Unfortunately, for novice users -- including most teachers and students -- the layout options are limited (font type, zoom size, and placement of timeline above or below featured media). While the examples provided on the sample page demonstrate the rich potential of the site, coding knowledge is required to accomplish a lot of the tweaks students will be drawn to.

The timeline examples on the website speak to the strength of this format for visual communication. With timelines, students can present news stories, information, or historical narratives in a slideshow-style format. TimelineJS builds on this by making the process pretty easy while helping users update their info and share the work with multiple editors. This latter aspect of the tool offers collaborative opportunities; students can take on leadership  roles, delegating to other students and updating information appropriate to the assignment. TimelineJS is also a particularly accessible option for Google-familiar teachers and students, since Google Sheets form the basis of each timeline. These classrooms will find TimelineJS particularly user-friendly, even when using it for the first time.

And yet, while students can use the Google Sheet template and walk away with a fresh timeline and the knowledge from researching their topic, they're not going to learn how to do the more custom work that's seen in the examples on the site. For classrooms who want more flexibility, and a WYSIWYG interface, there are better student-geared websites.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The process of plugging data into a Google Sheet itself isn't intriguing, but finding media to help tell the story can be. If the tool is used well, the end results can feel satisfyingly cool.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

TimelineJS focuses on the ends rather than the means. Students would have difficulty re-creating or editing a unique timeline beyond the Google Sheet template that gets them started.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The clear intro video and template simplifies steps to create an initial timeline, but support for more tailored projects is slim. FAQs and email support (responses within a day) help field more specific questions.


Common Sense Reviewer
Vanessa Aranda Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Craig T. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Kept the focus on the information not design.
I liked it because students could not get caught up in the details that are not the focus of the lesson. There were no students changing fonts or colors until all the information was in. The limits of the program as a spreedsheet were seen as a strength in my eyes.
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