The education sector is taking giant leaps towards online learning. Face-to-face instruction and traditional classroom environments are making way for video conferencing and virtual classrooms. Students, parents, and educators alike are having to adapt to new ways of working and learning.
This is a trend we are seeing across the world. As of April 2020, the coronavirus pandemic had forced 98% of higher education institutions in the US to move the majority of their in-person classes online. Much of this change will have come with little time for preparation or developing a robust distance teaching plan.
But with a change in format comes a change in processes. There’s no denying that designing and creating an effective distance learning is a very different process to designing and creating classroom-based learning.
So what needs to go in your distance teaching toolbox?
Are Your Current Teaching Processes Effective for eLearning?
To review your processes, think about the following:
- Do any of the tools you currently use create a barrier to learning when it’s done remotely?
- Are you having issues communicating with your students?
- How will you grade work and monitor student progress remotely?
- Are any students at risk of being left behind in the transition to eLearning? E.g. students who may not have a reliable internet connection at home, students with additional learning needs and those with disabilities that may impact their sight or hearing.
Addressing these areas for concern is the first step in optimizing the distance learning experience for your students. Once you’ve identified any gaps in your educational methods, it’s time to take actionable steps and consider if changing the technology you use to deliver your teaching could help solve the problem.
Collaboration is key to encouraging students to learn from each other as well as from you. And it isn’t something you have to leave behind in your move to distance teaching.
The Online Teaching Tools & Resources
- Exploring distance learning resources with Google
- Getting started with distance learning with Microsoft
The right tech can revolutionize your teaching, so which tools should you add to your teacher toolbox? Small tech can make a big difference.
Many of the tools available to educators are content or subject-specific:
- When it comes to math, we’ve heard great things about Zearn and ASSISTments.
- For English language arts, CommonLit has a great reputation.
- Foreign language resources like Duolingo and Open Culture are popular options.
Many recommend Khan Academy for a full-spectrum educational experience, but we’re a little hesitant. While it’s great for some direction instruction, it has limited engagement options. Whatever teaching tech you use, you will need an entire toolbox to pull it all together. Let’s find out how.
Learning Management Systems (LMSs)
- Store and host all of your learning material in one place, accessible from anywhere
- Assign individual pieces of learning or whole learning pathways to your students
- Set assessments and monitor student progress, with the ability to automatically grade assessments if you choose
- Multimedia content formats available to use like webinars, documents and videos
- Track student activity to allow accurate, real-time data on engagement to be collected so you can make decisions on your teaching based on real data
- Integration with calendar, video conferencing and file sharing applications so you can also deliver your live lessons within a single system
Leverage most of the benefits of a physical classroom and more, all in one place with one login. Use of a Learning Management System won’t come cheap but the benefits are clear and deliver a substantial long-term return on investment.
Google Classroom, one of the most widely-used LMS platforms, is a favored solution for schools. G Suite Enterprise for Education can be licensed at $4 per month per user (faculty, staff, and students). The platform helps classrooms stay organized, save time, and communicate.
Blackboard, Schoology, and Moodle are among top alternatives. Each comes with a unique set of features worth researching. Costs vary by platform and most have a free to try version. Schoology is free for educators, for example, but costs $10 per student. Moodle is free to download and has a starter package (for one classroom) that costs $55 per year. And, Blackboard can cost up to $160,000 per year.
Any good distance teaching toolbox needs to contain the right tools. Online teaching tools and resources are the foundations of your distance teaching strategy.
Whether you want to share files in a separate cloud-based system or one integrated within your virtual environment, you’re going to need a two-way system that shares resources with students and allows them to submit their work to you.
This is where file-sharing software is helpful – create folders that are easy for both you and your students to access, set permissions on what your students can view and edit, and then all work can be shared in an instant.
Conferencing and Online Meeting Solutions
Most video conferencing apps are available on computers, laptops, and smartphones and are easy to use after a short time of getting used to online meeting etiquette. As the host of an online meeting, you have full control over the virtual room – you’ll be able to share your screen to talk through concepts with students as you would in front of a whiteboard, take questions and moderate discussions in text-based chat features and even have control over muting students’ microphones.
By this point, we’ve all heard of and probably used Zoom for class meetings. While this tool offers distinct benefits like the ability to connect with calendars, share multiple screens, and annotate, it’s not perfect. The chat has room for advancement and without a super-fast internet connection, the platform can sometimes glitch out.
Google Meet (also part of G Suite Enterprise for Education), Skype, and Microsoft Teams are just a few alternatives that might work well within your existing system. Try out several conferencing tools and see which you prefer. Keep in mind that video streaming takes up quite a bit of bandwidth and the platform you use should be fast as well as secure.
Communication and keeping everyone in the loop is possibly one of the most important elements in remote learning. So, you’ll need email and chat in addition to conferencing. Avoiding miscommunication and setting clear expectations is much harder when you aren’t face-to-face. With a strong focus on delivering live lessons via video or live stream, for example, this is where video conferencing and custom messaging platforms come into their own.
Understandably, some educators express concerns over the security of moving all of their communication online. But don’t worry – most major communication apps are encrypted and allow teachers to securely message students and parents without giving away any personal information or contact details.
Being able to instantly share files is very important in a distance learning environment.
Modern collaboration technology can be harnessed to help you replicate your traditional classroom experience virtually so students stay connected. Collaboration tools are a place where files can be shared, video meetings can be arranged, announcements can be made and conversations can be had. This allows students to have targeted conversations around course topics.
Many collaboration tools can even be integrated with third-party platforms such as modern LMSs for a seamless digital learning experience for your students. This helps them communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime in the way that they need.
In addition to your LMS, Twiddla offers an excellent whiteboard for classrooms. Bubbl.us is awesome for visual mind-mapping. And, Edmodo is an outstanding active learning collaboration platform. Again, try out these collaboration tools for yourself and determine which ones fit best with your teaching style.
Ashley Kimler is a SaaS Copywriter who has been working remotely in the tech industry since 2014 and has experience with distance education on all levels. Hopefully, you’ll find at least one gem of wisdom in her advice to enhance your teaching experience.