As we speak, 54 million students all over the US are under strict lockdown. With coronavirus still on a rampage, remote learning is here to stay for at least for the next 6 months. So if you woke up one fine day and found yourself in a distance-learning setting, you are not alone— 118,000 schools across the country have also shifted their activities online. Soon you will realize that remote classes pose more challenges than physical ones.
Let’s see how teachers are helping teachers answer these common questions:
- How do you make sure your students are up-to-date with school activities?
- What tools and resources should you use to design and deliver your online curriculum?
- Even if you have the right resources, will your students engage with you?
- Do students indeed understand your lectures or course work?
- How do you track student progress and assess their progress?
With so many questions are likely buzzing in your head. A quick search online returns tons of tips and tools, but the sheer volume of resources is probably paralyzing. And for teachers venturing into the online education landscape, it's going to be even more challenging.
This four-part article curates useful ideas from veteran teachers all around the world and compiles them into a step-by-step guide for you to become distance learning master. Starting with establishing a central hub, you will learn how to maintain communication with your students, design and deliver interactive content, and assess your students. Stay tuned for a complete list of educational tools and resources in the end.
Step 1: Establish a Central Hub
A central hub comes with many names —Learning Management System (LMS), digital notice board, newsroom, home base —but they all serve the same purpose. You send out announcements, provide instructions, post updates, and general information via this channel. You can also publish assignment guidelines and quiz results on this platform.
Remember, you don’t need another revolutionary product with mind-blowing features that comes with a steep learning curve. Choose one that’s simple, and your students are familiar with. The communication gap is already difficult enough.
Maintaining a Google doc is the simplest approach to a central hub. Consider this sheet as a landing page for other documents. Teachers can link individual docs to this file. Students and parents can also view the files and find every information they need in one place. Here's a simple example of using Google Docs as a free learning management system.
However, security is a significant issue with this platform. All it takes is one mischievous student to jeopardize the main folder. So make sure you never give edit access to anyone except faculties. To avoid such mishaps, you can also keep a backup folder in Google Drive.
Google doc does not alert you when someone edits/updates a file. Therefore, you and your students might miss urgent notifications. In that case, you might consider creating an official Facebook Group for your class, given that your students are old enough. You can initiate discussion sessions, upload files, and welcome questions from students. You can also post announcements and pin them to the top. With proper management and group rules, teachers can use a Facebook group as a source of positive learning. For instance, Ayman Sadiq, founder of 10 Minute School, is well-known in Asia for transforming Facebook groups into learning hubs. If he can manage a group of 1.6 million students, indeed, you can too!
If you want something more secure than Google doc and more professional than Facebook, Google Classroom should be your go-to place. From posting updates to uploading reading materials to tracking classwork, this easy-to-use platform does it all. The simple interface also makes it ideal for anyone new to distance learning tools. Nevertheless, if you still have confusion, Michelle Ferré, e-coach at Crofton Elementary School, is here for you. Watch her complete playlist to learn more about why she recommends Google Classroom and how to get started.
Canvas is an upgraded version of Google Classroom. Misty Joaquin, who has been in the teaching profession for more than 13 years, puts it this way:
“From increased interactive components and organization and design options to amazing customer support, Canvas provides a more robust experience for designers, instructors, and learners.”
So if you are familiar with online platforms and teach in a higher education setting, go for Canvas as your learning management system.
Unlike Google Classroom and Canvas which focus on core learning features only, Blackboard is an all-in-one LMS. It is a highly adaptive and customizable platform. So every institution —from schools to universities to even government platforms — can use Blackboard. However, its wide range of features might overwhelm you. Daymaris Alvarez, full time faculty member at Miami Dade College, understands your pain point. She made this great video on Youtube that explains the nitty-gritty of Blackboard and will help you get started.
Step 2: Maintain Effective Communication
Apart from the central space, you will also need clear and accessible channels for maintaining communication with your students and their parents. For simplicity, we’ll be dividing the communication channel into three categories.
Video conferencing allows you to hold live classes, participate in group discussions, and have open dialogues with your students. Moreover, live interaction during this lockdown can also help you connect with your students. Institutions all over the world are using the following video conferencing tools to continue their classes, and you can too. Lucky for you, these platforms are extending temporary support and providing free accounts or massive discounts to educators.
Make sure to cross-check your school’s privacy and compliance policy before making your students sign up for one of these platforms.
Some students are bound to come to you after class with extra question and comments, even when teaching remotely. Therefore, you need a channel more flexible than video conferencing. This is where backchannel discussions come in. Imagine a chat group created by teachers to ensure off-class student participation. Communication can take place anytime, anywhere, through this channel.
Social messaging channels are more common in Asian institutions. Teachers there create class groups on WhatsApp, Telegram, or Viber. These platforms are free and are ideal for student groups with limited internet access. However, these apps have significant pitfalls. For example, students under 16 are not allowed to use social messaging apps. Teachers also do not have much control over the group. Unless you are dealing with a docile and mature group of students, you would naturally want powerful admin features that enable you to delete messages, mute students, and limit chat access.
Richard Byrne, founder of Free Technology for Teachers, recommends Yo Teach!, a multi-featured interactive backchannel app. It is a better alternative to now-defunct Today’s Meet. The app successfully negates the pain points we discussed and restores control to the teachers.
We know your students forget to keep their families in the loop. And it is now more challenging than ever to communicate with parents in this lockdown. Phone calls and emails work but aren’t necessarily productive. So, you need a more practical channel that supports instant or bulk messaging and is designed to encourage active participation among parents and students. Here are a few popular recommendations for parent-teacher communications.
- Bloomz: One-stop solution for parent-teacher communication
- Remind: Private messaging app for teachers to keep parents up-to-date with school activities
- Talking Points: Powerful multilingual texting tool and translator to ensure school-home communication and encourage participation
- Class Dojo: Community app that connects everyone —teachers, students, parents, administrators, and leaders —in one place
- Parent Square: Powerful Community app and virtual school assistant
Step 3: Design and Deliver Interactive Content
Online learning works best when your lessons are interactive and your students have multiple choices on how they want to take in information. Your syllabus should ideally include reading lists, videos, infographics, slide presentations and games. Here are some possible avenues for you to make your content appealing.
- Starfall: Practice books, short stories, songs and rhymes, instructional kits, games, and other fun study elements for up to K-3 students, supported by customizable worksheets and interactive lesson plans.
- Epic Digital Library: An award-winning digital library for children under 12 containing e-books, audiobooks, DIY projects, and gamification features to enhance your students’ learning experience.
- ReadWorks: ****Free digital content and tools to improve reading comprehension for students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
- ReadTheory: Personalized and interactive reading comprehension exercises for free that keep K-12 and ESL students hooked and motivated.
- CK-12: Free and customizable full-curriculum educational resources for K-12 students, including digital textbooks, study guides, simulation, and made-easy STEM notes.
- Actively Learn: Reading materials, higher-order questions, and supporting videos on English Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies.
- NewseumED: Digital lesson plans, videos, and tools for learning history and social studies in a fun way.
Markup Hero is a Teachers Best Friend
However, you cannot rely solely on third-party reading material. You, as a teacher, must crave originality and control over class content. The best tool for providing feedback, instruction and commentary is Markup Hero.
The popular screenshot and annotation tool is going to be the most useful tool in your toolbox. Here are the most popular teacher-student use cases you can cover with Markup Hero.
Create Interactive Assignments
As an educator, you are constantly creating and sharing course materials with students. Often teachers want to point our important paragraphs of reading assignments or highlight complex parts of visual assignments. Here's an example of how teachers use Markup Hero to make annotated documents to help give clarity to students.
Comment and Grade Homework
Giving feedback to students is one of the most important aspect of being a good teacher. But it's not always easy to provide comments or grade student assignments because of the million different formats teachers get submissions in: Google Docs, PDF, Images, Email, Text, Slack, Word, Power Point ... the list goes on. Markup Hero gives teachers a simple and fast way to provide feedback on literally any type of file. Here's an example of some homework submitted and teacher feedback provided.
Build and Share Teaching Assets
Sometimes teachers create assignments that require some explanation for students to understand what to do. Adding commentary directly on assignments is a fast and easy way to help students get moving on homework quickly. Here's an example of a literature worksheet and some feedback around how the teacher wants students to answer the questions.
These three examples are only a few of the million ways teachers use Markup Hero every day to take screenshots, annotate images and PDF's, stay organized, be more clear and work even faster and smarter.
Built by Teachers: Markup Hero was created by an entrepreneur turned high school teacher, Jeff Solomon. HIs biggest challenge working remotely with students was giving quick feedback. Sending emails or chat messages just got lost in the shuffle. By creating annotated images and PDF's, he could make lasting documents that shared critical feedback visually. And students love it!
A slide presentation is a great way to hook your students. They load faster than videos and offer your students the freedom to read at their own pace. However, completely static slides are no different from text readings. So to increase audience engagement in your presentation, here are a couple of things you could do.
- Add gifs instead of images
- Insert appealing infographics and charts - we will talk about how to create infographics on the go later in this section.
- Design original slides using Freepik or Flaticon for design assets; or search Slides Carnival or Power Pointify for templates.
Lastly, let your students ask questions or add comments using the Q/A feature in Google Slides. It will drastically improve your student participation rate. Here is a video from Teacher’s Tech that explains how to use this useful feature in your next online class.
Infographics and Charts
Nobody likes to trawl through a clutter of raw data. Students are more likely to pay attention to more structured visuals. Infographics and charts are useful tools to grab your students’ attention. However, creating one from scratch can be too time-consuming. Here are our top picks for the best and easy-to-use infographic makers for teachers.
- Piktochart: Entry-level infographic software that allows you to turn hard data into engaging visuals and customize appearances to your heart’s content
- Visme: A one-stop solution to all your visual needs
- Canva: A storehouse of design templates that you can edit and tailor to suit your needs in minutes
Self-Made Video Lesson
The best thing about self-made videos is that you have total control over what you want to teach. It is also the easiest of all the learning avenues we have discussed until now. All you need is a screen-casting software. You then deliver a slide-based lecture, record it, and give it to your students. Screencastify or Loom are the most popular screen casting software as of this moment. Both are free, but Loom offers more rich features, such as instant sharing or easy editing for teachers.
Customizable Video Lesson
Consider using tools to add your own instructional content into any video. For instance, you can upload your slides and videos in Nearpod or even import videos directly from YouTube and add notes, comments, pop-up questions, short quizzes, open-ended questions, and other embedded content in the video. Nearpod also offers a vast library of 8,500+ editable interactive video lessons for every subject and level. Edpuzzle is another similar platform; in fact, Edpuzzle is a better choice if you want to track your students and assess their activities.
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Video Lesson by Others
Educational video content has flooded the internet, but not necessarily every video is appropriate for your students or represents your syllabus. So instead of randomly searching on YouTube, go for websites or channels that have a reputation for creating high-quality educational videos. Here are some good options:
- Khan Academy: ****A completely free website that offers world-class instructional videos on virtually every subject, especially STEM.
- BrainPOP: An educational library of 1,000+ short animated movies on STEM, language, music, and arts for students in K-12 grades.
- ClassHook: Find educational videos from popular TV shows and movies to make your classes more interesting.
Step 4: Assess your Students
Now that you are done designing and delivering content, it is time to assess your students while maintaining academic integrity even in remote settings. Cynthia Brame, Associate Director at Centre for Teaching, has some suggestions for you. Firstly, you must rethink the non-collaborative exam format. Instead, encourage your students to form groups. Create open-book exams or assignments that are challenging even when students team up.
Another approach is to assign each student a different assignment but with the same difficulty level. You could also contact your school to subscribe to reliable exam proctoring software and integrate it into your LMS. See if any of these platforms below matches your needs.
- Proctorio: Easy integration with Google Classroom
- Examity: Blackboard’s exam proctoring partner
- Respondus: Seamless integration with Canvas
- Proctoru: A leading multi-featured proctoring solution
- Honorlock: On-demand affordable proctoring service
We understand how stressful and overwhelming all these options might seem. But remember, there are no teaching resources will do you any good if you are in a panic-stricken mode. Stay calm. And here's a one-sheet guide showing the various tools and resources provided in this article.
So, take a deep breath, and stay away from everything that overwhelms you. Maybe go out for a walk in a secluded place. Try out things you have always wanted to do but couldn't make time for. Or connect with other teachers online and learn how they are coping up. Whatever you do, don’t forget to be patient and forgiving with yourself.
Do you have even more useful tips to share with your fellow teachers and us? Let us know because teachers helping teachers helps the world grow.