A large part of teaching is providing guided reinforcement to improve students’ understanding and retention. In a classroom environment, these assignments can be physically handed out as worksheets, realia, books, or educational toys. Of course, there is also the option of digital delivery of teaching aids and online submission of completed work.
Teaching online is very different. It’s tempting to think that remote teaching has more limitations, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While there aren’t physical teaching aids available, there are an equal or greater number of digital tools available. For creative educators with just a little tech-savvy, a whole new world of teaching aids opens up.
Everyone who has access to the Internet also has access to free cloud storage. Most paid providers have free accounts that include anywhere from 5 GB to 15 GB of free storage space. Saving class files to the cloud is a great way to both backup and share and share reference materials and assignments.
Since these are general-purpose products, however, it puts organizing the resources fully on the teacher. The tools are all there, but they need to be applied ad hoc.
Social Media and Messaging Apps
Often overlooked as a means of distributing and collecting school work, social media can be quite useful keeping all the participants in a class connected. Granted, this is mostly true of the first wave of social media – especially Facebook with its private groups and file-sharing capabilities. However, many social media channels can be re-purposed as a communication tool, especially those with advanced messaging functions. Learn a little more about social media in distance learning here.
Even more specifically, you can look at the messaging apps built into popular social platforms. Forming groups on Messenger, WhatsApp, or your local equivalent are great ways to stay in touch and many allow attaching files and even live voice or video chat. Services like this start to get a little unwieldy as larger class sizes, but they are free and familiar to teachers and students alike.
To facilitate the sharing of both ideas and resources, education can re-purpose business tools (and improve students’ tech literacy at the same time). Many productivity apps are excellent solutions with built-in sharing, storage, and communication channels, and they’re either free or so inexpensive that they are within reach of most online users.
For example, take the communication giant Slack. It is ideally set up for teacher-moderated group discussions, student workgroups, and easily searched file sharing. It integrates well with many calendar and task-tracking apps for assessment dates, assignments, deadlines, and self-study tasks. Some even see Slack as an alternative to an LMS, though there are some functions that a custom learning platform will likely do better. If Slack doesn’t work for you and your lessons, there are many other ways to improve communication and collaboration in your online class. Check out this list for some inspiration.
A Learning Management System (LMS) is software used to handle a lot of the administrative functions of teaching and learning. Though it is more common in professional settings, an LMS can also work in traditional education. An effective LMS has the ability to deliver course materials – either live or recorded depending on the system. It can also act as both a communication and distribution channel, allowing two-way communication and file sharing.
Depending on the system used, an LMS can be cloud-based, installed on a local network, a desktop application, a mobile application, or some combination of those options. So if you’re looking to formalize distance teaching, you may want to look into either setting up an LMS for you and your students or working with your institution to implement the system.
If you’re looking into an LMS, here are a few things to look for:
- All the Data: To help students get the most out of their remote learning, it’s important to show their progress with data. An unbiased look at the data will not only show where students can improve but also where the teacher can better deliver their lessons.
- Responsive: In modern education, it’s not a great idea to limit an LMS to just one type of device. It should work – and work well – on multiple devices. Make sure your students can learn anywhere and anytime with a responsive LMS that adapts to their device of choice.
- User Friendly: Though there’s a good chance your learners are digital natives, this doesn’t mean that they will have any more patience for bad user experience or a poorly designed interface. The LMS should be easy to use for everyone involved.
- Tech Support: Even the best systems have their own unique challenges. And it’s probably not reasonable for the teacher to also act as IT for the LMS. A good LMS will have at least good training for institutions and simple documentation for individual teachers.
- Assessment: Tests shouldn’t be the end goal of education, but assessments are still important. An LMS should have at least the ability to assess students’ understanding and provide educators with important feedback on learning outcomes.
- Gamification: There should be an element of fun in any learning system. Anything from actual games integrated into the system to badges and awards can give students some intrinsic motivation to learn and progress.
- Collaboration: To make the most of an LMS, it should be a one-stop learning center where learners can participate in lessons and peer-to-peer interactions. There has to be a strong social learning component to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction.
Want to learn more about picking the perfect LMS? Here’s a great guide.