Creative software solutions and sites to save you time and help your students learn
My school has been completely virtual since the Coronavirus began.
And at first, I was petrified.
However, I've taught twenty-three years and have slowly acclimated myself to technological educational tools and programs that I can add to my teaching repertoire. The keyword is slowly.
And I'm sure fellow teachers have (and still do) experience fear, anger, and a sense of futility in making their online classes a success. After all, many of us went into this profession because we loved seeing happy, smiling faces pour into our classroom, not crazy avatars on a computer screen.
And if you're like me and the fellow educators with whom I teach, you shake your head in disgust when you read articles or hear others' statements about how teachers love this new virtual platform or how it's a "vacation" from the stresses of a regular school day.
But we know the truth. If it weren't for this deadly virus, we'd be begging our school boards to bring our children back.
The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article entitled “How to Be a Better Online Teacher” reports information from a 2017 Educause survey, which found that only 9% of academics prefer to teach in a totally online platform. And I am most definitely a member of the remaining 91% of teachers who would not relish this type of teaching. As a matter of fact, the author Flower Darby, a senior instructional designer at Northern Arizona University, states that she “[suspects] that a good majority of that 91 percent would prefer to teach anywhere but online.”
However, digital learning is made infinitely easier if your administration has implemented and trained you on certain learning platforms such as Canvas, Google Classroom, or Edmodo. If you are not familiar with these, you may want to use your time at home to check them out. For beginners, I recommend Google Classroom or Edmodo as they are free and easier to use than Canvas.
The only problem may be at this point that if students are not used to this platform, it may be difficult to teach them how to use it, especially if you are just learning it yourself.
So, as I said before, this article is mainly for “newbies” to teaching online, and some of my tips may seem a bit simplistic if you are already digitally competent. However, even if you are digitally competent, some of the ideas I share may still be valuable.
So here are some tools and sites that may help you become more successful at online instruction.
Video recording software
I found that as I was sending out learning activities (mostly with emails to student groups I created on Google using links to my assignments), I was fielding an onslaught of online questions that were growing as rapidly as the virus that put me at home in the first place. There would be emails such as “Mrs. B, I am totally confused about question number two” or “I don’t understand what you want in the assignment you sent us.”
I also found that as I began to comment on the assignments, I was making the same comments over and over, things that normally I could say to the class as a whole in the classroom in about three minutes. As most of us know as teachers, students will tend to make the same mistakes or have the same misunderstandings when it involves learning a new skill or reacting to a text.
So I was spending huge amounts of time writing comments on their Google docs.
The answer for me?
For example, I discovered that I could record videos that would allow me to do a number of things for my students:
- Read texts aloud to students as they follow along on the document on the screen.
- Explain the details and specifications required by each assignment so that they can refer back to the assignment instructions if needed.
- Provide modeling on a strategy using an example similar to the ones they would be asked to perform on a particular assignment.
- Pose guiding questions that would help lead them to more accurate answers on their assignment.
- Explain the correct answers after they attempted the assignments and the thought processes that were necessary for getting the correct answers.
I discovered that a little bit of time spent researching video recording was well worth the investment, as actually using this technology will save me much more time in the future.
This is when I discovered Loom, a free screen and video recording software for Mac, Windows, and Chromebooks. Loom allows you to show your computer screen on the video, and do things such as type in a document, highlight certain things for emphasis, add comments and questions to the side of a Google document or the like, and talk your students through the instruction or explanation using audio. You can also pause the recording and then continue later if you wish.
Loom keeps your videos in a folder, and all your students need is the link to get the video.
There is also other recording software such as Screencast o Matic, which basically has the same features.
And all you really need is a computer, a microphone, and a camera, most of which are already on most laptops and computers.
If you need help, both sites provide videos and information to get started, not to mention the fact that there are numerous YouTube videos showing you how to use the programs step by step.
There are more features that at the moment I am unfamiliar with (remember I’m a newbie), but even using the program’s most basic features, the software can provide an immense boost in learning for your students and also save you an immense amount of time.
Supplementing instruction with online materials and sites
We all know that students benefit from the use of videos, powerpoints, and other supplemental materials. One such place for these things is Teacher Tube.
It is free to join and the site contains videos, audios, and much more for almost all subject areas in the K-12 curriculum. Using this site allows you to link or embed videos and resources into online materials, but due to copyright restrictions, you are not allowed to download materials.
Khan Academy is also a free site for teachers to use. It contains video and other teaching resources and is interactive, allowing students to “level up” and get points for online quizzes and activities. The site also states that “in a recent study, students were over twice as likely to meet grade-level standards with Khan Academy.”
The bottom line:
At this time in our teaching career, online instruction is not an option, it is the only way to keep our students learning and growing during these trying times.
There are many many online resources that provide free games, programs, and materials that students can use to master essential concepts. It just requires a bit of searching.
Best of luck in this new technological universe, fellow teachers. If you have other resources or online ideas, please please respond below. We’re all in this together after all.