There has been a surge in demand for online teaching resources due to school closures for health concerns. Many teachers are being thrust into online teaching with almost no notice or preparation. This post will provide educators with an awareness of some of the tools that are available.
To make things as simple as possible, you will need essentially some sort of online presence that allows for the following two things
- Submission of assignments/completion of activities
True online teaching can be much richer than this. However, for someone who is struggling with short notice to make this happen this is the bare minimum. We will first look at available platforms before looking at communication methods. As an aside many of the platforms have integrated communications tools, however, sometimes they do not meet the needs for various situations.
An Elearning platform serves as a base of operation on the internet. Not all learning has to take place within the online platform. However, the students’ learning experience often begins here before branching of based on the activities that are involved. Generally, the platform provides a place for submission of assignments and asynchronous communication ie forum posts and announcements. Of course, you can extend the functionality based on expertise and or support. There are several free online platforms that require no support from your IT department. The first we will discuss is Google classroom
Google classrooms provides a basic interface for teaching online. You can post announcements assignments and there is a basic gradebook as well. You can post links as much as you want to other places on the web as well. You can also arrange a google hangout with your students through the posting of a link. This is a great resource for short notice. The functionality is limited for more advance actions but this works in a pinch.
The layout for Schoology is similar to Google Classrooms but with more features such as attendance and a great way to organize content using folders. There is a free package and there is also a subscription option. Although Schoology wasn’t specifically designed for higher education it is a superior choice to what Google Classroom is offered right now. One downside is there is no integrated system for face-to-face communication with Schoology, which means you would have to employ some sort of third party communication.
Microsoft Teams will not be an option for you unless you or your organization are subscribed to Office 365. Teams is a great resource that combines all the features of Schoology with embedded communication features and the integration of Microsoft products. There is a section for assignments, files, grades, and even a notebook. Students can also be placed into groups for online discussions. In addition, Teams is not limited to the classroom and can be used by the larger organization as well. Since Teams has more features, it can be a little harder to learn initial so it might not be the best choice in a last-minute situation.
Moodle my be the mother of online platforms. The question is not so much what Moodle can do but rather what it cannot do. There are so many features and choices that it would be impossible to explain them all. Moodle requires extensive It support as it must be downloaded on the local server with all the other hassles of mandating a website. A such, unless you are already familiar with how it works Moodle would not be choice on short notice.
Communication in this post is defined as some sort of sc=ycrhonous interaction with at least the teacher providing audio and video. Below are some choices for doing this.
Youtube provides the ability to upload videos and to stream. Uploading videos is not that complicated and essentially you make the video and upload it to Youtube. You can share content or communicate about assignment expectations or other announcements. You can also take the link and insert it into whatever online platform you are using
For streaming, it is a little bit more complicated. You will some encoder software such as OBS Studio. The details of how to stream on Youtube are beyond this post’s purpose but your IT or AV support should be able to help you make this happen. There is also a live chat feature now which can allow you to discuss things with students in real-time. The benefit of Youtube is there is a small delay and only the teacher is producing audio and video which helps with slow internet connections.
Another problem with Youtube is that the content is available to everyone. Whoever has the link can see. This can be a problem of there is a desire to keep some information confidential.
Google Hangouts is another choice. It does not take a great deal of knowledge to maneuver using this software. The main problem is that only 25 people can participate in one hangout. This means that Google Hangouts is best for smaller classes. Other features allow you to share your desktop while communicating. There is not a large dealy but my own experience shows that student frequently loses their connection and have to keep rejoining the hangout.
Skype is similar to Google Hangouts except for up to 50 people who can participate. This will work for large classes.
If you are a gamer you might be familiar with Discord. Discord was designed to allow gamers to communicate online. However, it now has a second life as a communication tool for online learning. The setup is a little weird if you are not in technology and there is also a 50 person limit on this communication tool as well.
Stream looks exactly like Youtube but it is software with the Microsoft ecosystem. You can upload videos or stream live if you have the right subscription with Microsoft. The benefit of Stream is that it can be used in collaboration with Microsoft Teams which makes it an absolute plus. In addition, because it is being used within a company the video is not available for all eyes to see which can be a problem with Youtube videos.
Perhaps one of the kings of Voice over Internet platform is Zoom. Zoom allows real-time interaction among up to 100 participants or more depending on the package you signup for. It also allows you to separate students in discussion groups like in a real class. You can share your screen or have the students share theirs. Also, the communication is secured and only available to participants. However, if you want decent service you have to pay as the free package comes with a lot of restrictions. For the Moodle users, there is an extension so that you can integrate it into Moodle.
Hopefully, the information provided here will allow you to explore whatever combination of features work best for you. This is not in anyways an exhaustive list of what is possible. The point to remember is that whatever you do you need a way to communicate and receive assignments from the students.