This post was a collaboration between Catherine Ready and Amanda Brace.
With any school experience, tools are needed in order for students to succeed. When it comes to an online learning environment, there are many online tools, apps, and sites that can support and facilitate learning. With the recent events of COVID-19, education has shifted. In the spring, teachers quickly moved to teaching supplemental learning online as an emergency response. Now that a new school year has begun, many schools have changed the way the classroom functions, with some schools even taking their schooling online with hybrid models or with distance education. In Regina Public, eSchool was created to accommodate students “who require an alternative way of learning outside of a school classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Since both of us have recently started working at eSchool, we wanted to share the online tools and platforms that have been most utilized during this time.
4 Tools for Online Learning
Every online learning environment functions in their own unique way, but it’s crucial that they all have a platform for organization and learning, otherwise known as, a Learning Management System. A Learning Management System (LMS) is “a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses.” Every LMS has different features and functions, and there are many different options to choose from, such as Schoology, Canvas, and Blackboard.
The LMS that Regina Public eSchool uses is called Moodle. It allows teachers to create content and assess learning in a functional way. It gives students the chance to demonstrate learning and interact with their teachers and peers in both synchronous and asynchronous time. Moodle also provides a safe learning environment with their commitment to “safeguarding data security and user privacy.” There are many tools and features in Moodle that make this LMS stand out among the others. The chart titled “Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers and Educators,” gives information and tips about the tools that can be embedded in the platform. From this user guide, here is a breakdown of our favourite plugins and tools on Moodle.
Label: Insert Text and Multimedia
We use this tool for organizing our classroom homepage in a variety of ways. It can be used as a header for assignments, links, and activities so that it improves the layout of the page. It also has the ability to embed videos and photos right into the page. Moodle states that “labels are very versatile and can help to improve the appearance of a course if used thoughtfully.”
Assignment: Use to Collect, Assess, and Provide Feedback on Assignments
A lot of teachers at eSchool use the Assignment tool for their day-to-day activities and assignments. It allows students to add files, photos, and videos. In addition to inputting grades, teachers can also give written feedback as well as audio feedback when they use the microphone tool.
Chat: Hold real-time text chat discussions
This tool is a great way to communicate with students. With its instant messaging abilities, it gives teachers the opportunity to send group messages or communicate with individual students with the private message feature.
Feedback: Gather data from students on any topic
The feedback tool allows teachers to create custom surveys and quizzes for students so that feedback can be collected. The questions can be presented as multiple choice, yes or no, or with text. At eSchool, the feedback tool has been useful for anonymous surveys and for students to respond to lessons.
Scheduler: Book a time with your teacher
This tool has been a life saver during online learning! Teachers can create multiple time slots so that students can book an appointment. We have been using this feature for booking individual Google Meet times with our students and families. Moodle also sends out automatic reminders so that students are notified about their time. It’s a great way to manage communication and keep everyone organized!
With just a small preview of the tools and features Moodle provides, it’s evident that this LMS is effective and versatile. Moodle continues to give students, teachers, and families at eSchool an organized learning platform that promotes communication and collaboration. With Moodle as the homebase for our online school, it makes other digital platforms and tools, such as Seesaw, G Suite, and WeVideo, easy to access and utilize.
WeVideo is a “cloud-based editing platform” that can be used for screen recording and producing video content. This tool is essential for online learning as it allows for teachers to create asynchronous instructional videos. It can also be used by individual students or for group projects since there is a sharing setting that allows for collaboration among multiple editors.
Many teachers at eSchool use WeVideo for adding a unique and creative element to their virtual classroom. Add multiple video or audio tracks, input sound effects or music, and add creative backgrounds or text. The easy-to-use green screen tool can create any type of background for the video or picture. As you can see in the video below, WeVideo is a platform that can be used to teach lessons and deliver content that is both engaging and informative for students.
G Suite for Education
Many divisions use the G Suite for Education as a tool to “collaborate anywhere, communicate your way, manage your classroom simply, organize your tasks and administer confidently”.
All students in our division have a school email address that is accessed through Gmail. This email address provides students with login information for a variety of integrated apps and allows for quick and easy communication between student and teacher.
For synchronous meetings, we use Google Meet for individual student meetings and whole group class meetings a few times a week. It is important to note that eSchool is an asynchronous learning design. We use Meets as opportunities to build relationships with our students and clarify any questions or concerns with learning activities, so that learning is accessible for students.
In Google Meets, the screen sharing function is an excellent way to share information with students using Slides. An example is going over examples with students or guided reading with individual students. The chat function can be turned on or off and gives students an opportunity to ask questions and participate in discussions if they do not feel comfortable using their mic to speak.
Through Google Drive, we share folders and files with our teaching teams and students that can be accessed from any mobile device, tablet or computer. You can store any file type in Google Drive and it also integrates seamlessly with Slides, Docs, Sheets, Forms and Jamboard.
There are a variety of sharing settings that include sharing the file or folder with select users, only users in your organization or to anyone with the link. Furthermore, there is the ability to change the settings to make the users “viewers” or “editors” for more control of your files. Also, if you want to share a file with students but do not want everyone to edit the same file, you can change the settings to force the students to “Make a Copy” that will allow for individual editing.
Google Drive has been an integral part of the sharing and collaboration process as we are able to work on documents together at the same time. For example, we have a document that outlines our weekly plans and each team member can contribute to it on their own time throughout the week, but we can be assured that every team member has the most recent update. We also enjoy the ability to access Google Drive through the app on our phones.
Scheduling individual meetings with students is a simple process through Calendar, as you can select a start and end time, add Google Meet conferencing and send invitations to student emails (which they access through Gmail). This is useful when scheduling multiple meetings in advance and saves time as all the details are organized in one place. You can also add reminders and alerts and can be notified when an attendee “accepts” the meeting invitation. The automation of these steps means the teacher can focus more on the meeting and less on the logistical details.
One of our favourite tools to engage students is through the use of Jamboard, an interactive whiteboard tool. You can use the tool in a synchronous environment, like during a Google Meet, or as an asynchronous tool, like posting a daily question or morning message that students can access on their own time. Similar to a classic classroom whiteboard, students can add or erase, use their finger or stylus pen if using a tablet or phone and collaborate with their classmates at any time.
A note on privacy
Like all technology tools, it is important to understand the privacy and safety implications of using the tools with students. Most organizations have strict guidelines on the type of information that can be collected and stored on cloud-based storage solutions. From a productivity and organizational standpoint, Google Drive is an excellent tool that integrates very well with other apps, but it’s critical to have an understanding of the security and privacy before using them.
Seesaw is a “platform for student engagement” and allows teachers to “empower students to create, reflect, share, and collaborate.” (Seesaw) There are many ways that Seesaw Stands Out, but here are some typical uses at eSchool.
Teachers can create their own activity, assign an existing activity from a large Seesaw community library, or copy and edit an existing activity to suit their needs. Teachers can include templates, voice instructions, links and examples for students to complete the activities.
Teachers schedule activities in advance and can also select if they want to assign to the entire class or particular students.
Post Approval and Commenting
There is a setting which requires posts to be approved before they are posted to a student journal. Teachers can provide comments (written or voice), “like” a post or go in a directly edit on a post before approving.
Teachers and students can sort activities into folders, like “Math, ELA, Science” for easy organization and later access.
Teachers can send announcements to students and/or their family members that are connected using the Seesaw Family app.
Pin to Top
This tool allows teachers to pin a post to the top of a student journal for easy access. Some examples include a daily message, weekly plan or Google Meet information.
Seesaw is an amazing tool to engage with students and families and build relationships. It is very easy for students to record themselves reading or explaining an answer to a question which makes for a more personal online learning experience. The Seesaw Family App allows family members to be connected to their student’s journal and is an easy way to communicate questions about activities. Seesaw will also translate notes, comments, captions, announcements and messages to over 55 different languages. The family engagement keeps students motivated to learn in a distance learning environment.
From a teacher perspective, there is a very welcoming Seesaw community of educators through Facebook Groups, Instagram, Twitter and training programs. This includes the Seesaw Pioneer program followed with the Seesaw Ambassador program to help connect like-minded educators around the world that are using Seesaw. For example, this October 2020 challenge is to “Treat Yourself to 5 New Ideas” and share how you are using the ideas with the educator community.
There are many other tools and platforms that are used during a “Day in the Life” of an eSchool teacher, but the four tools listed above are some that we could not live without. Some of the “honourable mentions” that could have made that list are:
If you find yourself venturing into the world of online learning like we did, we hope our list of tools gave you some insight and inspiration. We also want to leave you with some tips for success in an online learning environment.
- Have a growth mindset and be open minded
- Communication is key
- Have flexibility and grace for yourself and others
- Keep it simple
And remember… have fun!