Transitioning to online teaching should not be an overnight sprint, yet that seems to be the speed at which many faculty members are operating nowadays in response to COVID-19. When you’re forced to make lightning-fast changes from in-person to online education, you may not have the right infrastructure in place.
We here at 2U, Inc. typically spend many months of dedicated time and effort in working with our partners’ faculty to set them up with a secure and accessible learning and teaching platform, personalized service and support, training to enhance their online instruction, and more to deliver an intimate classroom experience. But not all faculty may have access to such high levels of support.
Luckily, there are plenty of free or low-cost tools you can begin using now to help students better engage with and learn your material. Here are a few of our suggestions.
1. Initiate class-wide conversation on Flipgrid.
Flipgrid is a multimedia classroom tool that enables students to discuss and react. Instructors can add in a discussion prompt relating to class assignments—and students can upload their own videos and/or text responses or respond to other student inquiries. Adding an element of fun to discussion can ease nervous students’ concerns about chiming in—and help empower them to speak up.
2. Use social media to help students feel connected.
There’s a plethora of efficient, engaging, and free tools at your fingertips. Popular social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram all have a place in the classroom. Most likely, your students are already set up on these platforms—so use them to reach students where they are.
Here’s how to get your classes more social:
- Host weekly discussions on Twitter. Track responses using a hashtag unique to your class or course section so students can discuss with their peers.
- Create a private Facebook group where students can talk to one another, coordinate assignments, and feel connected outside of your live class sessions.
- On Instagram, you can share reminders about project due dates and assignments, crowdsource questions, and use the comments feature to spark discourse.
3. Set up interactive polls using Poll Everywhere to encourage participation during class.
You can check student engagement and gauge their grasp on the material during class using Poll Everywhere’s live virtual polling features. This tool lets you do everything from taking attendance to providing short quizzes—and even integrating polls and discussions into PowerPoints, Google Slides, and other presentation decks. This is a great way to make sure everyone is interacting with the material and actively participating in class.
4. Divide students up into small project and study groups and allow them to brainstorm with Stickies.
Collaboration and group work don’t have to disappear when the classroom goes online. Give students a visual way to brainstorm and work within their groups using Stickies, an app that lets users ideate and build note clusters in real time. This can help the visual learners in your class as well as encourage teamwork that mimics a career environment.
5. Encourage students to organize assignments, research references, and due dates with Trello.
For large-scale projects and research papers, encourage students to stay organized by creating their own Trello board to map out priorities, save references, make notes, keep track of deadlines, and more. Empowering students to take ownership over their work and schedules outside of the university setting can help increase accountability and ensure everyone is in sync.
Working with students remotely is both a challenge and an opportunity. The above recommendations are just a small snapshot of the breadth of the digital resources available to instructors. Think about what tools and strategies you would use to enhance an on-campus class—chances are there’s an app for that.
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