In the age of Covid-19, Distance Learning has become the norm for all students. Teachers, students, administrators, and parents all face unique challenges in the process. In an effort to help, the following is a quick list of resources that are available for educators. Many of these tools are time-tested. Some are relatively new. Whatever the age of the tool, educators have been pleasantly surprised to see the speed at which each of these are being improved.
A few notes for the teacher
Let’s say this right up front: None of us bargained for this. Yet, here we are. This is an alien landscape for many seasoned teachers. For others, technology is an infrequent visitor to their brick-and-mortar classroom. Whatever the situation, most teachers can pick up a new idea or tool to use with their students in this new landscape. But before you latch on to a shiny new technology resource it is helpful to take stock of the situation in which we find ourselves.
Brick-and-Mortar vs Distance Education
It’s easy to say that Brick-and-Mortar vs Distance education are different. But they are. Ideally, before you launch into your distance education program, but even early into the process, it is important to consider the differences between the two platforms. The typical classroom offers students a rich environment that is full of opportunities for enrichment and interaction with peers and teachers. This interaction helps quickly address misconceptions and redirect students’ understanding of course objectives. This environment also allows the teacher to quickly pivot to reenforce or re-teach material to meet student needs.
While the digital environment does provide opportunities for teacher feedback through discussion boards, email, and synchronous classes, there are limitations associated with distance learning. The spontaneous meeting between teachers and students is difficult to replicate in digital form.
Even in the most technology-rich brick-and-mortar school, students and teachers face similar challenges in launching a Distance Learning program. Consider the household with four children and two parents now working form home. Bandwidth and the number of devices are just two of the imitations both teachers and students could face. Those living in smaller spaces will find that “getting away” to record video lectures or even conduct live classes can represent a herculean achievement. These are just a few of the challenges that add additional layers of complexity to the most mundane class assignment. These are the kind of challenges that simply do not exist in your classroom.
Philosophy of Distance Learning
To ameliorate the impact of these confounders, teachers need to consider their own ideas about how all of this is supposed to work. A staple of any teacher preparation program is the development of one’s own unique philosophy of education. This statement of principle guides the teacher in their instruction by providing a touchstone to which everything the teacher does connects. It also addresses the needs of the student and how stakeholders should interact with instructional content and each other. The Journal of Educational Research (2014) provides a good example for teachers to follow. Loma Linda University (2020) provides a more conceptual framework for consideration.
The simple act of considering these important elements and how they will function in the new course design can be transformative. Simply put, the digital classroom is a very different landscape that requires a new set of ideas to guide the teacher through the challenges ahead.
About the work
In the digital landscape, students and teachers both face new challenges just completing the most basic course work. This added layer of complexity means that the teacher needs to start slowly. Allow your class to figure things out. This is particularly true if the students have never used the resource(s) that you are now asking them to engage. Enthusiasm is an easy trap for any teacher to fall into. Wanting to replicate everything that is offered in my classroom is attractive. After all, as a devoted teacher, I want to continue to drive my students toward the same volume and outcomes. In reality, what works best in this environment that encourages exploration by the student where the course outcomes remain the same as they were last month, but instruction and assignments must be different.
Students don’t have the teacher there to practice proximity control and redirect students toward content. Because of this lectures need to be kept short, ideally guiding students toward content to explore and then demonstrate their understanding in some form.
Creating assessments is another big difference between the traditional classroom and the distance learning environment. An easy rule of thumb is that if the answer to the question can be Googled, it is the wrong question. Students have technology and they know how to use it. This is particularly true for upper grades. So, multiple-choice questions should be used sparingly. That leaves us with essay questions, but even these can be poorly crafted. Teachers have to remember that the role of any assessment is to gauge student understanding.
Project based assessments are a great way to measure student grasp of course concepts. Otherwise, create questions that challenge the student to express their understanding and perhaps provide a reflective note to individualize responses. The addition of a personal reflection in their writing makes the student incorporate their own “fingerprints” to their submissions. If you are still suspicious of your students’ work, you could consider allowing them to work in groups to complete projects.
I always advise teachers to take things easy at first. Just try one new thing for now. Later you can always expand what you do as your comfort level increases. Remember if it is new to you, it is likely new to many of your students. If you are like the rest of us, it’s a sure bet that your administration is making you drink from a firehose with all of the new administrative tasks you must now master. Give yourself the gift of simplicity. Your students will thank you and you will find you have a bit more of your sanity left at the end of each day.
The Flipped Classroom is a concept that is being considered and used, often for the first time lately. Online resources are available for educators to become more proficient in this new style of content delivery.
Look it over and let the conversation begin! What works for you, how are you using these tools? What did you find helpful? What challenges did you find?
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) provides the starting point for all educators using technology. ISTE has published a set of clear, easily accessed standards for the use of technology in education. individual standards are directed at the needs of students, educators, and educational leaders.
Common Sense Education provides their top picks for distance education. Highlights include: Flipgrid which allows students and teachers to discuss content, Seesaw which provides a steady platform for audiovisual journaling, and Screencast-o-matic which allows for easy screen capture and video creation for the delivery of class content.
Common sense also provides information for parents and advocates. Parents will find apps and video reviews for current titles. Advocates will find resources and guidance on equity and digital privacy among other themes.
The Copyright Clearance Center provides a fairly lengthy list of resources for Distance Learning.
WeAreTeachers.com also provides a list of 190 free resources for teachers and parents. These resources are further broken down into school levels to help you more readily find appropriate resources for your student(s).
Google offers ideas for using G Suite, Chrome, Hangouts and more in your Distance Learning plan. There is also training on how to build interactive lessons using Google products.
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) provides a number of ideas to use in the teaching of English and related subjects, but some of these resources can be easily adapted for use far beyond English class.
Albert offers subject-specific activities for all ages. Math, science, reading, writing, social studies, world languages, computer science, music, as well as collaborative tools, presentation, and assessment applications.
Teachers First offers a set of well-designed resources for instruction. These Classroom Resources cover a wide variety of subjects across the K-12 curriculum. are primarily aimed at the elementary classroom, there are a number of quality items for upper school teachers as well. Once navigated to the Classroom Resources tab, teachers may chose from elementary, middle school, or high school courses. Each resource is rated for specific grade ranges.
TechAgainstCoronaVirus provides perhaps the most comprehensive list of tools. This crowd sourced list is constantly growing. It will certainly be the go-to resource for Distance Learning teachers.
The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) provides information about less traditional educational courses, but the best part of this site are the sections titled “General Online / Distance Learning Guides and Tips,” “General Ed Tech Tools,” and “Federal Guidance.” This last section may be particularly helpful as a reference for Distance Learning for teachers of students with learning disabilities.
A number of resources stand bear a good second look…
For one-stop solutions, many educators will gravitate toward the G Suite tools. This set of applications provides Google Classroom for a quick LMS allowing for assignments and submissions, Hangouts which provides a means of connection with students, and the plethora of additional tools like Google Docs, which, if you have not used lately has creeped ever closely to the model of MS Word. Google offers a variety of tools for the student and teacher.
Google Sites gives students a good platform for submitting presentations and work for peer review. Used as an extension of the classroom, students are given a space to post and review durable learning objects for their courses. Ease of use makes this a winner for the 21st Century classroom long after social distancing ends. The ease of use and utility of the educational tools developed by Google have made them a favorite of teachers. Check it out…You may find that there are tools beyond your expectations.
NearPod allows teachers to transform Power Point presentations into interactive instructional tools. Presentations may be either synchronous or asynchronous. Simply upload a completed slideshow and insert formative assessment questions. It’s that easy. NearPod allows for use of video and websites in the presentation.
NearPod users love this tool. Here is one teacher’s review:
Nearpod: the perfect tool for Hybrid learning during Distant Learning
By Sharon Low
NearPod, a student engagement platform has been my “go to” tool in my classroom on a regular basis because it facilitates active engagement on behalf of my students. NearPod has made it easy to allow for a “complete package of learning”, within one tool. Instead of simply “presenting” to my students through a slideshow, I am able to interact with my students with polls, open ended questions, quizzes, and a collaboration board. I am able to provide differentiation for my students through an immersive reader, videos, the draw it feature; encourage collaboration; stimulate research by accessing the web; boost higher order thinking and creativity; and even gamify my lessons with a fun Time to Climb game. I am able to “app smash” and integrate Google Docs, Flipgrid, EdPuzzle, and many other apps into one NearPod lesson. I love hearing my students’ tapping away on their Chromebooks as they are engaging in an open-ended question, knowing that I have 100% participation by my class. Those quiet students who would never participate freely, have been given the opportunity of having their voice heard, without the fear of having to speak aloud. I am able to correct misconceptions, redirect learning, teach to those teachable moments, by incorporating an “on the fly” question or activity.
NearPod was my “go to” tool every time I was absent from the classroom. With the student paced lesson, I was able to ensure that my students would receive the lesson that was planned for the day. The student paced lessons also provided the opportunity for my absent students to make up the work and learn the concepts covered in class.
But, how would NearPod function in distance learning? At first, I believed NearPod would only provide for asynchronous learning by assigning my students a student paced code to a lesson they would complete on their own.
Would NearPod work through the “Live Lesson” mode and allow us to have synchronous learning while in our Google hangouts class? It did! It worked perfectly! In our Google hangouts class, I provided my students with an access code to a Live NearPod lesson, and continued on with learning, as if we were actually in our classroom! Instead of viewing a presentation from my screen, the students had the presentation right on their device. Through NearPod, I was able to make the lesson as engaging, as if in the classroom by incorporating open-ended questions, polls, quizzes, matching pairs, fill-in the blanks, and draw-its. These activities provided immediate assessment of my students’ understanding of the concepts being discussed. They opened up the opportunity for further discussion, verbally, in our Google hangout classroom.
With NearPod I have been able to have my students collaborate with each other as they complete a Collaborate board. They have been able to watch assigned videos, access the web for research right from the NearPod lesson, and respond through Open-ended questions, quizzes, Collaborate, and Draw it. The students have been able to enjoy gamification with Time to Climb and a matching game. The new Immersive reader for many of the activities, and the Audio submissions for open-ended questions facilitates learning for my ELA students. NearPod provides timers on many of the activities which aid with the flow of the lesson, especially when you can’t simply tap a student’s shoulder to encourage him/her to complete the work.
I can’t wait to use NearPod for more synchronous learning while we do distant learning. My students will go on Virtual field trips all over the world. They will be able to manipulate 3-D items, and work through PhET simulations. They will have access to Flocabulary, Flipgrid, SWAY, and Google docs, all through one portal- NearPod. NearPod provides me reports with the students’ performance, which I can then use to provide immediate feedback to parents and administration.
NearPod, therefore, actually provides for Hybrid learning during our distant learning. It can be used for synchronous learning by providing the students the code to a live lesson while in Google hangouts (or Zoom), and it works well for asynchronous learning by providing the students the code to a student-paced lesson. NearPod is the perfect tool for distance learning!
Brain pop is an interactive website with animated video content for all subject areas. This is a tool suitable for K-12. Setting up a class account allows teachers to assign video quizzes and other activities for assessment. World language teachers will find this a great tool for their intermediate and advanced students as the videos are available in a number of languages.
EdPuzzle is another great tool for educators. Content is limited to 1GB, but keeping content pithy is a hallmark of good online pedagogy. EdPuzzle allows teachers to inject short videos with formative assessment questions. As student progress through the video and answer questions, EdPuzzle generates a grade book for that lesson. Upload your own video lesson and insert questions or use the archives. Educators will find thousands of pre-made lessons on a wide variety of subjects suitable for all grade levels. This online tool provides a level of technical polish for even the most technologically timid teacher.
Kahoot! has been described as an online quiz game platform. It works at a distance the same way it does in the classroom. Teachers create the questions or use one that already exists, then they share the join code with their class. Each quiz may take several forms. Setting up your own quizzes allows students to compete against each other. Students love the competition and it really helps sharpen skills.
Screencastify is a Google Chrome extension that allows the user to record screencasts. This tutorial gives a good overview of the functions of the tool. This program is a good means of delivering lecture using your slideshow. The completed video is easily shared as a link for students to use. While the free version offers limited video length, Educators may now upgrade to unlimited with the access code: CAST_COVID
The California Department of Education has amassed a list of curriculum resources for teachers to use. This list includes free resources from publishers and other sources.
Theory and Background
Researchers at the University of Florida compiled a good overview of the theory guiding Distance Learning.