By Gail Matthews-DeNatale, PhD.
Gail Matthews-DeNatale, PhD, is a faculty member in Northeastern's College of Professional Studies graduate education degree programs. She specializes in eLearning and Instructional Design.
If your courses include any sort of online components, whether it's a full-blown online course or a a small-time discussion board, you'll need to learn to create interactive content to keep your students learning when you're not in a physical classroom.
The most traditional choice for teachers are Learning Management System (LMS), but there are also other online tools. Let's take a look at each.
Learning Management Systems
Most colleges and universities provide Learning Management Systems, which are the Swiss Army knives of online teaching.
They’re an online space in which the teacher can develop course websites that include both content and a range of tools for interactive learning, such as threaded discussions, live web-based conferencing, group work space, and collaborative authoring spaces (such as wikis).
The most popular LMSs in higher education are:
Edmodo is another LMS-like tool that's frequently used in K-12 settings.
Many of these are only available through institutional licensing, but some, like Canvas and Edmodo, provide free accounts for those who are interested in using them on a small scale. A number of them have launched handy mobile apps.
Pros: Both licensed and free LMSs can be wonderful options for creating an integrated learning environment that provides both variety and continuity.
Cons: A full-featured LMS takes time to learn, and because your course content becomes embedded in the system, it’s cumbersome to switch to another LMS if a new and better one comes along.
Other Online Tools
If you're in a face-to-face setting and want to augment your students’ learning experience, consider using products such as the Google Suite. Google Drive makes it possible to share files and author materials collaboratively, and Hangouts works well as a web-conferencing tool with an "on air" option in which live sessions can be recorded and exported to YouTube. You can even create surveys with Google Forms.
VoiceThread is one of the most popular tools for creating online conversations around presentations. You can upload a presentation, use a microphone or telephone to record the audio, and can even set it up so that viewers can comment on and annotate the slides.
SlideShare is a user-friendly tool for sharing and organizing presentations online and it can be embedded in social networking sites such as LinkedIn. In addition, many educators create a Twitter hashtag for their courses and use that as a method for engaging students in quick bursts of communication and resource sharing.
Pedagogy Wheel maps dozens of cutting-edge tools to learning scenarios. I encourage you to use it as tool for decision-making on how to use technology to support learning. The Pad Wheel helps all of us keep our focus on the forms of learning engagement that matter most: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
Pros: These "light weights" tend to be more attuned to the conventions of social media, providing a user-friendly, media-rich, and socially interactive learning experience. They’re also tools that we use in other aspects of our lives every day, so they break down the barriers between school and the rest of life.
Cons: Because these tools are free and on the cutting edge they also come and go in a moment’s notice. It’s important to avoid basing your entire course on one app. In addition, there are so many creative, free tools available online that it's easy to get tool-happy and lose sight of your true goals.