• Theresa Capra

Remote Learning: Five Ideas for the Unexpected Guest

Updated: Aug 23

Remote learning has wedged its presence into K-12 and higher education without an invite, and now it may overstay its welcome. Unexpected guests can be stressful, but don't feel obliged to serve on Bone china; however, you will at least need to take out some plates. Fear not!--there are some simple ingredients to make you a better hostess towards this unexpected guest, which you would be remiss to turn away. Who knows, you may even learn to love your new visitor! #remotelearning #technology #remoteteachingtools #theresacapra #teachingandlearning #Covid19

Remote learning showed up at our doorsteps and now teachers at all levels have found themselves foraging through a technological pantry bursting with apps, websites, and tools, but no Rachel Ray to guide the way. It’s overwhelming to learn how to utilize different tools and worse, disappointing when you invest considerable time only to discover that you should have opted for scrambled eggs instead of trying eggs benedict.


Many technologies have steep learning curves and because time is the most precious resource any teacher or professor has, using it wisely can make all the difference for students. My job puts me in a unique position to evaluate technology from preschool to higher education because I teach college courses in fully online, hybrid, and now remote formats, and I also mentor teacher candidates who are in K-5 classrooms using instructional technology daily.


I’d like to share five tools that I believe are applicable to remote classrooms at many levels, as well as varied disciplines. They’re free, of course with options to upgrade for premium use, which typically means more bells and whistles that are helpful. Maybe school districts and institutions will allocate more resources towards making premium accounts available to instructors in the future (ha, ha!).

1) FlipGrid. Everyone should be using this. Students and teachers can record and upload videos and interact on grids, or threads, with video replies, emojis, pictures, and comments. Teachers can provide feedback and control the settings. My son (grade 7) and my daughter (grade 4) use FlipGrid all the time for their classes. But it’s not just for kids--FlipGrid saved my Introduction to Education course this semester because it afforded my students the opportunity to present their mini lesson plans, which normally occur in the physical classroom. They got so creative and the level of participation from student to student was even higher than in the classroom! I will be using FlipGrid for ice breakers in my remote classes in the fall. FlipGrid is simple to use on a laptop or smartphone. I recommend you try it out, or expand its use in the future if you’re already using it. Imagine if you could pop a gourmet meal into a microwave--this would be it!


2) SCREENCASTOMATIC. Sometimes it makes more sense to record a video for students instead of leading them through a live lesson via Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, or Google Teams. SCREENCASTOMATIC allows you to customize instructional videos with voice over, screen demonstrations, and added media (think...display a math problem step-by-step). It’s super easy to edit so you won’t spend all your time clicking around in exasperation. It can be more dynamic than Youtube videos, especially if you’re looking to get beyond simple lecture.


A couple of years ago I created a professional development course for college instructors who were new to online learning and this was a key tool we used to enhance our text-based discussion boards. Files can be shared, attached to discussion boards, or embedded in an LMS. A manageable and elegant dish.


3) Poll Everywhere. This is a great resource to make your lessons and PowerPoints more interactive. I’ve been using this for my face-to-face lectures since it was founded in 2007. When I was a new, full-time faculty member at a college there were two sets of ‘clickers,’ as they were called, on a wheelie cart, which you could sign out from the tech department. These cumbersome remotes would allow students to participate in your lecture by answering questions in real time. It was such a waste of time because you had to set them up, hand them out, get them back (not that any student would want to snatch a 1970 TV remote), check batteries, and the cherry on top--wheel the cart through the hallway like pushing a shopping cart filled with bricks.


Poll Everywhere eliminated that nuisance with smartphone technology permitting students to answer polls and questions during your PowerPoint lectures. Now they’ve upped their platform for remote learning --there are options to assess and gain feedback in real time without having to monitor a hidden chat feature in Zoom or Collaborate, or stop and ask, “does everyone understand,” which usually meets with the customary, “uh, huh.” It’s very user-friendly and worth the time. If you sign up for a free account, you can download their distance learning guide. Maybe it can add a new spice to an otherwise bland dish.


4) thinglink. This is a great educational source that allows you to do cool things to photos similar to how you edit in Google Photos. You can work with different media, but I like the virtual tours and panoramic images. I teach Introduction to Early Childhood fully online and I use this tool to create a 3-dimensional classroom to illustrate different set-ups for centers and sensory tables. I also used it for a curriculum class to bring a children’s room at a public library to life.


It's great when a physical visit may not be feasible. It could also be a great resource for geography and history allowing interactive visuals of maps and places. Images can be just as powerful as video and whether you’re taking your students into a classroom, outerspace, or asking them to find images to enhance poetry, this is a great starting place. Why not put something different on the menu?


5) TEDEd. Stop fumbling around in the dark for educational videos on Youtube and turn to TEDEd first. I use Ted Talks all the time in my fully online and hybrid courses. I embed the videos and ask students to conduct additional research on the topics as well as reflect on the speaker’s perspectives. I also ask them to find talks on similar topics and compare and contrast how the speaker’s experiences influence their perspectives.


TEDEd is slightly different --it’s curated specifically for teachers, students, and yes, parents. From video lessons to inspiring speakers, there’s something for everyone. Consider having your students work on a project where they create their own TEDEd (using some of the tools above). Who knows, maybe one of your students is poised to become the next big thing. It's like a buffet with loads of options and room for seconds.

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