By Melissa Comer
In the words of the great philosopher (okay, singer/songwriter) Thomas Rhett, “Life changes!” From a teaching standpoint, this has never been truer than during the coronavirus pandemic and the transition to online learning and teaching. Many of us found that we were at a loss as to where to begin, regardless of how comfortable we might have been in using a smartphone to make calls, watch TikTok videos, or read the news. Suddenly, we were (and are) being tasked with using technology as the chief means for teaching.
With technology as the primary mode of instructional delivery, answering the questions of where to begin and what tools to use is critical. To that end, read on for suggestions and not quite a baker’s dozen of Web 2.0 tools that are free and relatively easy to use.
- Check out Flipgrid (info.flipgrid.com), a discussion platform that allows you to record a short, 2-minute video. After setting up your educator registration, create a Grid on whichever topic you choose and share a link or code with your students. Suggestions: Assign students to complete learning reflections, project presentations, or discussion-question responses.
- Use Thinglink (thinglink.com) for interactive projects using images, videos, and other media. Rather than something static, you can include various links and other information to reinforce the content of the image or video posted. Suggestions: Post a word cloud of vocabulary relating to a specific topic or insert URLs that provide more information.
- Make a visual story using Adobe Spark (spark.adobe.com). This easy video platform allows you to add photos, video clips, soundtracks, and even your own voice. Suggestions: Use as a platform for making an engaging lecture, have students practice digital storytelling, or explain the step-by-step process for answering an algebraic equation.
- Try podcasting with Vocaroo (vocaroo.com), a free voice-recording service that requires no registration. Simply press the button to start recording. Once finished, save it, download it, or share through social media, email, embed, or via a QR code. Suggestions: Read/tell a story, discuss a science experiment, or review historical or current events.
- Stay in touch with students via Remind (remind.com), a free text-messaging tool that requires no phone numbers. Set up a class and have students join with a code. Add to your messages by uploading documents, photos, or more. You can also send direct links to Google Classroom, Flipgrid, SurveyMonkey, and more. Suggestions: Set virtual office hours so students can text you with questions, send reminders of assignment due dates, and share handouts.
- Assess students using Google Forms (google.com/forms/about). Design a quiz using multiple choice, true/false, short answer, essay, or scaled questions. Suggestions: Find out students’ interests and attitudes toward reading by implementing a reading interest survey or give a traditional test over content studied.
- Create an online character, or avatar, with Voki (l-www.voki.com). Customize the avatar by selecting hair, skin, and eye color. Record your voice and share via a link or embed it on a website. Suggestions: As an alternative autobiography, ask students to share 10 tidbits about themselves, or use a historical figure and include 10 facts about that person’s life.
- Engage in online discussions on documents you upload with Now Comment (nowcomment.com). Suggestion: Form cooperative groups of students and have them work together to do a close read of a document.
- Get a quick response to a question using Easy Poll (easypolls.net). Pose your question, share the link, and get responses. Suggestions: Have students rate their understanding of a particular concept or indicate their answer to a direct question.
- Check students’ ability to listen actively with ESL Video (eslvideo.com). Insert a link for a YouTube video and pose questions that can only be answered by watching the video. Suggestions: Use a video/quiz already designed or locate a high-interest music video and create your own active listening assessment to reinforce content comprehension for ESL/ELL students as well as native English-speaking ones.
- Share data with the Data GIF Maker (datagifmaker.withgoogle.com). This is extremely easy to use! Create rectangle, circle, or racetrack graphs. Suggestion: Ask students to agree or disagree with a statement and create a circles-data GIF to show responses.
Many of us would love to be in the classroom, interacting with students in a face-to-face environment; however, given the current circumstances, that’s an impossibility. To paraphrase Thomas Rhett, you woke up and found nothing the same; your teaching life has changed, and “you can’t stop it [so] just hop on the train.”
Breathe and know that you’re not alone. It’s a learning process that we are all going through. There will be failures; learn from them. There will be successes; celebrate them!
Dr. Comer, a Professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Tennessee Technological University, teaches graduate and undergraduate literacy courses. Professional activities include presentations at local, state, regional, national, and international levels as well as publications of conference proceedings, scholarly articles, and book chapters.