Hello Fellow Colleagues,
As all of you have also experienced, I’ve had my share of adventures through the labyrinths of educational technologies, all promising new bells and whistles to serve our learners and us better. Initially, to help me provide digital content to my learners, I created my own websites, eventually moving over to institutionally supported CMS systems. Here I’ve dabbled with Blackboard, Moodle, Edmodo, Google Classroom and now have set a new course for adventures in Canvas. Collectively, they remind me of the motto on the Nautilus, Mobilis in Mobile, technology moving amidst constant change. Just when you think you might have learned the ins and outs of a system, a better one arrives. I like technology so I’m always exploring new tools, but it does get a bit overwhelming at times to determine what will actually work and what just looks interesting but will be too difficult to evaluate the educational impact. So I’ve come to embrace the “less is more” notion expressed in Warlocks’s ninth guideline to “keep it simple and effective.”
I wish to share with you some of my experiences as they pertain to how I approach building my online-hybrid classrooms. I usually try to evaluate them by looking at design tools, content creation tools, and content management systems (CMS) available to me.
- Design tools:
These include tools that allow you to create your own interface either through direct HTML5 coding, or through the use of digital composers, i.e., website builders (WordPress, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace) that offer users a variety of templates and a friendly interface with easy drag and drop features. These allow you to effortlessly link/post content to a variety of sources including social media applications. I’ve enjoyed using these design tools for hybrid classes as I feel they allow me the greatest amount of creative control; however, there are limitations with content privacy.
- Content creation tools:
Whether using web builders or an existing CMS infrastructure, I use lots of different tools to help build and design my content for classes. Since many of you use these I won’t go into much detail on them other than to list them. I use Keynote, PowerPoint and Prezi for in-class content presentation. I usually use the first two and then convert them to PDF and upload/link to the virtual classroom, blog or CMS. I try to have students also use these tools for their presentations, or choose a number of other programs that are better suited for social media integration.
- Smore and Pinterest: Great for brainstorming ideas and creating digital flyers/posters and/or image archives. Smore allows you or students to create great flyers without requiring much in the way of design skills.
- YouTube: I create class channels in which I can link content into my HTML/CMS sites or have students upload video projects to the account.
- Storybird: As an ESL educator, I’ve enjoyed using this tool that allows students to create their own digital picture books. I usually have two members in each team, as they search through the extensive art archive to find images that work for their creative story development. Stories can be long or short based on story design and then they can easily be converted to an eBook format for presentations. Additionally, they provide a classroom interface allowing you to easily review projects, set assignments, have students respond to stories via blog, and story publishing tools. I’ve used it for teaching intermediate ESL writing classes as well as intermediate German.
- Easelly: This application is ideally suited for creating infographics that I’ve used for students to graphically represent their essays. They visually demonstrate the flow of ideas and overall structural cohesion of the writing.
- Content management systems CMS): As mentioned earlier, I am relatively new to CANVAS. What I’ve seen so far I’ve liked and find that the benefits outweigh the weaknesses. Most of my experience has been with other CMSs. One of the schools I teach at uses Google Classroom exclusively (for hybrid classes):
Google Classroom: The interface is straight forward and simple to use. The teacher interface allows you an overview of all of your online classes. Each class consists of three essential pages:
- Stream page: used for all communication of assignments, questions, or announcements (not email).
- Student page: Allows for teacher/ student interaction and discussion.
- Class resource page: Presentations and additional information can be posted for students to access.
- Additionally, there are email and calendar features integrated into the site.
The true benefit of using Google Classroom has been the ease of use of all the Google Suite applications because they integrate seamlessly into the site. I’ve listed the ones that I use regularly:
- Google Docs: Great for individual or collaborative writing assignments. Allows synchronous user editing.
- Google Forms: Create multiple choice or limited response questions that are helpful as a digital study guide. Students get instant feedback and can access forms on any platform.
- Google Drive: Google’s version of Dropbox. A place that holds all Google-created documents and allows you to share those documents by placing them into student folders.
- Google Slides: Another alternative to PowerPoint and Prezi, seamlessly integrated into the Google platform. Students can easily create and share their presentations. They can play on any device at any time (given a good WIFI connection).
- Google Hangouts: Platform for creating video or text discussion groups linked to the Google Classroom site.
I have enjoyed using the system because it is quite flexible and adaptive. The price for accessing all of these systems is setting up a Google email account. As most students already have such an account, they can access all of these applications at no cost. There are video and photo applications and many more that can be integrated to expand on lesson content creation. Above all, unlike other CMS systems, I’ve been able to use this with students from around the world as it requires only an internet connection and a PC.
See you next week!