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The Virtual Teacher’s Guide to Online Teaching: Tools, Strategies, and Resources

A teacher sits at a desk looking at a laptop and writing in a notebook.

A raised eyebrow, a thumbs up, a whispered word of praise. Dynamic instructors teach in the moment, responding to students with subtle cues that establish personal connections. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many school districts to switch to online instruction, leaving teachers without a compelling physical presence. In an online environment, how can teachers reach across the digital divide to connect with students, especially those who may be struggling, and keep them engaged?

This resource guide offers strategies for creating a dynamic virtual classroom. It shares experts’ action plans for engagement and collaboration. Plus, it includes helpful links to online teaching tools that are tailored to support virtual teaching and spur active learning.

Strategies for Engaging Students Online

A challenge of online education is ensuring feedback between teachers and students. Without face-to-face cues, for example, how can instructors tell if the shy student hiding behind the avatar is following a lesson? How can students check in with their peers or teacher during a lesson?

When students are engaged and participating, motivation surges, and that keeps students learning. The following links offer resources and strategies for sparking student engagement in online classrooms.

Encourage Collaboration

2 Simple Ways to Improve Online Instruction: This discussion explains how to make lessons interactive and accessible any time, as well as how to open the door to student collaboration with virtual breakout rooms.

7 Tips for Being a Great Virtual Teacher: This article offers ways to help students connect with instructors and each other online, including comments, text-based chats, and short videos as ways to fuel conversation and collaboration.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Flipped Classroom: This instructional strategy, especially helpful for online instruction, emphasizes student engagement and active learning.

Promote Discussion

Cultivating Collaboration and Engagement Online: This article explores ways to foster effective online discussion by giving students a cognitive presence, a social presence, and a teaching presence, all inspired by the Community of Inquiry model. According to the article, when teachers allow students to act as stewards and moderators, a higher level of engagement results.

Packback: This education technology is designed to help online teachers build “smart” discussion communities. It guides students to use artificial intelligence (AI) to create open-ended questions and moderate their own discussions, and it enables instructors to easily provide targeted feedback.

Stay in Touch

Shifting to Online Teaching: A distance-learning instructor shares the importance of incorporating as much student contact into the virtual classroom as possible, including creating personalized touch points and establishing a digital home base.

Tips for Better Online Teaching: An expert in online learning shares engagement strategies, including showing your face, setting up virtual office hours, and sharing emotions.

Reading the Virtual Classroom: It can be challenging to get students to express how well they’re connecting with a distance-learning environment. Award-winning online instructors share survey questions to ask students, including how comfortable they feel with using technology and how easily they can access assignments.

Online Teaching Tools: Technology for Virtual Classrooms

Some online instructors are already well versed in technology, while others may struggle to face a brave new world of apps, platforms, and extensions. Online teaching tools allow all the real-world brainstorming, sharing, communication, and assessment skills of instructors to blossom in the virtual world too.

Following is a collection of helpful options to get teachers’ online classrooms humming, including learning management systems, interactive instruction tools, and much more.

Learning Management Systems

Google Classroom: This free web service has become a frequently chosen platform for online educators who use it to create and grade assignments and share files with students.

Moodle: Moodle is a free, open-source learning management system that offers teachers and students a way to create personalized learning environments.

Canvas: The Canvas course management system for online education allows teachers to post lessons, assignments, and grades online.

Edmodo: This communication, collaboration, and coaching platform for K-12 classrooms allows teachers to share content, quizzes, and assignments, as well as manage communication with students, colleagues, and parents.

Blackboard Learn: This web-based server software is an online teaching tool for course management.

Communication Platforms

Google Meet: A video-communication service developed by Google, Google Meet offers schools a virtual environment for online class meetings. It can be used in tandem with Google Classroom.

Zoom: Zoom is a frequently used cloud-based, peer-to-peer software platform for teleconferencing, telecommuting, and distance education. It offers schools secure video communication services for instruction, office hours, administrative meetings, and more.

Screencasting Tools

Screencastify: Screencastify, a screen-recording tool that’s a Chrome browser extension, records the user’s screen, face, and voice. It also enables teachers and students to record, edit, and share videos.

Loom: This screencasting tool for online teaching allows instructors to record their screen, add their face, annotate with a drawing tool, flip their camera, record presentations, and more.

Screencast-O-Matic: Teachers use this online teaching tool for video creation and editing to facilitate flipped classrooms, student assignments, two-way mentorship, and other applications.

Interactive Instruction Tools

Seesaw: The Seesaw digital learning portfolio is a platform for student engagement, offering teachers and students an easy way to record and share classroom events. Students document learning in virtual journals by adding photos, videos, sketches, and notes.

Flipgrid: The Flipgrid website fosters student interaction. Teachers create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. Each grid serves as a message board where teachers pose questions and students post video responses that appear in a tiled grid display.

Kahoot!: This game-based learning platform is an online teaching tool for K-12 schools. Users generate learning games called “Kahoots.” These are multiple-choice quizzes that can be accessed on the web or via the Kahoot app.

Pear Deck: This K-12 web-based application enables teachers to create interactive slides, allowing students to respond to prompts and questions on their own screens.

Nearpod: This dashboard for interactive instruction allows teachers to upload any favorite resource, including slides and videos, and make it interactive through polls, collaboration boards, and game-based quizzes. Teachers can also use Nearpod to add real-time checks to gauge student comprehension.

Assessment Tools

Edpuzzle is a web-based, interactive video and assessment tool. Users crop existing online videos and add content to target specific learning objectives.

Socrative: Using this tool, students can take simple, teacher-created quizzes on the fly via their own laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Quizlet online study application lets students study information and then test their knowledge via flash cards, games, and other learning tools.

Quizziz is an online assessment tool that enables teachers and students to create quizzes for each other. Users can present quizzes live as timed competitions, or assign them as homework with a specific time limit.

Online Teaching Tools Really Work

Tools for online teaching are wide ranging and widely available. A tool for online teaching can be anything from a strategy for kickstarting student participation, to a learning management system for keeping track of the many spinning parts that make up online learning.

With tools and strategies like these, any teacher can keep their finger on the pulse of student learning and engagement—even from a distance.

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