Collaboration in the classroom gives students the ability to connect with one another and it empowers them to learn, explore other perspectives, and problem-solve with their classmates or instructors. In the classroom, students can simply meet in-person with their classmates, but with online learning or distance learning, teachers and students need additional resources to collaborate virtually.

With growing concerns surrounding coronavirus COVID-19, schools and universities are turning to online education. By having the tools and technology to support online learning, you'll be able to ease the strain on teachers and students as they move from classroom learning to online education.

What Is Online Learning?

Online learning, also known as e-learning, is when classes are conducted via the Internet. When students and teachers are participating in an online class from different locations, this type of online learning is called distance learning. If you need additional online learning resources, the Online Learning Consortium offers helpful tips and tools for getting started with online learning.

The key to success for any online learning program is to communicate with students frequently and set clear expectations from the beginning. Here are a few questions to answer as you begin to prepare your classroom to move online:

  • What are the primary communication tools you'll be using with your class?
  • When will synchronous classes be held via video conferencing?
  • How will lecture recordings and supplementary learning materials be distributed to students?
  • How will students submit their assignments?
  • How will assignments, exams, and virtual classroom participation be assessed?
  • Are lessons and resources accessible on multiple devices for students who might not have a laptop or computer at home?

By answering these questions, you'll be able to create a plan for how you'll conduct your virtual classroom. Below are some tools you can use to build a collaborative online learning environment.

1. Video Conferencing

Video conferencing software is the key to make synchronous distance learning possible. Without it, online programs are limited to self-paced programs without individual-to-instructor interaction. Free video conferencing tools include Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype. Many video conferencing services allow you to record your session so you can distribute the lesson recording to students so they can reference it again.

2. Lesson Recording and Video Creation Tools

The term "flipped classroom" is used to describe a learning environment where teachers generate their own instructional content. There are a variety of video creation tools and screen recording software that allows them to create lessons that students can learn from time and again.

3. Learning Management System (LMS)

Use a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas, Blackboard, or Google Classroom to make sure students can easily access all class materials in one place. Many learning management systems often have interactive features like message boards and virtual office hours to help students and teachers learn and communicate effectively. Make sure students have their notifications turned on so they know when an update or new content has been posted.

4. Cloud-Storage Tools

In addition to a learning management system, you'll likely want a shared drive where classroom materials can be accessed online. Tools like Google Drive and Dropbox give you the ability to store and share files, and students can download resources directly to their devices.

5. Exam and Assessment Software

Whether you're quizzing students to check their knowledge on a certain topic or distributing a midterm or final exam, you'll need an exam software to evaluate students. Many of these tools include built-in grading features so you can assess how well students have understood the material.

6. Scheduling Tools

Students need access to their instructors and advisors just like traditional students. Invest in a scheduling platform so students can schedule time with faculty and staff based on their availability. For example, Google Calendar offers specific features for teachers where they can create a classroom calendar to create appointment slots for virtual office hours or to share classwork due dates and reminders.

7. Library Resources

Many university libraries offer online resources so students can check out materials and read and research from their laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Ensure your students are set up with a library card to local libraries so they can access online books and resources as well. Don't forget about other free online databases and digital libraries.

By communicating expectations and using these tools and resources, you'll keep your class connected and create a collaborative online learning environment. To learn more, read everything you need to know about education technology and distance learning next.

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