Every day, nearly 3 million teachers are hard at work educating young minds, encouraging curiosity, inspiring creativity and shaping the future of our world. The coronavirus has changed things drastically over the past few months as millions of teachers and students have left traditional classrooms and are now interacting online. Thankfully, education continues – and online technology makes it possible.
“The quick jump to remote learning wasn’t as difficult as we originally envisioned,” says Jeanine Gelhaus, who teaches seventh and eighth graders in Medford, Wisconsin. “Our school district has always been on the cutting edge concerning technology and even before COVID-19 hit, our students were well versed in the online tools they are using from home now.”
As remote learning continues for most schools, innovative resources are emerging to help teachers and students adapt to today and prepare for tomorrow.
In the classroom and remotely, online resources are helping students grow their knowledge bases and skills for their future careers and lives. “We want our kids to be adaptable and good problem solvers,” says Gelhaus, who has over 25 years of teaching experience and has earned the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). “It’s empowering for these students to learn new technologies they will use as business owners, community leaders and scientists of the next generation.”
Developing Websites – and Knowledge
Many of today’s schoolchildren are more than just familiar with accessing apps and websites – they are building them. In fact, her students have been working with website content derived from Infiniscope, a NASA-sponsored site that Gelhaus works with to connect students with earth and space exploration. “Students are much more experienced with basic technology than when I first began my teaching career,” says Gelhaus. “Once they determine a website theme, I help them learn how to do things like add and format text and graphics, click, drag and drop elements, embed videos and publish their sites.”
From elementary school to the collegiate level, online learning around the world has been largely successful during the coronavirus. That’s not to say there haven't been glitches. Many schools were caught off guard during the sudden transition to online learning due to a lack of technological infrastructures and resources. Two of the biggest challenges have been an inadequate amount of digital devices for students and a lack of high-speed internet access in homes, especially in lower-income areas. Still, nearly 90 percent of all U.S. school districts are currently offering online educational programs to their students to complete the school year.
Building Responsibility and Self-Sufficiency
As teachers were forced to quickly adapt curriculums for online classrooms, students had to learn to be self-sufficient outside of the traditional classroom. They also confronted the social and psychological effects of isolation without seeing their friends in-person at school. Gelhaus says that her students, for the most part, have been up to the challenge – and technology has helped. “When we start each school day at 8:30, they are online and ready to go,” she says. “Maybe it’s more for them to see their peers because they miss them and want to communicate with them – sometimes they even give me a smile and it’s great.”
As a teacher, you may still be playing catch-up with the online learning process. While it can be intimidating, you should adopt Gelhaus’s attitude. “Someone once told me, when you stop learning, you begin to wither on the vine,” she says. “When a website for my classroom wasn’t in the budget, I built my own with lots of trial and error using sites like YouTube for reference. You have to be open to the fact that not everything is going to work the first time but if you relax and go with the flow of technology, you will find your way.”
It’s easier than ever to build your own website or blog pages for your parents and students to reference. Teachers can post calendars and forms for parents to submit questions securely. There are easy ways to build a site and update it regularly with WordPress, and sites like TeachTomorrow feature information about the latest apps, tools and online resources.
Stay in touch and collaborate with other teachers on your team who may have more experience with technology and ask what they're doing in their online classrooms. Communicate with your students to discover what they are interested in. They are typically tech savvy and may provide valuable information you can use to keep them engaged.
Here are some of the most popular online apps and websites that teachers and students are using during the coronavirus.
Designed to offer interactive learning opportunities for students of all ages, Google Classroom has become the most popular app during the coronavirus crisis. With over 50 million downloads since mid-March and a loyal following over the past few years, Google Classroom has seen a huge spike in teacher and student usage. “Before the coronavirus and even more so now, my students use their Google Chromebooks to access Google Classroom every day,” says Gelhaus. This free web-based program integrates Google resources including Google Docs, Gmail and Google Calendar. It allows teachers to create classes, distribute assignments, facilitate communication between students and parents and stay organized.
This helpful resource allows teachers and students to virtually collaborate, view presentations and videos and interact through teleconferencing. Blackboard Collaborative also includes tutorials for teachers, along with ideas from instructors nationwide. “This has been very helpful for my students,” says Gelhaus. “During our interactive classes, Blackboard gives the students the opportunity to review learning materials and ask me questions before going back to Google Classroom and completing their assignments.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom has emerged as a leading way for students, teachers and parents to virtually meet in real time by teleconference. Teachers can share their screens for teaching purposes and students can see each other via their webcams. Lesson sessions can also be recorded and shared with a link so students can review and learn at their own pace. This service is now free for K-12 students and teachers through the end of the current school year.
This resource allows teachers to create exercises or educational games that students can solve on mobile devices, including smartphones, laptops and tablets. Teachers can monitor the results and modify future lessons to be more personalized for each student. It’s a fun way to capture and maintain student interest, and it's easy to program interfaces to create lessons that are unique for every student.
This app helps teachers share assignment information and class updates with parents and students. It features two-way messaging that allows parents and teachers to communicate in real time and also gives students the opportunity to ask questions. It’s a great option for ensuring parents are always aware of what their children are working on and helps keep the lines of virtual communication open.
While the future may feel a little uncertain, you’ll get through this with your students and help from online resources. “It’s actually a time of great opportunity,” says Gelhaus. “If you utilize new technologies and really embrace them, you’re setting a positive tone that your students will follow. In this unprecedented time, you’re helping to shape a bright tomorrow.”
Be sure to check out our infographic to help keep everyone in your house stay connected and stay online.