Building a tech toolkit to solve online teaching challenges
Duminda Jayaranjan and Kanthima Kongsathitsuwan outline how to build a basic tech toolkit that will support effective online teaching
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To provide a quality online education, universities need edtech tools in place to answer three main challenges:
how to run classes via online conferencing, with quick and easy access
how to share teaching materials and teaching plans, and conduct exams, assignments and quizzes
how to check whether students are copying each other and minimise plagiarism in exams and assignments
In face-to-face teaching, students and teachers do not require complex systems to enter the classroom. Thus, it is important to develop hassle-free systems to support online or hybrid class sessions.
Web conferencing tools to create a virtual classroom
The main features needed from a virtual learning environment (VLE) are:
facility for students to interact with teachers
group discussion facilities or breakout rooms
easy access to online platforms’ without the need for specific emails or login credentials every time
easy access to recordings of all classes.
Look for free open-source web conferencing systems especially made for educational purposes, such as BigBlueButton (BBB) online classroom. We tested a number of options and found that this integrated most easily with our learning management system (LMS). This means it is accessible to all registered students via the LMS without requiring an additional login.
Teachers can set up a group discussion or mini-workshops during online sessions, then split students into breakout rooms to discuss the class assignment in smaller groups before returning to the full class and presenting their group feedback or opinion.
The multi-whiteboard function enables students express their findings in writing a shared space with the rest of their class, so students can discuss and feed back on each other’s answers.
Teachers and students can share their presentations, external videos or other learning materials via the virtual classroom. Students can also review previous classes thanks to an automatic record function that saves sessions on the learning management system.
Learning management software for organising courses
Academics need to manage their courses and lectures effectively by:
communicating with students
setting timetables and deadlines
providing learning materials
evaluating through assignments and quizzes
providing space for group discussions.
A free open-source LMS such as Moodle handles all classroom management needs and can extend functionality through external plug-ins offering web conferencing and plagiarism checks. There are also paid-for options such as Canvas and Blackboard, but we found that Moodle offered all the functions we needed.
Students can save lecture notes, video clips, external links to follow or additional reading materials that teachers can upload to the LMS at any time. During classes, teachers and students can communicate via the chat function, as well as using the LMS email plug-in.
For assessment, teachers can create online quizzes and assignments that students must complete within set time frames. These tools are very useful for evaluating students’ level of understanding. The same tools can be used for formal exams, but teachers must not forget to ask students to turn on their camera.
Plagiarism checkers to support academic integrity
For evaluating assignments or exams, universities can pay for specialist software – Unicheck, Turnitin, PlagScan, CopyCheck, PlagiarismCheck, Plagiarisma – that helps to check submissions for plagiarism. This software can be easily integrated within an LMS and can connect automatically when student submit assignments or exams. It assists teachers in ensuring academic integrity among students, which, in turn, supports better learning outcomes. Knowing that their work will be carefully checked for signs of plagiarism encourages students to really focus on writing assignments and reports in their own unique way.
Teachers can download class attendance reports, with students’ names and log-in times, to monitor student participation without taking up time in limited live sessions to check this. Students can offer feedback or express concerns via an anonymous feedback function that can be set up so it is visible only to the programme director and the class teacher.
Benefits of getting a good basic toolkit in place
Quality online teaching can be easily managed once you have the right basic tools in place.
Teaching sessions can initially be monitored by office staff, if wanted, to ensure that everything runs smoothly. This enables teachers to focus on designing and delivering engaging and effective class content and activities for their students.
An effective feedback system helps educators refine and improve classes over time as they gain a better understanding of students’ needs and expectations. They can raise key concerns in management meetings where systemic improvements are needed.
These basic tools will continue to be used alongside in-person classes as the additional features complement face-to-face teaching with new modes of communication, learning materials and assignments, increase flexibility and accessibility of learning and help teachers monitor student progress. All this serves to enhance the quality of the teaching, improving higher education for all.
Duminda Jayaranjan is associate dean of the International College and Kanthima Kongsathitsuwan is associate dean in the Faculty of Information Technology, both at Siam University.