“It’s supposed to be automatic, but actually you have to push this button”John Brunner
The digital revolution
How many times have you felt some sort of curiosity towards introducing new online tools in your classroom?
Whether you like them or not, new technologies have become part of most people’s lives all over the planet.
It’s still possible to find people that are completely at odds with technology and refuse to catch up with this fast-changing world: especially among “baby boomers” or those born post–World War II between 1946 and 1964.
If we look, however, at more recent generations, for example, Generation X, those that have followed, and above all our students, we will see that new technologies are a natural part of their daily routine and lives.
These so-called “digital natives” were born into a world made up of social media, online shopping, influencers, and so on… as such, they don’t know or understand what life was like before the digital revolution.
Imagine their thoughts looking at a middle-aged person that lives without a smartphone, ignoring the meaning of words like “account”, “log out”, or “podcast”.
New technologies have certainly created a significant distance between digital natives and the previous generations.
In the classroom, we know how important it is for teachers to develop positive relationships with their students and to understand their world with its problems, pace, and characteristics.
Technology has became essential
The main reason why it is important to introduce new technologies into the classroom is that most students nowadays cannot process information in a different way; some need a screen, a video or a quiz in order to learn better.
So a teacher that completely removes technology from his/her classroom, is a teacher that is imposing rigid limits on the students regarding their learning possibilities.
Students also know this and can perceive this distance: a distance from them but also a distance between the school and the world outside of the school.
For these reasons, the teaching-learning process in our current societies cannot exist without technology.
Different types of programs
The number of online educational tools is abundant and growing more and more every month.
Programs below have been divided by categories. Of course, we have to understand that it is not always possible to define a program within just one category; some programs are very complex and could be listed in 2 or 3 categories.
Moreover, there are categories that are not included here and programs that are not possible to categorize or where one could be invented.
An intensive research study, which includes all the educational tools that are present online would take a very long time to complete.
If you don’t believe me, search on Google… and you’ll start a never-ending journey through a vast world of technological tools that can be used in various educational settings.
Here, we present an introduction to this world of educational tools and programs, which will serve as a compass and a map that can help you to sail towards this new and fascinating horizon.
For each category, you will find a short description, a couple of programs and its functions.
A) School management programs
These are big programs that are also called platforms. They are used at school level, meaning that everybody in the school (directors, teachers, students and family) use the same platform that the school has decided to use. Normally, every person must have private access to the platform (for this reason, if the students are too young, the family is involved).
It must be said that more and more schools use platforms that are suggested by their country or region. For example, in Poland, almost every school uses national programs like Vulcan or Librus. In Italy, Argo is well known. School management programs cannot be used if a school has already has its own.
They have three (3) main functions:
– Communication: a platform is the main instrument for formal communication, among all the parts that form the school system.
– E-register: the platform can also be used as a register for the students, storing grades, notes, and attendance.
– Content Sharing: as the communication part is addressed to talk or chat. Normally, in a school management program, one can find many collaboration spaces where content can be shared.
– Office 365: the platform from Microsoft is probably the most complete platform for education, with a lot of apps for communication, content sharing, quizzes and many other features. It is completely free for schools.
– Google Classroom: also Google, “shadowing” from Microsoft, has launched its own educational platform, with Drive (content sharing), an email system and, of course, Google Classroom, which can also be used as a classroom management program.
B) classroom management programs classdojo, Edmodo
These programs can be compared to the previous platforms. The only difference is the actors and the flow of communication: with these teachers, students and family can communicate (in case students are too young) between themselves; meanwhile, school directors can be part of the platform and content sharing can take place among teachers.
They are the same as for the platforms. Just the e-register might be absent here, depending on the specific policy of the school/region/or country.
– Classdojo: this is without a doubt the most successful online tool for kindergarten and primary school. It’s fun to manage a class, and each student can choose their own monster profile picture. Teachers can collect notes and use effective tools for in-class activities. It also provides very easy access to connect with the student’s family and engage them in school activities.
– Edmodo: this can be defined as social media for education. Communication and connection are the strength of this program. Teachers can create a virtual classroom easily and interact with the students in a very effective way.
C) content collectors
To better understand what we are talking about, we can divide this program into two sub-categories: boards and mind maps.
In both cases, educational content (such as text, images, videos, audio, files) can be collected and organized in an interactive way.
For instance, students can access a board called “World War II” where they find material about that topic; they can also interact in these spaces and add more material or exercises or just provide comments.
Content Sharing: these programs are like a nice building where educational content can be stored and added to.
The building can be the class or a subject or a specific topic. Students can enter the building and explore it.
These programs can be used before, during, or after the explanation of a topic. They add to and provide great support to student learning.
– Mind maps are great support for students and teachers in a class. They are nothing new, but technology allows interaction on the same map in an amazingly constructive way.
It is not necessary to explain in detail what an online quiz is but it can be defined as a set of questions that students have to answer in order to win a competition.
Questions may vary depending on the program (multiple choice, open ended, or fill-in-the-blank). The level of competition depends on the program and the type of game (individual or teams, with or without points).
Learn with fun: using games and quizzes in the classroom is the best way to learn with fun.
Games naturally raise student motivation and can also change the idea of school which is sadly seen, too often, as a boring place.
The only recommendation is to tell students that playing is a very serious thing; it is amazing to have fun, but the point is still to learn something!
One great idea is to get the students to create the quiz which is even more effective for their learning.
What if they are not motivated to create the quiz but just want to play it?
Launch a competition among classes about who will be able to create the best quiz!
– Kahoot: this is the most famous online tool for education. If you’ve started to use it in your class, you’ve probably also heard your students asking to play more than once.
– Quizizz: a quiz that can be compared to Kahoot, less known but technically great, with a lot of options for questions and a really engaging meme feature.
E) video-lessons programs
Some people say that videos are the new perfect format for sharing information nowadays.
No need to ask whether new generations prefer to read a book or to watch a video; you’ve already got the answer.
There are several programs that can be easily used to convert a simple video in a video lesson.
This means adding interactive elements to the video (and sometimes inside of it) such as questions, audio notes, and links.
At the end, a topic can be explained in a video with quizzes that allow students and teachers to have instant feedback.
Another way of giving a lesson: video-lessons, once created, are independent elements that work with any further assistance; they can be used, for example, as the central part of a Flipped Classroom.
Students can study them at home while the teacher prepares a collaborative, hands-on, activity in the classroom.
– EdPuzzle: you can use online videos or upload videos made by you and keep them private.
Then modify the videos by adding information, links, questions and then share the video with your students; student progress can be tracked live.
This is a very powerful tool that every teacher should try at least once.
– Fluentkey: the program is similar to EdPuzzle, but it is specifically for language teachers (even if it could also be used for other subjects) since it has specific activities that focus on listening skills.
F) small tools for each subject
There are a lot of programs that have been designed to satisfy the needs of specific academic subject teachers.
You can find something useful for every subject. Here we will list just some of them; which are the ones that we usually discuss in our “ICT in the classroom” course; if you want to discover more programs, have a look at the other ICT courses in our selection.
Their function is really different depending on the program and the subject.
It collects a series of interactive and multimedia lessons about a lot of topics and in different languages.
– lyrics training: for those who like to learn languages with songs. Lyrics training is made with fill-in-the-blank exercises using the lyrics of the most famous songs of the present and the past.
– seterra: engaging quizzes about geography that can be used in the class as great support for your lessons.
G) education to a safe use of technology
Some organizations that work in education have created their own online web site in order to spread their ideas in the internet.
Some of them use technology to teach how to use technology, to adults, teachers and students, inside of the school as well as outside.
These corporations with their web sites are promoters of good practices towards the use of technology, covering important topics like safety, privacy, social media, online content sharing and cyber-bullying
– commonsensemedia: this web site is very rich in resources for teachers, parents and students to learn about how to use technology in a good way.
Teachers can find already prepared lessons which they can just study, download and submit to the class. There are also inspiring posters to stick to the schools’ halls and great awareness-raising videos.
H) new frontiers (ER)
The so-called ER (Extended Reality) is an umbrella term in which we find AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality). Both are a useful instruments to help students in their learning.
At this link, you can discover more about our “Digital Game-Based Learning & Augmented Reality for Schools” course.
Science fiction or reality? Maybe the schools of the future will be full of students wearing special lenses and goggles with sensors which will guide avatars into simulated worlds where they can experience virtual realities and learn more effectively and safely.
For the moment, we have just some tools that we can try out, mostly made by Google and Microsoft, consisting of headsets and HoloLens.
We have to think a lot about how to use the power of technology: especially when we talk about educating new generations. Some knowledge and a bit of wisdom are certainly necessary ingredients.
To learn more about the potential of ER, watch the video here below.
We have spoken about the most used (and most popular) online educational tools.
I am confident you’ll probably have found in this article something helpful and useful to you… I hope so!
Which ones do you like the best? Which ones you didn’t know and you would put into practice right away?
Let me know in the comments!