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Education Online Education

How To Create a Sense of Community in your Classroom in 5 Steps

Create an authentic sense of community in your classroom, regardless of the pandemic

Building a sense of community in a classroom is crucial for learning. The sense of belonging increases students’ motivation to learn, willingness to help each other, satisfaction with their academic programs, and cognitive learning. 

The beginning of the year is the best moment to create a sense of community in your classroom. And while this year feels very different for many of us, there’s no reason we can’t create connections with our students.

No matter if our classes are 100% virtual, or hybrid, or blended, or in-person, creating a sense of community in your classroom is not that difficult, and it will always be beneficial. 

Researchers identify 4 essential elements that create a sense of community: 

  1. Mutual interdependence among members
  2. Connectedness & trust
  3. Interactivity
  4. Shared values and goals

In this post, I go through 5 simple steps that will help you forge bonds and create a classroom environment where every student feels safe and part of the community. 

No matter what’s the format of your course and what are the channels you’re using. Creating a sense of community is this simple, and the learning outcomes are worth it.

Let’s take a look.


1. Define a common goal

A shared culture is only possible when there are shared goals, values, and beliefs. 

The first step to creating a sense of community is defining common goals, values, and agreements. And I’m not talking about the intended learning outcomes you have listed on your syllabi. I’m talking about student’s shared goals.

These common goals are crucial to building trust and connections among students, as well as developing a sense of responsibility. The goals can be a mix of learning goals and life goals. They should be adapted to the type of course, the level and depth of study, the duration of the course, the maturity level of students, and the initial knowledge they have. 

The key idea here is to give students the opportunity to set up their own shared goals, values, and agreements at the beginning of the course. While it might be a good idea to have some outlines on these three elements to guide the class, students must reflect and work on building their own community standards. This not only will increase their motivation towards learning, but it also will hold them accountable for achieving their objectives and complying with the community agreements. 

Use the first half-hour of your lecture to work on the community goals, values, and agreements. Ask your students to work in small groups and reflect on what are the goals they should achieve at the end of the course, and have them classify by priority (top, mid, low). Then have them discuss with the other groups to determine which goals are common and finally have them vote. This activity can be done through a brainstorming session with post-its and voting stickers, but it can be also conducted remotely with tools like Mural or Miro.  

We can do the same to reflect on classroom values and agreements. For example, you can ask them to brainstorm on what are appropriate/inappropriate behaviors both in physical and virtual lectures, and then make them ‘sign’ the agreement contract.

Finally, you can ask questions such as “How will we help each other adhere to the agreements we’ve adopted? What forms of reminders will you prefer and allow?” This will help you and students take actionable steps to accomplish those objectives and keep up with the community norms.


2. Use a common reward system

Recognizing individual accomplishments is a great way to motivate learning. Positive psychology studies show that by creating positive affect —  like giving constant encouragement or focusing on students’ strengths rather than weakness —  improves students’ self-efficacy. Learners with higher self-efficacy are more likely to achieve their goals and overcome challenges.  

Also, gamification has been proven to be a great approach for teaching as it enhances students’ engagement and learning. 

However, relying solely on individual rewards and recognition might also have a negative effect on learners, as it can increase the feeling of isolation of some students, especially those who are less extroverted or who struggle with some topics. 

A great way to overcome the pitfalls of individual recognition is by building a common reward system. The principal aim is to increase connectedness, trust, and interdependence between students. 

Instead of working individually to achieve their personal learning goals and secure their reward, students work as a group to achieve the community goals and obtain a common (bigger) reward. 

There are plenty of ways you can set up a common reward system, but let me give you an example. 

You can imagine a set of badges that go in line with the class goals, like “Effective communicator” or “Amazing tutor” or “Math genius”, or whatever suits your class goals and content. The idea is to encourage every student to obtain one badge, of course, after accomplishing the task for it, and if at the end of the class every student has gained a personal badge a common reward is revealed. The common reward can be something like “One extra week to finish mid-term paper” or “no-homework for tomorrow” or “one point in the final exam for everyone”. The idea here is to provide a greater and more satisfying collective reward than just individual recognition.

You recognize individual progress (badges) but also collaborative progress (big common reward). This encourages students to work in cooperation rather than in competition towards their common goals, increasing their sense of interdependence, connectedness, and belonging. 


3. Keep the discussion going

Most of the learning happens outside the classroom when students are home and have to prepare assignments. Keep the conversation going even after the lecture, and provide a space where students can ask, comment, and give feedback regarding the lecture material, their struggles, and their learning experience. 

Backchannel discussions are a great way for learners to have an on-topic conversation during and after the lecture. Having a Backchannel is also an effective way to maintain a connection with students in hybrid and online lectures. 

There are several ways to keep the conversation going either through collaborative spaces, blackboards, blogs, chats, wikis, or forums. The fundamental idea behind these Backchannels is that students can log in questions, comments, feedback, doubts, or even learning notes, both during and outside classroom hours. 

Think of it as a specialized Wikipedia for your own class with a complete FAQ section. Every student will contribute to the discussion and will have access to answers and feedback given to their peers. So, instead of answering the same question to every student that sends you an email asking about reports deadlines or precise guidelines, you can have them all go to the same wiki where all these questions have been already answered. 

Another outstanding feature of Backchannels is that you can ask students to moderate the discussion, provide feedback, and answer their classmates’ questions when they know the solution. This opportunity to give feedback encourages peer learning, but also improves learners’ self-confidence and helps them build trust. 

As a professor, you benefit also from it, as you spend less time answering the same questions repeatedly, and you delegate some of your responsibilities to the learners. Your job here is only to verify that the feedback given by other students is appropriate and accurate. 

If you want to learn more about Backchannels, you can look at some digital tools I recommend for creating beautiful and organized backchannels. Remember to reward students for participating in the discussions by both asking and answering questions.


4. Encourage peer learning

As I mentioned before, peer-learning is an outstanding approach for inspiring responsibility and motivating students to take ownership of their learning. 

When students are given the opportunity to teach and tutor other classmates, they’re not only revising their knowledge and own understanding, they’re also building self-confidence and trust in their community.

Peer learning activities are a powerful way to create a sense of interdependence, connectedness, trust, and shared goals between individuals.

You can easily implement peer learning through Backchannel discussions. But you can also imagine asking students to evaluate and give feedback to their peers after performing an assignment or class activity. You can give them instructions on how to evaluate and give feedback to others, and provide them with an evaluation grid so they can appreciate the work of their colleagues. 

Another example of peer-learning is pairing students with different skills and backgrounds, but that share common learning objectives, for in-class activities. You may give them specific goals to focus on for the class and challenge them to achieve them through collaboration. 

Other than learning and gaining a better understanding of the topics seen in class, students develop practical work skills such as teamwork, time management, organization, effective communication, and constructive feedback. 


5. Reflect on the journey

The most effective way to enhance learning is to learn about how we learn. Every individual is different and their learning journey is unique. 

However, we hardly ask students to reflect on their learning journey or give them enough space to think about what they’ve learned, how these match their goals and expectations, and how they felt during those lessons.

The agile method for management and innovation uses “agile retrospectives” as an opportunity to learn and improve by reflecting on past events and behaviors. The idea of retrospectives is to have participants share their thoughts after each lecture on the following questions:

  • What I’ve learned?
  • What worked well? What did I enjoy?
  • What didn’t work well? What did I find challenging?
  • What are we going to do differently?

When students answer these questions, they actually are thinking about how they think and learn. This encourages them to look closer at their learning journey, adjust and adapt goals, and take the actions to achieve those goals. 

You can for example dedicate the last minutes of your class to wrap up on retrospectives by having an open discussion on what they liked, how they felt, and what could be improved. 

There are plenty of retrospective activities to derive the lessons learned, and you can carry out them remotely by using a visual collaboration platform. It can also be an asynchronous activity. Students can rely on original formats to share their retrospective lessons. Blog entries, 1-minute videos, mind maps, picture collage. Apps such Flipgrid, Wakalet, Instagram, or Pinterest work great for this kind of activity.

Retrospective learning highlights the importance of honesty, transparency, and the concept of impostor syndrome for self-assessment. 

This exercise also helps learners to build connections and interact with each other, as they might discover they are not alone in their struggles and feelings. 

They’ll feel more empowered to work as a community, to meet their common goals, and to take action to solve potential conflicts or disagreements between them. 


Final thoughts

Creating a sense of belonging and a safe, nurturing, supporting environment is crucial for learning. Learning is mainly a social and emotional activity. 

It doesn’t take the latest technology or complex activities to build a positive learning community. And it doesn’t matter much whether your courses are online or in-person. Creating a sense of community is way easier than you think and is full of benefits for both learners and educators. 

Remember that community is built over time, and mutual sharing and trust are essential. Physical distancing need not mean social distancing. 

With a little creativity and willingness to create a positive environment for learning, we can create an authentic sense of community in our classrooms, regardless of the pandemic. 

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Education Online Education

5 Tips to Avoid Online Classroom Fatigue

Improve your mental health and make your online classes more engaging and easy to digest

Let’s face it.

We are kind of getting sick of Zoom, or Teams, or whatever other videoconferencing tools we are using. It’s exhausting.

Being in front of a computer all day long is exhausting. But we were all used to that before Covid-19, sort of. But being in front of a computer with our camera and microphone on most of our day is exhausting to a whole new level. We are in the spotlight all the time, all of the sudden. 

Whether is a department meeting, or a research committee, or a virtual class, Zoom has become our ‘can’t live without’ app. And while there are many benefits we are for sure valuing — especially the convenience when it comes to unnecessary meetings — , it can be challenging and it can easily become a burden for both students and professors.

Zoom classroom fatigue is real and more common than we can imagine. In this post, I go through simple strategies that will help you and your students fight online classroom fatigue. Not only this will improve your mental health, but it will also make your online classes more engaging and easy to digest. 

Let’s start. 


1. Balance synchronous and asynchronous activities

When it comes to online classes, it is important to understand that time and pace have not the same connotations as in a traditional physical classroom. While you can plan for 3 hours of face-to-face teaching, you may not do so for online lectures.

Remote learning, to be effective, needs to rely on different activities that happen both during and outside the lecture hours. 

Being in front of a zoom conference for over 40 minutes straight is just unproductive. Students, no matter how engaged they are in your lecture, have many distractions at their disposal and easily space out from the conversation.

A great way to avoid the loss of your students’ attention and fatigue is to blend both synchronous and asynchronous activities all along during your lecture hours.

You can follow the flipped classroom approach, for example, and give your students material to read and analyze before the zoom meeting (asynchronous) and then conduct a Socratic seminar during the lecture time (synchronous). 

Not only this will make the zoom lecture more interactive and rich, but it will also give the opportunity to students with technical and technological issues to follow up with the class and not left behind. 


2. Plan frequent short breaks

Our attention span in online lectures is shorter than in traditional in-person classes. We receive stimuli from different sources and the opportunity for procrastination is vivid. 

If you want to keep the attention of your students and help them keep up with the lecture content is important to plan frequent brief breaks.

Imagine your lecture as a bunch of Lego blocks. Instead of having one big construction handed to your students, give them small chunks so they can assemble the pieces.  

A good idea to implement this is to break your slide presentation in small sections and inserting a ‘break alert’ between your sections. This will help you not forget having frequent brief breaks, even when you are in an inspiration zone. 

Planning the breaks when you are preparing your lecture is essential because it gives you better control over the amount of content you want to share. In this way, you make sure you finish a concept or topic before having a break and avoid the loose ends. Also, if your students know in advance when they will have breaks, they are more likely to put extra effort to keep focus until the next break. 


3. Assign discussion leader roles for each session 

Interaction can be challenging when you are conducting online lectures. And sometimes you may feel you’re talking to a computer and that no one is behind those black squares. 

You ask a question and an awkward silence takes over. It can be because students are shy, disengaged, distracted, or just have connection issues. Whatever the reason is, it is always a painful situation for everyone in the (virtual) room. 

An original way to prevent this from happening is naming discussion leaders among the students. At every lecture, you can randomly select 4 to 5 students to be the leaders and moderators for the discussions of the day. By assigning these roles, you are empowering students to voice their opinions and also inviting them to take ownership of their learning. 

In virtual classrooms, interaction is difficult because students don’t feel solicited to interact and they feel there is no implicit, nor explicit, request to take part. When you give them the responsibility to lead the discussion, they become accountable for their learning.

The leader roles are not only something beneficial for the students assigned with this mission but to class as a whole. Sometimes it is easier or more acceptable to be called out by a classmate than by the professor. Other students feel also responsible for their classmates’ performance as leaders and are keener to take part in the discussion and keep the interactions. 


4. Make space for fun

Teaching and learning can be fun. Games, energizers, and ice-breakers are a great way to break the monotony of a course. Not only they bring up some fun to the classroom, but they also increase focus and improve learning. 

If learning through games is effective in the physical classroom, there’s no reason it wouldn’t work remotely.

Like you plan for breaks and a blend of synchronous and asynchronous activities to do during your virtual classes, you may also make time for fun. 

You can, for example, start your class with a short fun warm-up game to set the ambiance.

You need not prepare a complex ice breaker. Something as simple as doing a gif contest will do. You can ask your students to share a gif that represents their current state of mind — and body — at then have them vote for the best one. Everyone would have a laugh and will get energized to start the lecture.

You can try also an emoji tournament or a show and tell. 10 to 15 minutes is enough to get the ambiance going and give students time to energize and get ready to absorb new knowledge and stay focus.

Another effective way to make learning fun is by instilling some gamification into your assessment activities. You can host fun quizzes or polls all along with the lecture by using apps such as Kahoot, Flippity, Playfactile, or Slido. You’ll be assessing student knowledge and guaranteeing some entertainment and diminishing Zoom fatigue. 


5. Use break rooms frequently 

It’s quite difficult to maintain student engagement and follow up on students’ learning when you have to give virtual lectures to a big number of participants. When your class size reaches 20 or more participants is hard to ensure everyone is keeping up.

To avoid losing your students to distractions, you can use break rooms to work with smaller groups. If you use the Zoom premium license you can create break rooms easily by setting them up on your account settings. If you don’t have the premium license or you use another videoconferencing system that doesn’t provide the breakout room option, you can program short slots to work with each group of students separately. 

So you can program the first 40 minutes to give your lecture to the entire class, and then have 10 to 15′ one-to-one group-meeting slots with each team to follow up on their learning and progress. With the breakout feature, you can assign students from the same group to different virtual rooms so they can work together without the distraction or mess of other students working in similar activities. Also, it is easy for the professor to identify students that are struggling with the course notions and provide more personalized support to each participant, without spending much more time in office hours giving help to students. 

Breakout rooms are also great for teamwork and to increase student participation. 


Final thoughts

We all hope we’ll be back to our physical classrooms soon. Everyone — students and professors — misses face-to-face learning. In-person classes will return, eventually. However, online will not go away.

Remote learning and remote work will be now part of our new normal. Hybrid, flexible, and flipped classrooms will become the new norm. The use of digital tools and online learning platforms will continue to speed up. And some meetings and other gatherings will continue to be held online. 

No matter what the future of education looks like, one thing is for sure, Zoom will continue to be part of our daily life. So, if we want to keep our mental health and prevent burnout and fatigue, we better start using strategies to make our virtual courses more energizing and easy to digest. 

Online teaching (and learning) need not be painful, we just need to reimagine our teaching approach and have the proper tools to make it memorable and rewarding for both students and teachers. 

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Education Online Education

The Ultimate Guide to Online Resources for Educators

20 free apps for online teaching

Being an educator in times of lockdown and pandemic can be both exhausting and overwhelming. There are so many brilliant tools and resources out there for online teaching. But when you have to shift suddenly to remote lectures, you might find it hard to keep up with all and chose what works best for you. It can be frustrating to see so many apps and tools but not knowing if they will work for your classes.

I’ve been there. I know how overwhelming it can be.

You must be wondering how you are going to continue providing great lectures remotely when you have not done it before.

I know also (from experience) that universities and schools are not all equipped with the most user-friendly tools for class management and remote teaching. Sometimes they are not equipped at all. So you might think: how can you get access to best quality tools if your institution doesn’t provide them? How can school pay for those if we don’t have any budget?

To save you time, effort and money, I have compiled a list of the top free apps, tools and resources that will help you shift to remote teaching. No matter if you are a newbie or an expert, these tools are the best in their market and are free, or almost.

This post will tell you everything you need to know about the best online tools and resources for online teaching.

So, let’s begin.

Table of Contents

  1. Creative content creation
  2. Animation tools and storytelling
  3. Voice lecture recording
  4. Video recording and editing
  5. Video conferencing and virtual classroom
  6. Teaching Platforms
  7. Communication and visual collaboration
  8. Engagement and gamification
  9. Interactive Activities
  10. Knowledge and project management

1. Creative content creation

Forget PowerPoint. Yes, I know this is your default application for creating lectures’ slides, but it’s far from being the most effective and engaging content creator for learning (or for anything else). 
Nothing is worse than old-fashioned PowerPoint slides full of text and with outdated animations and slide transitions. 
There are plenty of apps in the market that are more interesting than PowerPoint for creating beautiful content. Not only they are free and easy to use, but they also provide you with amazing ready-to-use layouts for your lectures, posters, course syllabus, learning cards, and many more. Most of the designs are free to use and you only need to put the text you want on it and that’s it. You need not be a graphic designer to create beautiful and engaging content for your courses.

Canva

With a free account you can have access to over 8,000 templates, over 100 design types (social media posts, presentations, letters, and more) and hundreds of thousands of free photos, icons and graphics. You can have free access as an educator forever, just by applying to their educational program here. You can do a lot with Canva for education. Here are some helpful tutorials to get you started.

Crello

A brilliant tool for creating graphic and video content that looks professional. Also, for free you get access to over 30,000 graphic and animated templates and over 140 million of images. This tutorial will help you get started.

Prezi

is another brilliant tool for creating animated and engaging presentations. With a Free account you can have access to unlimited content and to their latest products: Prezi videos and Prezi design. Also, if you apply as an educator you can have an affordable price (3USD/mo) for the features available on the premium version. Another exceptional Prezi functionality is that you can convert your PowerPoint slides into Prezi presentations with just one click. Some tutorials available here.


2. Animation tools and storytelling

Storytelling is a great approach to engage students and to enhance their learning experience. Storytelling is a technique that helps to create connections with the audience and involves them in an experience that may ultimately result in memorable moments. Storytelling help students to convey the content being taught, create emotional experiences, appropriate and exchange knowledge.

But enjoyable stories need friendly characters and the best way to create those when you are teaching is through cartoon animation.

There are plenty of fun and easy apps that you can use to create compelling characters and motion designs to tell your stories, without having designer skills.

Powtoon

A brilliant tool for creating animated motion design videos. This is really helpful for explanatory videos. With a free account you can create up to 3 minutes, but they have also affordable plans for educators. For as little as 6 dollars per month you can get create 20-minute videos, up to 10GB storage, unlimited access to royalty-free music and objects and the possibility to export your videos to mp4. You can apply to educational access here.

Animaker

Another platform that works great for video and animated content. You need not have design skills to create outstanding and beautiful videos. With a free account you can create and download unlimited videos, build up to 2 custom characters, access to some free music, and gifs.

Toontastic

An app built by google. With Toontastic you can draw, animate, and narrate adventures, breaking news stories, science reports, and all your other ideas completely for free. The app is available for iOS and android devices but not yet for desktop.


3. Voice lecture recording

Giving voice to your lectures is important when you are doing online courses. Since your slides presentation should be simple to be interesting, few words and a lot of images, you need a speech that goes with those visuals. Giving voice to your lectures ensure that you provide your students with all the knowledge they need without overwhelming them with slides full of text. 
While PowerPoint and other default presentation software have the option to record your voice, most of the time is not top quality, and it makes the presentation heavy and difficult to share.

An amazing tool for voice recording and screen recording is Loom.

Loom

A video recording and editing freemium application that you can download on any device (desktop, phone, tablet). With Loom, you can record your device screen and record yourself while narrating your slides or content on your screen. You can also create and edit videos and add filters or text. Loom is free for students and educators. You only need to have a valid institutional email address and you will have loom pro for free. Loom is also great for flippe classrooms, making students tutorials or peer learning and giving feedback to students’ work. If you want to know more about what you can do with Loom for education, you can read the guide for education here.How to Use Loom to Make Better Educational Videos by Digital content producer Daniel Rubio


4. Video recording and editing

Video recording and video editing is also an important step for making online lectures. There are default applications that are pre-installed in your devices, like iMovie and QuickTime if you use Mac. But many times these apps are difficult to use or not suitable for creative videos. Alternative and much more easy and fun apps are available on the web for free or for a low budget.

Animoto

One of my favorites. It’s a free app for teachers and students where you can create amazing videos with no knowledge or skills on video editing and design. With the free version you can have access to more than 1 million ready-to-use video and image templates, over 350 music tracks, 3 different fonts and 30 color swatches. Also, you can download unlimited videos of standard quality (720p), which is already good. With Animoto you can also create accounts for your students and create a virtual classroom. For more information on how to use Animoto for education, you can read the FAQ for schools and educators here.

There are other video editing solutions such as Ligthworks, but these are less user friendly and are more suitable for people with editing skills. Then you have Blender, an open source 3D animation suite, but then again you need to have excellent skills in design and editing.


5. Video conferencing and virtual classroom

Video conferencing is one of the best way to get in touch with your students remotely. It’s a brilliant tool for having engaging conversation and lectures where you need interaction and peer discussion.

Zoom

The most common software for videoconferencing used by business and educators. Zoom has a freemium service. It’s great for hosting webinars, meetings, group collaborations, and calls. With a free account you can invite up to 100 participants, have face-to-face interviews and up to 40 minutes group conference. With the current pandemic situation, Zoom has removed the 40 minute limit for educators. You just need to create an account with your institutional email address.

BigBlueButton

An alternative open source web conferencing system for online learning. The goal of the project is to provide remote students with a high-quality online learning experience. BigBlueButton is amazing because you can have the same Zoom pro functionalities for free. The software is really user-friendly. BBB has a whiteboard that you can share with your participants, you can breakout rooms for team collaboration and create polls during your virtual lecture. Here you can find a user guide on how to use BigBlueButton for education.

Another great software is google meet, which you can access for free if you have a google classroom account. Also, you have Newrow which offers amazing functionalities with its pro version.


6. Teaching Platforms

Teaching platforms are great for organizing all your lecture plans, contents, assessments, feedback, and tracking students’ progress.

While some universities have institutional licenses to online platforms. Many institutions don’t have the budget to pay for it. Gladly there are some free software that you can use.

Socrative

Socrative is one of the most used virtual classroom platforms all over the world. With a freemium business model, educators can have access to Socrative functionalities for free. With a free account, you can have one virtual classroom for up to 50 students and launch one activity at a time, do on-fly questioning (quizzes), and other assessment activities. You can also visualize results in real-time and do reporting. Your virtual room is accessible in any device, and students can join for free.

Easyclass

An open-source alternative for virtual classrooms. By creating an account with your institutional email address, you have access to Socrative pro-like functionalities for free and more. With Easyclass, educators can create online classes whereby they can store course materials online; manage assignments, quizzes, and exams; monitor due dates; grade results and provide students with feedback all in one place. Here is a short explanatory video on how to use the platform.

Google classroom is also a suitable alternative for creating virtual classrooms, but to have access to your institution needs to create an institutional account.


7. Communication and visual collaboration

Visual collaboration and communication tools are also a brilliant way to make your online classes more dynamic and to motivate your students to be more active. There are several apps for doing this, but Mural and Miro are my favorite.

Mural

A digital workspace for visual collaboration. As an educator, you can apply for a free facilitator account and start collaborating with other educators and students. With the educator account, you can have up to 10 team members (which can edit, facilitate and create murals) and 20 guests (only for collaborating to murals you give them access to) to your mural spaces. With Mural you can conduct virtual brain-storming sessions, use canvas layouts and frameworks designed by experts for different activities (business model, mind-mapping, empathy map, many others). you can break out your classroom in groups so that students’ teams can collaborate in different workspaces. You can apply for a Mural educator account here. Here you can find a tutorial on how to use Mural for education.

Miro

Similar to Mural, Miro is an app that acts as a virtual whiteboard for team collaboration. Educators and students can apply for a free education account that has the same functionalities as the pro version. Even if you don’t apply for the education account, you can create your free account and have up to 3 whiteboards to play with. You can invite an unlimited number of viewers and have small teams collaborating in your whiteboards. Otherwise, with the educational plan, you can invite and collaborate with as many students as you want and create unlimited whiteboards. To apply for an education account, you just need to apply here.


8. Engagement and gamification

Games are by far the most effective way to keep students engaged in learning, off and online. There is nothing more gratifying for learners that to get rewards and recognition when they work hard for it. Not only games are fun but they facilitate learning. There are plenty of apps available for educators (and anyone else) for creating challenges, evaluations and assignments while leaving the boring side apart. These two are my favorite.

Kahoot

The most famous interactive quiz platform is Kahoot, a free student-response that uses many gamification techniques to engage students’ participation and enhance learning. With Kahoot, you can both host live quizzes and self-paced challenges for out-of-class review. Kahoot games can be played in single mode or in team mode and offers plenty of fun features to stimulate students to play and learn. Kahoot offers a basic free plan where you can invite up to 50 players, host online games, play and create as many Kahoots as you want and have assessments of reports ready to download. Premium plans start at 5 USD per month and you get more amazing features and more players.

Factile

Have you ever played jeopardy? Well, Factile is a free learning platform that lets teachers create engaging Jeopardy-style quiz games for the classroom. You can create and personalize your own game boards or use pre-made quizzes shared by the community. With Factile you can either host jeopardy games, regular multiple choice quizzes, memory games, and create study flashcards to improve students’ learning proficiency. As Kahoot, Factile can be played in teams or individually. With the free version you can create up to 5 teams for each game and you can host up to 3 games. For as little at 5 USD per month you can play and create as many games as you want and have over 50 teams. The premium account offers other amazing features like buzzer mode, play memory and choice games, play and share flashcards.

Other great free apps for quizes and assessments are quizziz and quizlet.


9. Interactive Activities

Online assessment and homework need not be boring. There are plenty of tools you can use to overcome physical distancing and lack of face-to-face interaction between you and your students. Collaboration and social co-creation is possible online thanks to technology. These are my favorite/

Wakelet

A free platform that allows you to curate and organize content from different platforms to save and share with students, colleagues and friends. You need to create a collection — something like hashtags topics on Instagram — and students can contribute to a adding text, pdf, videos, URLs, images and Flipgrid shorts. These are brilliant ways for students to express their learning. Apart from this, the teacher can encourage creativity among the learners by inviting students to approach the assessment the way they want to. The idea behind Wakelet is to curate content, like you will do for blogs (like Medium) or magazines. You can synthesize a bunch of different content, filter out the noise and keep what is valuable in one sole collection to better communicate about a specific concept or topic. Wakalet is completely free and its potential is amazing.

Flipgrid

Flipgrid is a free social learning app to create and share short and exceptional videos. As an educator, you have free access to the app and you can create different grids — classrooms — and topics of discussion. Each grid has a unique code that you can share with your students so they can access the topics and the videos being posted by the professors and classmates. It is a magnificent tool for reflective learning and for building solid learning communities within your classes. As an educator you can post discussion prompts and students may respond with short videos, whether they are learning in class or at home. Flipgrid is completely free. For more info on how to use it, read the beginner’s guide here.


10. Knowledge and project management

Slack

Initially conceived for business team communication and project management, slack can also be an outstanding tool for education. From planning and teaching curriculum to managing student services, slack offers amazing functionalities for both students and educators. You can create one workspace for each course, each with a set of channels for classroom work, discussion, group projects, and office hours. Students can use channels to post clarifying questions and comments throughout the lesson and their classmates can use emoji reactions to second questions or show support for comments. Slack is compatible with Zoom, so when running a virtual classroom on Zoom you can directly access to slack channels and questions. You can use threads to organize smaller group discussions around specific topics during the class. Slack is free, but for better experience and more control on your interactions and data premium plan is a better option. Slack offers 85% discount on the premium plan to education institutions. You can apply here.

Notion

Notion started as a collaborative document editor. But you can do many other things. Notion is a workspace for your syllabi, notes, assignments, grades, and much more. Students can use it to take and share notes in class or to organize their tasks with to-do lists. Educators might use it to create course syllabi and share them with students or create a wiki for the class. Notion offers built-in templates that make student and teachers’ life easier. Students can find tools for building grade calculators, personal budget, job applications. While teachers can adopt ready-to-use templates for lesson plans, schedules and class directory. Notion is free for both students and educators. With an official institutional email address, you get access to unlimited block storage and no file upload limit.


If you want to know how to make your online courses more engaging, then you might want to read my next story.5 Ways To Make Your Online Courses More Engaging
And how not to get shadowed by TikTokmedium.com

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Education Online Education

5 Ways to Improve Students’ Engagement in Online Classes

5 ideas to make your online classes more engaging

Effective online teaching often requires more planning and more effort than in-person teaching. It calls for strict discipline and a lot of energy, and if not managed well it can easily turn into ‘Zoom Classroom Fatigue’.

Our challenge this fall is clear, we need to reimagine our syllabus and pedagogy and deliver more engaging, interactive, and flexible classes.

While engaging students online can be more challenging, the learning experience can be as good or even better than in the traditional physical classroom. Teaching online need not be painful, even if we didn’t grow as digital natives.

Here are some simple and straightforward ideas to make your online courses more engaging and meaningful.


1. Create a connection with your students

It’s not because you’re behind the screen that you have to forget about the human element. Physical distance should not mean social distancing. The emotional component in a class is the key to engage your students. This is especially true in online environments.

Both students and professors need interaction to build trust and create meaningful discussions. So start creating this connection as soon as you kick off your lecture.

Use storytelling and visuals to talk about yourself. Give the students the opportunity to know you better by asking questions about your career, your research, and your teaching methods.

Ask students to introduce themselves to the class and use fun ice-breakers to encourage teamwork and build trust.

Dedicate the first five minutes of your class to ask your students how they feel, what are their expectations and learning goals, what are the difficulties they are facing. These will make participants more at ease and keen to interact.

Try to call students by their names and remember details about them to make them feel unique and listened to. Use personal and professional stories throughout the lessons to create a fun, safe, and effective learning environment.


2. Create a sense of community

“Online communities are quickly becoming a critical part of the digital strategy for many organizations as a platform to establish ongoing conversations, trust relationships, and meaningful engagement with customers, employees, partners, and suppliers.”

– International Data Corporation (IDC)

The feeling of belonging is a strong driver of engagement. We all need to be part of something. That makes us feel unique and seen. The community plays a central role in making meaning.

According to the Social Learning Theory, learning occurs in a social context when the learner observes and then models a behavior. Knowledge is created through peer-to-peer communication, debate, critical thinking, and the development of leadership skills.

Building a sense of community for your classes helps learners become accountable for their own learning goals and outcomes. They are more likely to work together to achieve those goals and take ownership of their learning process. IT encourages peer learning, trust, and teamwork.

Skills that are too difficult for the learner to master on their own can be mastered effectively through interaction with a more knowledgeable person.

To create a sense of community in your classroom, whether online or offline, there are three key elements to consider:

  • The content needs to be relevant and engaging. It should provide opportunities for learners to connect and collaborate in task and assignments. The learning material should motivate participation in discussion groups, both during and after class, rewarding meaningful contributions.
  • Connection opportunities for learners. You should provide a space for learners to connect inside and outside the (virtual) classroom. Encourage participation in discussion forums linked to lectures, seminars, webinars, or other learning events. Organize mentoring programs pairing more experienced learners with younger participants so they share their experience and provide guidance.
  • Make space for collaboration. Make teamwork an integral part of the learning experience. Use group projects for assessing knowledge, skills, and learning outcomes. Group work challenges students to solve problems, share experiences, and knowledge to achieve a common goal.

3. Identify and support struggling students

Struggling students are more likely to disengage and drop out of courses. And during the current crisis, many students are struggling. Some are even encountering issues that go beyond the academic context. They might suffer from the loss of a close one to the pandemic, or battling mental health conditions. Many students suffer from attention deficit, hyperactive disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and other forms of attention and learning disorders. Other students just suffer from anxiety, stress, and fear of judgment and evaluation.

Empathy in teaching has never been more important. Check-in on your students regularly. Reach out to them or send out alerts promptly when you see they are falling behind. Make yourself available during office hours to provide one-to-one tutoring or just having a quick checkup. Encourage students to reach out to you when they feel lost or when struggling with the learning material, technology, schedules, or other non-academic needs. Be more flexible over deadlines, provide different assessment alternatives, and give timely feedback.

4. Keep the conversation going

Remember that most of the learning happens outside the classroom. Make sure to keep the conversation going even after the lecture.

Backchannel discussions are a great way for learners to have an on-topic conversation during and after the lecture. It is an effective way to keep your students engaged during an online session and continue the conversation afterward.

Use forums, chats, Facebook groups, or live Q&A. This not only strengthens learners’ engagement but also encourages peer-learning. Reward students for participating in the discussions by both asking and answering questions.

5. Mix it up

To keep your students’ attention and enhance the learning experience, mix things up. The current situation is probably the best opportunity for us, educators, to change the way we approach student assessment of knowledge and learning outcomes.

There are plenty of fun and meaningful activities that promote active learning. Instead of sticking with traditional quizzes and slide presentations, be more flexible and provide a wider range of activities to develop and assess students’ knowledge and skills.

Ask students to take part in Socratic seminars, record and edit explanatory videos, write blog posts, or play simulations. Giving them a plethora of activities increases their chances of actually learning the subject and their commitment to the class.


Bottom Line

The key to success relies on proper planning, in advance preparation, and access to the right tools.

Whether synchronously or asynchronously, with proper planning we can replicate remotely almost all activities and experiences we would do in a physical classroom.

Effective online learning relies mainly on empathy. If we want to provide better online classes we should not forget about the human component.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” — Theodore Roosevelt


This post will tell you everything you need to know about from the best online tools and resources for engaging students online.15 Free Digital Tools to Boost Students’ Engagement Online
A review of digital tools and ideas for teachers to support formative assessment in online classrooms

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Education Online Education

Hybrid and Flexible: A Professor’s Guide to Hyflex Teaching

How to conquer teaching during a pandemic

We have to recognize that educators have responded amazingly to the abrupt shift to online teaching. Of course, it hasn’t been easy, but in general terms, it all worked out pretty well.

I mean, we were agile.

We adapted and effectuate with the resources we had at hand and tried to continue providing our very best to our students. Other organizations couldn’t adapt that well. Many just closed down and went out of service.

We can criticize as much as we like, but let’s admit it, educators adapted fast. Chapeau.

However, we were reacting to a first-in-our-times pandemic. It caught us unnoticed. We had no choice. Adapt was our only option.

Now is time to prepare for the new normal. If we can call it normal.

A second wave of the pandemic is just around the corner. In the U.S. and South America, we are still struggling to control for the first wave.

So, no matter how much we miss our students and classrooms, we have to come around the idea that remote learning will be our new normal.

But we need to be prepared. If we want to keep our sanity and that of our students, we can’t continue functioning in an urgent-crisis-mode, not for long.

We need to think about more appropriate teaching and learning methods that encourage interaction, reflection, learning, skills development while still guaranteeing safety and health conditions to professors and students.

Below, I discuss why hybrid and flexible (Hyflex) approach is an exceptional alternative to 100% online or in-person teaching. I go through 4 crucial factors to consider when transitioning to Hyflex courses and how to provide an effective learning opportunity for all students.

Let’s begin by understanding what Hyflex is.

The Hyflex approach

The Hyflex (Hybrid-flexible) approach was first created by Brian Beatty who is Associate Professor of instructional technologies in the Department of Equity, Leadership Studies, and Instructional Technologies at San Francisco State University.

The idea behind the Hyflex method was to provide a bridge to a fully online program. A Hyflex program consist of hybrid classes — blending online and on-site participation modes — that provide a more flexible learning experience to students. While in a typical hybrid or blended course all students have to take part in both classroom and online sessions, Hyflex courses take into account also the possibility for some students to be 100% online or on-site. Hyflex programs allowed maximum student choice in participation mode. Students can decide for themselves which path is the “best” for them on a daily or weekly basis.

In short, the basis of Hyflex programs is to provide students with multiple forms of learning approaches: from the way content and information are presented, to the place they receive those contents, to the way we assess their knowledge.

The main difference between hybrid and Hyflex courses is the flexible component. That means that instead of building something, whether is class material or assessment activities, for just one mode (online or on-site) you build it so it’s adaptable for both modes. In this way, you are optimizing the effort and providing equal opportunities for learning to every and each student.

Example: Imagine that you were trying to fix your computer on your own. You have mainly three options: 1) you can call someone who knows how to repair it and explain to you how to do it, 2) you can check out on an online forum and follow the step-by-step instructions given by someone who has already repaired theirs, or 3) you can watch a YouTube tutorial and mirror the steps followed in the video. Probably the easier option would be to watch the YouTube tutorial. But it would also be nice if you had the written instructions to go through just in case you missed something, and why not had direct feedback from an expert to be sure you got it right. Well, that’s kind of the idea behind Hyflex.

Students as Active Learners

Contrary to traditional lecture-type teaching methods, the Hyflex approach is aimed to be student-centered. This means that students have an active role in their learning process and experience. As educators, our role is to encourage students to take full ownership of their learning, from the definition of their goals throughout the assessment of their outcomes. The role of the educator is to facilitate learning and not to impose or direct the lecture. Our major concern should lie on how to ensure our students meet their needs as learners and to adapt to the changing conditions and dynamics.

One of the four pillars of Hyflex courses is the “learners’ choice”. The idea is to give students a choice in how they complete course activities in any given week or subject. The fundamental goal of this approach is to provide flexibility to empower learners so they pursue and attain their learning outcomes in the best way.

Together with active pedagogy, Hyflex approach can only be successful if students, both online and in-person, are strongly involved in the dynamics and functioning of the course. The active role of learners should be part of the expectations of the course and need to be stated and well-established from the beginning. Consider assigning rotating roles to your students to assist you with the technology, the online discussion board, note-taking.

There are plenty of roles you can assign to your students to ensure the course and learning activities run smoothly.

You can also consider pairing or grouping students, so there is always at least one student from a group in class responsible to transfer knowledge and support to others in their group.

Active learning is not something reserved only for in-person classes. It is also suitable for remote and Hyflex approaches if you prepare well in advance the activities and ask your students to appropriate their learning process.

Having your students actively involved both in the activities and the functioning of the course will encourage them to engage with the course material and to understand the challenges of this kind of learning mode.

Asynchronous and Synchronous Student Engagement

Student engagement is by far the most critical aspect of any learning process. Without student’s engagement learning is ineffective, or not possible at all.

One of the biggest fears of shifting to hybrid, remote, or Hyflex teaching is not being able to connect with our students and to make our classes memorable.

In both remote and HyFlex classes it is crucial to establish a set of rules and expectations from the very beginning of your class. It’s important that the teacher and both in-person and online learners are on the same boat sharing a common goal: make the most of their learning together.

If this is not well-established from the first moment things can get really messy. In HyFlex classrooms, in particular, it is easy for remote students to disconnect and feel neglected by those taking part in the physical classroom. It is an enormous challenge for the educator to maintain effective communication and collaboration with both audiences. This is why it’s essential to plan for synchronous and asynchronous activities to ensure that all participation modes which lead to equivalent learning outcomes.

The key relies on how to mix distinct types of active learning activities that promote the interaction of both physical and remote learners. The aim of Hyflex is to provide equivalency and reusability of activities and resources that challenge the learner, regardless of their learning mode, to reflect upon the content and to contribute to the discussion.

Activities in both learning modes can be easily adaptable to other learning approaches and have great potential to strengthen the learner’s experience. Podcasts, video recordings, collaborative note-taking, and handouts, can be very effective both for remote and in-person students wishing to review after class. It also encourages peer-learning. The activities completed by remote learners, such as chats, forums, back-channel can of great support for in-person students and inversely.

The learning experience in Hyflex environments can be as good or even better than in the traditional physical classroom. Engaging students online is not much more difficult than engaging with them in a physical classroom. Online methods provide a wide range of alternatives to promote active learning and teamwork.

Skill and Knowledge Assessment

Another major challenge for any teaching approach is the assessment of student learning.

In a HyFlex environment, the challenge is twofold. First, we need to ensure we use techniques and tools appropriate for effective assessment both online and offline. Second, we need to coordinate the assessment activities that assure the equivalency, accessibility, and usability to all students, despite the place, the time, and the format in which learning takes place.

Traditional assessment methods are far from being a fair indicator of intelligence, knowledge, skills, or effort. And they don’t reflect the abilities and preparedness for work life.

As instructors, we need to reflect on how we can effectively evaluate student’s learning outcomes. We need to ask ourselves how the same learning outcome can be assessed both online and offline? We need to think of new approaches that are more flexible and appropriate to the environment in which learning takes place. Practices that promote reflection, learning, and skills development.

Assessing learning through group project reports, hybrid paired work, video presentations (delivered live or recorded and shared online), Backchannel discussions, Socratic seminars, blog posts and other forms of original assessment are often appropriate in all modes of instruction with very little changes needed.

We need to redefine students’ learning assessments.

Technology and Classroom setting

The main goal of Hyflex teaching is to provide students equal chances to learn and effectively participate in class activities regardless of their delivery mode (online or offline). The Hyflex approach is only effective and successful if the appropriate technology is put in place to back it up. Students, both online and offline, need to be equipped with proper hardware, software, networks, and the skills for using it. Remote learning will not be a possible alternative for a student who does not have reliable access to the internet. Accessibility is crucial. Thus, appropriate support from educators and institutions is essential for providing the appropriate environment to Hyflex teaching.

Classrooms need to be set up and equipped with image and sound capture technologies to support online learners. And both students and educators need to be proficient in the use of synchronous and asynchronous digital tools to collaborate. This technology includes videoconferencing systems, Integrated Learning Platforms, document collaboration, digital whiteboards, digital quizzes, and polls apps, collaborative annotation software, and backchannel discussion rooms.

The key to success relies on proper planning, in advance preparation, and access to the right tools.

Final thoughts

Hyper Flexible model goal is to provide an effective learning opportunity for all students, no matter where they are, and no matter the learning mode they choose.

But flexibility is only possible when all learners have proper access to it. This means that is not only about the content and information itself that has to be accessible to convenient technology and technical skills, so they have a legitimate choice to make.

Hyflex requires interactive and engaging class experience with innovative application of class content to provide optimal learning interactions. Content and activities that are easy to shift directly to fully online or fully offline and a mix in between. The main aim is to provide the most equitable delivery format to students that aligns with their needs and learning preferences.

However, shifting to Hyflex programs requires in advance and constant preparation and organization of pre-class content and coordination of both synchronous and asynchronous activities. The main challenge is to align both types of learners and instructors toward the same goal: effective collaborative learning.


Resources

Abdelmalak, M. M. M., & Parra, J. L. (2016). Expanding learning opportunities for graduate students with HyFlex course design. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, 6(4), 19–37.

Beatty B. (2012). Hyflex course design: The advantages of letting students choose the blend. Online Learning Collective.

Beaty, Brian J. Ed. (2019) Hybrid-Flexible Course Design Implementing student-directed hybrid classes, EdTech Books.

Bruff, Derek. (2020). Active Learning in Hybrid and Socially Distanced ClassroomsVanderbilt Center for Teaching.

CNDLS. (2020). Guidebook: HyFlex TeachingInstructional Continuity at Georgetown.

Hyflex (HELIX) Implementation at Harvard Division of Continuing Education: https://teach.extension.harvard.edu/helix

HyFlex Course Design Model with Brian Beatty (2020), Think UDL Podcast.

HyFlex Course Development Guide (2018). Cambrian College Teaching & Learning Innovation Hub.

Hyflex Learning with David Rhoads” (2020). Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast.

Leijon, M., & Lundgren, B. (2019). Connecting physical and virtual spaces in a HyFlex pedagogic model with a focus on teacher interaction. Journal of Learning Spaces; 1, 8.

Miller, J.B., Risser, M.D. & Griffiths, R.P. (2013). Student Choice, Instructor Flexibility:

Moving Beyond the Blended Instructional ModelIssues and Trends in Learning Technologies, 1(1).

Sowell, K., Saichaie, K., Bergman, J., & Applegate, E. (2019). High Enrollment and HyFlex: The Case for an Alternative Course ModelJournal on Excellence in College Teaching30(2), 5–28.

Talbert, R. (2020). Research report: Experiencing the hyflex modelRobert Talbert, PhD.

What To Expect in a HyFlex Course: A Faculty Handbook. (2017) Texas A&M University.

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Education Online Education

A Post-Pandemic Look Into Higher Education

Can we plan for normal?

While In Europe the COVID19 situation seems to be under control, China and Iran are locking down cities and closing everything down, again.

A second wave of the pandemic was a scenario many of us have foreseen.

Still, in Europe, we are already reopening schools and planning for a normal start of the next academic year.

But can we plan for normal? Should we call it normal?

Now, the opinions on how the post-pandemic world will look like are diverse. But the only thing that seems to be a consensual opinion is that education as we know it has to change. But how will it change? That is the answer no one seems to want to answer.

Let me explain.

The online teaching market is having its say

Online teaching practices are not something new, but the pandemic gives them the light it was missing, for sure. Online diplomas and certifications exist for more than 20 years. But these were hardly competitive in the education market.

I mean, having a diploma from the Global University was never something that would shine on your CV. Even an online MIT certification was not something to brag about. At least not when looking to land your first job.

This kind of education format was mainly attractive to adult learners. Because working adults looking to continue education, they want just that,to continue education. They are (all) not going for (just) the perks. Adult learners can’t afford to leave their paying jobs to attend a full-time program at a traditional university. And it is also unlikely that their employees would pay the fees of an MBA program at a top tier college. Unless your employer is Apple or Facebook. But also you don’t need a university degree to work on Apple or Facebook.

But when it came to young undergrads looking to study for the first time, traditional on-campus universities were winning on the battlefield. These young adults were (are) looking for the campus experience. Of course they care about the quality of the courses, but they are hoping to live the full college experience. The dorms, the fraternities, the parties, the coffee break, the international exchanges, the face-to-face tutoring, and yes, the classes.

With the lockdown situation and the new sanitary conditions, the trend is reversing, somehow.

The on-campus experience is getting overrated

Small local universities, online-only academies, and flexible colleges are grasping now more attention than ever. Finally, they are getting to compete with the top-tier giants and might have a chance of winning.

Because when you put every institution under the same conditions and rules, well things like on-campus experience weigh less in the decision.

The thing is that these online universities and certification institutions have been doing online teaching for a while now. They are 20 years ahead of us; they have the know-how, the budget, and the technology. They don’t need the campus experience to attract their students.

But reputed (and usually expensive) schools, they are not ready to give up to the face-to-face student learning experience, not just yet. Online programs are just one minor piece of the puzzle for these institutions, they have these programs mainly for having a say on the adult learners population. The on-campus programs are the ones that pay the bills.

The on-campus experience is for these schools the hook to attract the big fish. But when you can’t offer that because of sanitary issues, well the hook seems less attractive.

This is causing freshman to take a gap year and wait until normality comes back to register for college. Others are demanding the reimbursement of their admission and tuition fees because e-learning is not worth the $30k a year.

Now, these demands are hurting the pockets and reputation of traditional private schools. But are opening the way for small, flexible, and open and less traditional education systems.

With that much time in their hands, recently graduated students are not just playing video games, they are looking to educate themselves and develop their skills. MOOCs, Webinars, learning apps, Online Business Academies (like HubSpot or Facebook) YouTube videos, TikTok are some sources that have been gaining momentum in the past months, since the lockdown.

The catch? They are free, they also offer pretty good content and learners actually get to develop their skills.

Of course they are not replacing completely the MBAs, since most of them don’t provide learners with certification. But they are getting the visibility they were lacking until now. And this could be the right opportunity to disrupt the education industry and win.

Back to local education

During the last decade, the international mobility of students has grown at impressive rates. In the US, 5.5% of the student population comes from overseas. This number equals to 20% in the UK, and 10% in France. In 2016 almost 5 Million students were international mobile, compared to 4M in 2012. That’s quite a number.

Most international mobile students in the US come from countries like China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. For Europe, most international students come from Asia, Africa, and other European countries.

International mobility is one of the main economic sources of higher education institutions. Not only because these international students pay for the “full” on-campus experience, but also because they contribute to the international ranking of the schools. The more the institution is able to attract international students, the better it is for its positioning in the international arena.

Now with the pandemic situation, the frontiers being closed and the visas being banned. The situation is getting complicated. Most of the exchange partnerships and programs are hurting and on stand by as the future seems blurred by a possibility of a second wave, and thus a second lockdown.

While this looks bad for big and top tier universities in the US and in Europe, it looks good for smaller and local institutions. It is the time when maybe students (and their parents) will give a better look at the education offered in their countries.

It is also the opportunity for governments to focus on their schools and education system and gain back the interest of their national students.

Not only this will be great news for national schools, but for the nations themselves as they probably lessen the drain of national brains.

Take the example of China. The government has taken several actions to reduce the drain brain of young talented students by improving their national education system. The various reforms in domestic education have reflected on a higher number of degrees granted by the Chinese universities and the repatriation of many Chinese talents living abroad.

The internationalization of both schools and students is important. A cross-cultural classroom is an amazing place to learn about communication, management, diversity, culture. But focusing on attracting international students at all costs is probably not the best way to go.

Maybe there is a way to rebalance the exchange between students and nations.

Flexible Education

If there is something that we can learn from this pandemic is that we need more flexibility. We had to abruptly change our way of working, teaching, learning, socializing. In the beginning, it was overwhelming, especially for organizations and people that were not used to remote working. But then most of us found a way to adapt.

What we’ve learned? We have to be flexible. What happens if a second wave knocks on our door next semester. What if the sanitary conditions demands us to have up to half of our class present in our classroom. What if we get to teach half of the semester and then we are in lockdown again.

We need a more flexible education: flexible schedules, flexible formats, flexible assessments, flexible classrooms, flexible credits. But flexibility also means two times more work — at least. And as much as we think that educators are superhero, we only have two hands. So if there is more work to do, schools will need to hire more staff, more faculty, or at least rebalance the teaching and service responsibilities between them. Students need to be flexible too. Adapt to the different alternatives offered to them.

We need also a more flexible mindset.


Looking at the post-pandemic future is raising questions that many of us, in Academia, have raised a long time ago. Maybe this time we will listen and finally take the actions needed to make our education systems better for everyone.

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5 Ways To Make Your Online Courses More Engaging

And how not to get shadowed by TikTok

We are going through uncertain times, and uncertainty creates anxiety and stress. Students are feeling it too. They might be going through difficult circumstances. Probably quarantined far from home, far from their friends. They are left alone to deal with remote internships, thesis deadlines, and much other homework.

Many students and teachers are eager to attend to their online classes at least to cope with the boredom and isolation of being under quarantine. We miss our students, and they miss us — I think.

But let’s get real, remote live classes can be boring, and TikTok is probably shadowing our awesome content.

Whether you are using Zoom, BigBlue Button or any other videoconferencing software, there are few simple tricks you can try to make your live classes more engaging, and actually memorable.

Here is how.

1. Start with a warm-up

Again students are anxious, stressed out. And nothing is worse than starting a class right away with the course topics.

Illustration by Icons 8

Students — and everyone else — need some minutes of warm-up to get into their focus zone. It’s like exercising, you can’t start running a marathon at your full speed and with no initial warm-up, you’ll breakdown.

Warm-up activities are essential for kicking off any good lecture, online or offline.

But, how can you do that online?

Start first with a kind welcoming. Yes, it might sound obvious. But we are so caught up by the routine and obligation that we might forget the essential: caring for others.

Dedicate the first five minutes of your class to ask your students how they feel, how they are dealing with the current situation, what are the difficulties they are facing. These will make participants more at ease and keen to interact.

Once everyone shares how they are and feel, you can pass to the short fun warm-up game to set the ambiance.

You don’t need to prepare a complex ice breaker. Something as simple as doing a gif contest will do. You can ask your students to share a gif that represents their current state of mind — and body — at then have them vote for the best one. Everyone would have a laugh and will get energized to start the lecture.

You can try also an emoji tournament or a show and tell. 10 to 15 minutes is enough to get the ambiance going and give students time to energize and get ready to absorb new knowledge and stay focus.

2. “Cameras and mics on” rule

One of the many issues of giving class through videoconference is that you have much less control over students’ attention.

Illustration by Icons 8

The fact that they have to be in front of the computer screen to receive the course makes it almost impossible to keep them away from distraction.

Most of them have multiple windows open in their devices while receiving the lecture. Facebook, Tiktok, Whatsapp, Instagram, everything is at their reach, keeping them from actually listening to and interacting with the class.

While we cannot completely avoid this, we can minimize the risks of procrastination by establishing the “camera and mic on” rule. The goal is to ask every participant to turn on their cameras and mics during the lecture unless there is a good explanation of why they can’t.

Turning the camera and the mic on gives the conversation more fluency and encourage participants to be more present during the lecture and get more involved in the discussion.

Zoom, Meet, and most of the videoconference apps have the option to view participants’ display on a one-screen grid. Zoom, for example, lets you see up to 49 participants display on one unique screen that updates automatically when participants enter or leave the room.

To avoid messy conversations and background noise, you can ask participants to mute their microphone only when you, or someone else, is presenting. Then ask them to leave the mic open when it’s time for group talk.

If you still struggle with students’ participation and attention then you can shout out their names and invite them to take part in the conversation.

3. Use visual collaboration

Active learning is essential for improving student engagement and ensuring student learning.

Illustration by Icons 8

Conducting remote courses should not be a limitation for encouraging active learning. But for sure just sharing a slide deck will not do.

There are plenty of apps for team collaboration that you can use with your students to create and manage knowledge together.

By dividing the class into groups you can have them work on different topics and give feedback to each group separately. Zoom has an easy to set up functionality where you can break your class into different rooms so that each team has its own workspace. Google Meet doesn’t provide this functionality yet, but there is a way to hack this with just some preparation.

Then, you can use an app for visual collaboration and create dedicated spaces for each team to work on. The most simple way to do it is by using google drive and google docs. Students can easily create their own collaborative documents in no time.

But there are more interesting apps in the market that as an educator you can access for free. My favorite one is Muralbecause they have plenty of built-in and ready to use collaborative canvas and spaces and because it’s super easy to use.

But there are many other apps like MiroConceptboard or Jamboard from google that are also great alternatives.

Choose the one that suits best.

4. Interactive quizzes

Hosting interactive quizzes during your online sessions are a great way to evaluate student knowledge and engagement.

Illustration by Icons 8

The idea of hosting interactive quizzes during your lectures is not to increase students’ anxiety but to break down the monotony and keep with the good vibe.

Here again, there is a wide range of possibilities. But these two are my favorite ones: Kahoot and Factile.

The most famous interactive quiz platform is Kahoot, a free student-response that uses all sorts of gamification techniques to engage students’ participation and enhance learning. With Kahoot, you can both host live quizzes as well as self-paced challenges for out-of-class review. Kahoot games can be played in single mode or in team mode and offers plenty of fun features to stimulate students to play and learn.

Another great platform for live learning games is Factile. Have you ever played jeopardy? Well, Factile is a free learning platform that lets teachers create engaging Jeopardy-style quiz games for the classroom. You can create and personalize your own game boards or use premade quizzes shared by the community. With Factile you can either host jeopardy games, regular multiple choice quizzes, memory games, and create study flashcards to improve students learning proficiency. As Kahoot, Factile can be played in teams or individually.

5. Wrap up with 1-minute video posts

The best way to finish every lecture is with a wrap up to summarize what has been discussed and learned during the session.

Illustration by Icons 8

The agile methodology for management and innovation uses “agile retrospectives” as an opportunity to learn and improve by reflecting on past events and behaviors.

The idea of retrospectives is to have participants share their thoughts after each lecture on the following questions

  • What I’ve learned?
  • What worked well? What did I enjoy?
  • What didn’t work well? What did I found challenging?
  • What are we going to try to do differently?

There are plenty of retrospective activities to derive the lessons learned, and many of them can be done remotely through a visual collaboration platform like the ones presented earlier in this post.

But the one I prefer, because it takes place after your lecture is a 1-minute retrospective video.

It’s being a will since I been using Instagram as a teaching tool, and especially as a platform where students can share their “What I’ve learned” retrospectives. You can create a private Instagram account for the class where they can share class-related content. The activity then consists of each student posting a 1-minute retrospective video where they share their answers to the 4 questions detailed before. Then classmates get to like and give feedback to other student videos.

An alternative to Instagram, and probably more suitable if you are concern about privacy and security of personal data, is Flipgrid. Flipgrid is a social learning free app to create and share short awesome videos. As an educator, you have free access to the app and you can create different grids — classrooms — and topics of discussion. Each grid has a unique code that you can share with your students so that they can access the topics and the videos being posted by the professors and classmates. It is a great tool for reflective learning and for building solid learning communities within your classes.

Instagram, Flipgrid, or even youtube are great platforms to share retrospectives, even when you are not teaching remotely. Students love to record videos and they have great skills for editing, so why not capitalize on those capabilities?

But please, please, avoid using TikTok for this. Call me old-fashioned, but crazy things happen on Tiktok and we want fun but not crazy.

To wrap up

So, after two months of forced remote teaching, this is what I’ve learned.

Students are not happy to miss classes, the enthusiasm for skipping lectures only lasted two or three days. They are stressed out, anxious about the future, and many on the edge of depression, and it’s not just that they are making a scene.

We don’t need to make it harder for them by giving them tons of work and overweighted lectures and presentations. We can’t blame them for complaining, it is not that they are lazy — not all of them.

We can’t pretend that everything it’s ok and that nothing should change. Because it’s not.

We are not ok. They are not ok.

Illustration by Icons 8

So, instead of contributing to their — and ours — anxiety let’s make remote learning more enjoyable, more memorable by just adjusting a few things. But mainly by remembering that even remotely we can be kind humans.

And after all, in times like this, there are more important and urgent things than learning about theorems, corollary, or postulates. So it will not hurt anyone if we give some time for mingling and having fun.

I would love to hear how you are dealing with your online courses and what you are doing to keep your students engaged. Keep me posted 🙂 !


If you want to know more about the tools you can use for free to create beautiful and engaging online courses, you can read my following post here: The Ultimate Guide to Online Resources for Educators