Online learning has its challenges, but free tools and resources can help educators engage their students and move to deeper understanding

7 free tools for deeper online learning

Online learning has its challenges, but free tools and resources can help educators engage their students and move to deeper understanding

“For deep distance learning I was guided by three concepts: Making sure the content I present is engaging, giving students creative tasks to promote a higher level of synthesis and analysis, and focusing on higher-level thinking,” Pratt said.

Pratt’s online learning philosophy prioritizes 3 principles for deeper online learning, inspired by Daniel Pink’s Drive:
1. Autonomy: The idea of choice, directing our own lives and being in control. “What are the choices we provide in time, in the task, in the team, and in the technique?”
2. Mastery: You have to make things not too hard but not too easy. The way to do this to give students mastery is to make goals very clear with lots of feedback and examples.
3. Purpose: Getting to know and work with others provides purpose for students and gives them an idea of how they’ll apply their learning in the real world.

A number of free and engaging online tools have helped Pratt streamline his content, offer students learning choices, stay connected, and maintain a positive attitude during online learning:

1. Class Wall: lets students post to a virtual wall. Students can post information about themselves and learn about their classmates and teachers.

2. Flipgrid: This replaces some “traditional” written discussions with video. Students can use Flipgrid to record short video responses about what they learned, or for more creative assignments such as making a commercial or picking a side. Some LMS platforms have built-in video functionality, making this even easier. Pratt’s students said they felt it was easier to share ideas about topics informally, helped them think more deeply about topics, and increased their connectedness in the course.

3. Edpuzzle: One of the biggest problems Pratt says he had with some of the media he picked was that he wasn’t sure what his students were getting out of it, and he found himself starting and stopping videos often to ask questions or make points. Teachers can use Edpuzzle to take videos from YouTube, choose a stopping point, and add an open-ended question or closed question such as multiple choice. This helps educators keep students’ attention and gather student feedback.

4. Jamboard: This free Google tool has a number of different applications. Pratt uses it to ask students what they remember from the previous week’s lessons or breaks students into groups for collaborative work.

5. Posters and Memes: Students have fun using this resource and it’s a really good way to challenge students in a creative way. Having students create a meme or poster to illustrate a concept simplifies the meaning for the student with a related image or picture, highlights a main point, and also can illustrate new terms or complex concepts. has a meme and poster generator. This approach is probably better for older students to ensure appropriateness.

6. Screencast-o-Matic: Instructors and students can create presentations and record voice-over. The length of a presentation is limited, but students can voice over a presentation similar to how they would deliver a presentation in person. This tool gives students an audience and makes their task as authentic as possible in the online classroom.

7. WordItOut: Word clouds link synonyms or words associated with new terminology or a new concept.

Laura Ascione
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