As the coronavirus-caused disease COVID-19 spreads across the globe, millions of parents and children are dealing with or preparing for school closures at all levels, from preschool through college. But they aren’t the only ones struggling. Asked to rapidly shift their teaching methods from in-person to remote teaching, many teachers — untrained and unfamiliar with online course delivery — are scrambling too.
As a college instructor with over 20 years experience teaching at all grade levels, this is a crisis I too am in the midst of. After news that the new novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, wasn’t likely to peak until the end of April to mid-May, my university was one of the first to cancel all in-person classes for the rest of the spring semester. Unfortunately, this situation is no longer unique. And for many schools, that means operating in emergency mode, piecemealing together solutions like classes held by video chat and assignments turned in via email.
But even in cases where the technology is already in place, teaching remotely is radically different from an in-person class. And needing to rethink traditional teaching methodologies as well as remake class materials and lesson plans in such an extremely short time frame has sent many a teacher into a panic.
Fortunately, there is a variety of education technology companies making their tools available to teachers at all grade levels, from kindergarten through college. And the silver lining for teachers and schools, whose budgets are often strained in even the best of times, is that many companies are offering temporary or permanent free access to these resources to those affected by COVID-19 pandemic-related closures.
Student Access to Resources
Before deciding which tools to use to deliver your course content remotely, it’s first crucial to know what kind of resources your students have access to. For example, the sudden stateside escalation of the pandemic forced many schools to close without warning during spring break, and students — especially college students — have no access to their textbooks or other school materials.
Further, although remote teaching relies on use of the Internet, if your school serves low-income students or those who live in remote areas, they may not have access to it. This is especially true in areas where public libraries have temporarily closed as well.
It’s also possible this disruption to normal life will prevent students from meeting during regular class times. Parents’ schedules may interfere with those of younger students. And older students may have to help care for younger siblings home from school or older relatives who are severely ill. Or they may be sick themselves.
While some education experts have recommended scheduling online teaching during regular class time to maintain continuity, others have advocated for flexibility. That decision is ultimately yours and may depend on the age of your students, as younger kids are more likely to benefit from maintaining their regular routines. However, it’s worthwhile to at least know what situations your students are facing before deciding on remote teaching tools and methods.
So start first with polling them. Depending on your students’ ages, send them or their parents a simple survey using a tool like Google Forms. Also send a copy by snail mail, if possible, as those without Internet access won’t be able to use an electronic form.
Be sure to ask:
- Do you have home access to the Internet?
- Do you have reliable access to a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone?
- Do you have access to your textbooks?
- Are you able to meet live during your regular class schedule or do you need recorded videos and materials you can access at any time?
For any of your students who need temporary help with Internet access, both Comcast and Spectrum are offering 60 days of free Internet service to those in low-income families. To sign up with Comcast, they can call 855-846-8376. For Spectrum, call 844-488-8395.
For assistance with getting a free or steeply discounted laptop, students should contact their local Department of Health and Human Services, which may be able to help. Or try a charitable organization that gives away donated computers to low-income families. Some to try include:
If students choose to go this route, warn them to be on the lookout for scammers offering free computers. They should always check to make sure they’re applying with a legitimate and reputable organization before giving any personal information.
Utilizing Your School’s Available Resources
Most colleges and universities and even many K-12 schools already have a learning management system (LMS) for delivering course content online, such as Blackboard, Canvas, or BrightSpace. Even if you haven’t utilized it much, know that these platforms are fully equipped for handling all your online teaching needs, from delivering teaching materials and video instruction to facilitating group discussions and collaborations.
Make sure to familiarize yourself with all the available features of your school’s chosen LMS before turning to another tool. The familiarity students already have with the platform can help ensure a smoother transition and prevent the anxiety and frustration they may feel at having to learn dozens of different tools for each of their classes.
If you’re not familiar with all the features or well-versed in how to use them, support staff can help you. If your school’s support staff is overwhelmed, YouTube is a great resource for video tutorials on how to use the tools of each LMS.
All-in-One Learning Management Systems
Even if you’ve never taught remotely, the principles of both online and in-person teaching are roughly the same. For both, you need a way:
- To deliver your course content to meet your course’s learning objectives
- To keep your students engaged so learning can take place
- For students to turn in assignments and take tests
- To provide regular and consistent feedback
Learning management systems can do all of this on a single platform, without the need to rig a bunch of unrelated systems and tools. If your school doesn’t currently have one in place, take a look at one of these available options.
Blackboard is one of the predominant platforms used by colleges and universities to manage both online and in-person classes. It enables files and resource sharing as well as class interaction through discussion boards. With the Blackboard Collaborate tool, teachers can create a virtual classroom complete with real-time videoconferencing or recordings students can view at any time. Plus, teachers can create assignments and tests and have grades automatically added to a grade book with parameters you set.
Blackboard is not a free or low-cost LMS for schoolwide use, but if your school isn’t already equipped with it, you can try it for free with your own classes through Coursesites.
Canvas is another LMS in widespread use among colleges and universities. It’s also well known for its ability to differentiate and scale instruction so you can tailor learning to the needs of individual students. That makes it an especially useful LMS for K-12 as well. As with Blackboard, it’s not a free or low-cost tool for schoolwide use. But if your school isn’t already set up with it, teachers can try Canvas for free with their own classes.
3. Google Classroom (G Suite for Education)
Google’s G Suite for Education is an always-free resource for teachers that gives students access to Google’s complete suite of tools, including Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Hangouts. These tools make it easy for students to collaborate on assigned group projects. Plus, it allows for easy feedback with suggesting and editing modes in Google Docs as well as the ability to highlight parts of text and leave targeted feedback with detailed comments. Additionally, it provides education-specific tools like assignment and grading capabilities.
4. Microsoft Teams for Education
The Microsoft Teams for education offers schools an online classroom that’s always free for all schools and universities using Microsoft Office 365 (which is also always free for schools). The all-in-one platform offers the ability to create assignments, track grades, create and share resources, and collaborate on group projects. Additionally, using Microsoft Office 365, you can record audio to go with PowerPoint slides, a helpful tool for delivering on-demand lectures. You can even create a timed recording that automatically advances slides in time with your lecture.
Moodle is an open-source learning platform designed to provide educators and students with a single integrated system for all their classroom needs. As an open-source platform, its software is always available for anyone to download and use for free. It includes collaborative tools like discussion forums and wikis, file sharing, assignment creation, and grading.
Like other all-in-one learning management platforms, Buncee gives teachers the ability to create online lessons using text, audio, video, and links to additional resources. You can use the classroom dashboard to track assignments, and students can collaborate in shared spaces.
Additionally, it integrates with Microsoft Immersive Reader, which allows students to read at their own pace in a way that’s comfortable for them — making it an ideal tool for differentiation. Buncee also provides the ability to easily communicate with kids and parents. Buncee is currently offering free access to any school closed during the outbreak for the duration of its closure.
7. McGraw-Hill Connect
Academic publisher McGraw-Hill has developed its own feature-rich LMS — McGraw-Hill Connect — which includes classroom tools like adaptive-reading experiences, auto-scored assessments, and the ability for teachers to create their own video lectures. Additionally, its textbooks are integrated with the platform, so students can access all assigned readings electronically — perfect for students who might not have access to their textbooks during the outbreak. Plus, teachers can use supplemental materials like short videos that reinforce key points in chapters and application-based simulations to bring the real world into the classroom.
McGraw-Hill is currently offering its platform for free to colleges and universities for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. Contact your textbook representative for more information.
Tools for Delivering Course Lectures
The biggest difference between in-person and remote learning is real, live face time. Teachers unaccustomed to online teaching must find a brand-new way to deliver course content. The tools you can use to deliver live lectures can include audio recordings to go along with PowerPoint slides, videos students can watch when they’re able, and real-time virtual classrooms.
8. Google Hangouts Meet
Although Google Classroom is always free for teachers, right now, Google is also offering free access to advanced Hangouts Meet videoconferencing features to anyone anywhere in the world who uses G Suite. Free access is available until July 1, 2020. It includes the ability to put up to 250 people on a Hangouts Meet call, which means an entire class or group of classes can join a lesson at the same time. Teachers can also live-stream for up to 100,000 viewers, enabling things like a virtual school assembly. Plus, teachers can record meetings and save them to Google Drive, so when students can’t join live, they can access the lessons later.
Zoom is a videoconferencing tool that allows you to bring together a classroom of students in real time. You can use it to facilitate discussions or give lectures and allow students to ask questions, either directly or through its integrated chat feature. Alternatively, you can use Zoom to record a video of yourself giving a lecture or record your live class — complete with class discussions — for absent students to watch when they’re able. If your school has Blackboard, you can even upload your recorded video to its LMS.
You can sign up for a free basic account, and for specific countries affected by the virus, Zoom has lifted the 40-minute time limit on its free accounts.
Another videoconferencing tool for teaching online, Webex has some unique features. In addition to creating a virtual classroom space, teachers can upload reading material for students to go over before class meetings and post discussion questions. Plus, with Webex Teams, they can post homework announcements and reminders and even create spaces where students can work on collaborative projects on their own.
Webex always has a free basic version and free trial for more premium features, but during the coronavirus outbreak, they’re lifting limitations on their free version, including offering unlimited usage, a dial-in number for audio connection, and supporting up to 100 participants.
Loom is a tool that allows presenters to record video to go along with their slides. You appear inside a tiny “bubble” near the bottom of the screen, while students follow along with the presentation slides. The advantage to this over merely recording audio to go with each slide is the feeling of connection seeing your face can give students. In a time when experts are recommending we socially isolate ourselves, the benefit of this can’t be oversold.
Loom is now offering its tool for free to educators forever.
12. Slido for Education
This brand-new virtual classroom tool integrates with PowerPoint presentations, Google Slides, and Zoom videoconferencing to foster student engagement. Teachers can create quizzes, run polls, and ask questions of students during slide presentations and videoconferencing. And the unique interface allows teachers to see and keep track of answers without leaving their slides.
13. Smart Learning Suite
Smart Learning Suite is a virtual classroom that allows you to deliver a live lesson or integrate materials from Google Drive or Microsoft Office for student-paced learning. With live lessons, students can ask real-time questions, participate in active discussions, do small group work in collaborative spaces, and even take quizzes. With self-paced learning, teachers can upload video and audio recordings, have students complete interactive games and quizzes, and submit assignments. SMART Learning is offering its platform for free for the remainder of the school year.
14. TechSmith SnagIt
TechSmith SnagIt gives you the ability to video record your computer screen while you demonstrate and record verbal instructions for students. It’s useful for courses that involve showing students how to use software or perform other active tasks, like showing them how to find research articles in a library database.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, TechSmith is offering SnagIt — as well as other TechSmith resources — for free to those affected by school closures.
Resources for Course Materials
While schools are closed, students will continue to need access to course materials.
Unfortunately, many will have no access to libraries — or even their textbooks if they left them behind during spring break or they haven’t yet received them. To help teachers and students who need learning resources, a number of publishers and interactive learning platforms are responding with offers for free access to tools and materials.
Wiley, another major academic publisher, is offering free college and university access to its textbook-integrated learning platforms for the remainder of the spring 2020 term. Additionally, it’s partnering with other organizations to provide free access to electronic textbooks. For K-12 educators, Wiley is providing webinars and teaching resources to help transition their classes online.
For all U.S. colleges and universities needing to transition to remote learning, Cengage — another major academic publisher — is offering students free access to all of its digital platforms and 14,000 electronic textbooks for the remainder of the spring 2020 term. Additionally, their website provides multiple resources for faculty, students, and schools in the midst of moving their classes online.
17. Lumen Waymaker
Lumen Waymaker is a resource for using and managing college-level open education resources (OERs). For students who don’t have access to textbooks, teachers can find course-specific OER reading material to meet their learning objectives. It’s offering its platform for free to teachers who must teach remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak.
18. Lumen OHM
For college-level math instructors facing a lack of access to textbooks, Lumen OHM provides access to math-specific OER course materials. This platform is free for any teachers forced into remote teaching during the outbreak.
19. ABCmouse.com Early Learning Academy
Teaching little ones from a distance is especially problematic, as they’re the least independent and most in need of hands-on, focused learning. For those teaching preschool through second grade remotely, ABCmouse.com offers more than 850 self-guided lessons across 10 levels and five subjects: literacy, math, science and health, social studies, and art and music. A companion program focuses on teaching English as a second language.
ABCmouse.com for Teachers and ABCmouse.com for Schools are always free for all U.S. schools and teachers. Additionally, it’s free for home access to all students affected by the current school closures.
This comprehensive digital library offers books, magazines, and comics for kids ages 2 through 12, making it a practical replacement for closed physical libraries. Teachers can also monitor what and how much their students are reading.
21. Adventure Academy
This massively multiplayer online game by ABCmouse.com is perfect for keeping kids engaged and entertained while at home. Plus, it gives kids something they’re likely missing from in-person classes: social connection. Students ages 8 to 13 can play games covering a range of subjects, including math, reading, social studies, and science. They can have fun and interact socially with other students playing the game while learning material in various subjects.
22. Kids Discover Online
Kids Discover Online is a library of science and social studies articles for elementary and middle school students. It allows differentiation by reading level, so teachers can use this material with various ages and skill levels. It’s offering free unlimited access to schools closed during the outbreak.
23. Project Gutenberg
This virtual library includes access to more than 60,000 free books students can read on a Kindle or other e-reader or online. Most of the materials are in the public domain, so they’re free to access and use. And for teachers and students without access to textbooks, Project Gutenberg gives them the ability to find books on virtually any topic.
24. Virtual Field Trips
Virtual Field Trips allows kids to explore the world without leaving their homes, perfect for a time of practicing social distancing. K-12 students can experience sites around the world with lessons in social studies, life science, geography, and ancient civilizations. Plus, the videos align with specified national and state standards.
Virtual Field Trips is currently offering free 60-day memberships and will extend them if needed. To get access, teachers can email email@example.com.
25. Purple Mash
This British education company hosts games and creative learning experiences for elementary-level math, spelling, and writing. It includes tools for teachers and students to set tasks, write blogs, and interact with one another. These tools can help foster student engagement as well as supply materials for learning.
HippoCampus is a library of more than 7,000 videos covering 13 subject areas to use in your lesson plans with middle school through college-level students. Teachers can even set up playlists of videos for their students to watch. HippoCampus is always free.
27. Actively Learn
Actively Learn integrates with Google Classroom to provide thousands of texts, videos, and simulations to use in social studies and science classes for all grade levels. It’s always free for teachers, but it’s currently offering all its advanced paid school district features for free through the end of the school year.
28. Discovery Education
Discovery Education from the Discovery Channel provides online textbooks, multimedia content, and lesson-planning support for teachers. Right now, all U.S. schools can receive free access to Discovery Education Experience through the end of the school year.
Instead of traditional textbooks, Kognity provides interactive electronic texts, complete with videos, animations, and auto-corrected quizzes. They’re currently offering free access to all schools closed during the outbreak.
30. Voces Digital
Voces Digital provides online learning resources for French, Spanish, and ESL language teachers of all grade levels. Resources include audio, video, and interactive writing and speaking exercises. Students can practice using the language even without face-to-face interaction.
Voces Digital is offering free access to teachers and students through June 30, 2020.
Math teachers can use Edulastic to create online tests and quizzes drawn from a vast question bank. Additionally, they can imbed video, audio, images, links, and notations. And it integrates seamlessly with Google Classroom and Microsoft 365.
Edulastic always offers free-forever teacher accounts. Plus, it’s offering free premium access through July 1, 2020.
Class Participation & Engagement Platforms
Providing access to materials is one thing. Keeping students engaged and actively learning outside the structure of a traditional classroom is another entirely. Plus, interacting with other students is a crucial part of the learning process. It exposes students to others’ ideas and inspires them to think critically about their own.
Any of the tools for creating a virtual classroom environment can be used to foster interaction. Many live meeting tools have the ability to break students into smaller discussion groups inside private, virtual “rooms.” And videoconferencing allows teachers and students to contribute their thoughts to classroom discussions. In fact, anything you can do in a “real” classroom, you can also do in a virtual one: engage in a classroom debate, collaborate on group work, play games, give presentations, or take a virtual field trip.
In addition to these, there are a number of online tools specifically designed to foster classroom participation and engagement.
Flipgrid allows students and teachers to record short videos to share with each other to document their learning. It’s essentially a social media platform specifically for use in the classroom. Flipgrid is always free for educators with either a Google or Microsoft account.
33. TechSmith Video Review
Like Flipgrid, Video Review is a tool for sharing videos. It allows for video “meetings” without the need to meet in real-time. Participants post videos, and others can leave comments. It’s a useful tool for virtual classroom presentations. TechSmith is offering this tool free through June 2020.
Perusall is a social e-reader. It gives students the ability to read a text together by adding group annotations. Students can see others’ notes and insights and add their own. They can also respond and interact with others’ annotations, thereby helping each other learn.
Perusall is always free to use with your own materials or OER. Using its library of texts requires students to pay the normal price for the digital book. Institutional licenses are also available.
35. Pear Deck
Pear Deck allows teachers to create interactive lessons, prompting students to answer questions during lectures to keep them engaged and listening. It integrates with other electronic classroom tools like Google Classroom and Microsoft 365. Pear Deck is offering individual teachers and entire school districts free access to its premium version for those affected by school closures.
This open-source annotation platform lets students annotate any text anywhere on the Web for social reading. Students can highlight text, add commentary, and share with the class. It combines the ability to use readily available materials for student reading with conversation-starting student insights and collaboration.
As an open-source platform, Hypothes.is is always free to all users.
Parlay encourages rich online conversations among students through its interactive discussion tools. These include discussion prompts that encourage critical thinking and a “roundtable” feature that lets students contribute their thoughts anonymously as well as receive peer feedback.
Parlay is offering its tools free for all schools until at least May 15, 2020. Existing paid users can take advantage of the free offering until that time by getting a code.
Special Resources for Arts Courses
Some subjects aren’t well suited for remote teaching. Music classes that require ensembles to play or sing together, dance classes that require physical movement, studio art classes that require hands-on instruction, and theater classes involving sets, costumes, makeup, and direction are all extremely difficult to adapt to online teaching.
That will force many teachers to rely on more traditional classroom learning structures. For example, a music class might have to listen to music rather than play it. But there are at least a few resources available for arts courses to get students through a school closure.
Dancio offers online instruction in dance techniques from some of the world’s best dance teachers. While not a substitute for in-person practice and performance, it offers a two-week free trial. After that, students can get individual streaming for $15.99 per month. For academic subscriptions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
MusicFirst is the only online LMS for teaching music at all grade levels. Although band practice may be on hold, students can still work on music theory, notation, and sight-reading. MusicFirst is offering free access to those affected by school closures for the duration of the closure. Call 1-855-896-3344 for more information.
Even with school closures, students can continue practicing at home. And they can receive instant feedback using SmartMusic’s tools. Plus, the program allows teachers to track their progress. Through June 30, 2020, it’s offering free access for all schools affected by the outbreak.
41. Free Concert Live Streams
Keep students engaged and appreciating music with free nightly live-streams from The Metropolitan Opera in New York. The opera house will be streaming encore presentations from their award-winning Live in HD performances on their website.
42. YouTube & Social Media
For any performance-based course, YouTube offers a free solution: have students record short performances and post them to a channel you create specifically for the course. YouTube allows you to adjust privacy settings, so if students don’t want their performances to be public, you can adjust the setting so only you and their classmates can view them. Even better, most learning management systems — including Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle — allow you to upload videos. So students can discuss and critique performances right in the LMS.
Additionally, The New York Times reports that a number of prominent artists are encouraging students whose performances have been canceled due to the outbreak to take to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These platforms allow heartbroken students to perform on even “bigger” stages, and they may even get to have Broadway stars like Lin-Manuel Miranda in their audiences.
43. Adobe Creative Cloud
Adobe Creative Cloud includes a collection of software used for graphic design, video editing, web development, and photography. Adobe is currently offering free home access to the Creative Cloud through May 31, 2020. Note that this is only available to courses already using the Creative Cloud apps on campus.
Special Resources for Science Lab-Based Courses
As with many arts courses, lab-based science courses are difficult to adapt to online instruction. Lab courses, by their nature, require hands-on learning, including performing experiments and interacting with materials. Plus, experiments often require scientific equipment that’s difficult to access outside a classroom laboratory.
This reality requires teachers to adapt their courses to what they can teach remotely and get creative about how to cover the rest, including by using virtual lab options like online simulations.
44. National Science Digital Library
The National Science Digital Library (NSDL) provides access to a wealth of mostly OER resources with an emphasis on the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math). The collection contains descriptive information about educational resources on other sites around the Web. These sites provide the information to NSDL to enable an organized search of educational resources. Some of these include digital labs and simulators. The service is free to use and allows searching by grade level.
45. Merlot Simulation Collection
The Merlot collection of OER resources includes thousands of free simulations on a range of topics. Each resource has a brief description and a peer-review rating and is searchable by keyword.
46. PhET Interactive Simulations
PhET includes free simulations for physics, chemistry, earth science, biology, and math for all grade levels from kindergarten through college.
47. Hands-On Labs
When there’s no other way to teach a lesson than with physical materials, opt for designing simple experiments with easily findable objects, like an observational nature hike for earth science or geology.
Just be sure to remind your students to continue practicing social distancing — otherwise, there’s not much point to school closures. This includes avoiding gatherings with classmates or touching playground materials like metal or plastic where coronavirus germs have been found to linger for as long as three days.
When all else fails, you can resort to custom lab kits.
Hands-On Labs is a fee-based service that works with faculty to create custom online and hands-on lab kits for your courses. Prices vary from kit to kit, as the materials supplied depend on your experiment, but Hands-On Labs gives you the ability to customize kits according to your budget. Additionally, Hands-On Labs is a fully equipped LMS for teaching online lab science courses. And it can integrate with Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas.
If lab kits are still too cost-prohibitive for your students, consider conducting the experiment yourself during a virtual class. Students still get the benefit of seeing the experiment performed, even if it isn’t possible for them to do it themselves.
48. Home Experiments With Household Materials
Alternatively, search online for experiments students can perform using readily available household materials. Science Fun for Everyone is a good resource. Students can video record their experiments and upload them to your school’s LMS.
You may have to make allowances for students who don’t have some supplies on hand, including giving them an alternative lab or giving them time to wait for an Amazon delivery.
Holding Office Hours
In these times of high anxiety and social isolation, what students may need most isn’t perfect instruction, but connection, empathy, and care. Let them know you’re still there for them by providing ongoing office hours. By using a videoconferencing tool like Google Hangouts Meet or Zoom, you can connect with students and their parents in a way that feels more personal than an email.
49. Zoom’s Waiting Room Feature
The Zoom waiting room feature allows you to hold open office hours with a single meeting ID you provide to all students. It admits only one person at a time into your “office.” If you’re with a student and another arrives, they can’t automatically join the private conference in session. Rather, Zoom directs them to wait until you’re finished with the first student. Once that student leaves, Zoom admits the next student on the waiting list.
This tool is free to use with a Zoom membership.
50. Google Calendar & Google Hangouts Meet
To schedule individual office appointments instead, make use of the appointment slots feature of Google Calendar, which you can use without signing up for Google Classroom. This feature allows you to reserve blocks of time during which you are available for appointments. Students can sign up for one of the available time slots directly through Google Calendar, and it will show up in their Google Calendar as well. You can then videoconference using Google Hangouts Meet. Note that you still need to send them a link and instructions for how to meet on Google Hangouts.
Ensuring continuity of learning during such unprecedented times requires some creativity and flexibility. But fortunately, we teachers are well trained for it — from adapting lessons to meet individual students’ needs to rolling with weather closures and struggling through sick days. Granted, none of us has ever dealt with anything quite like the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s doubtful anyone’s expecting this to be our best couple of months of teaching.
Just remember that parents are probably under a lot of stress too — not just over how their kids will get an education. They’re trying to negotiate working remotely or preparing to telecommute for the first time. Many are wondering how to keep their kids occupied so they can get work done. And as both a teacher and a mom, I can say that many parents are probably going to be happy to have anything at all that keeps their kids busy and keeps them from backsliding academically during what’s likely to be a very extended “break” from school — even if it’s not up to the usual standard.
Instead of beating yourself up over imperfections, focus on what’s most important. You may not be able to deliver on every course objective promised. But it’s vital that you maintain communication with students and that everyone stays as safe and healthy as possible in this unique situation.
What are your favorite resources for teaching online? What tips do you have for your fellow teachers?