While there are offline systems that can work for distance learning, online learning options are generally the most common and effective choices available. We will be focusing on choosing and designing the most effective digital options.
During a transition to digital teaching and learning, it is often helpful to think of online learning environments as an extension of your face-to-face classrooms. Many of the elements that are central to a successful traditional classroom are also relevant in the online world, but they often look a little different. Consider these examples:
|Book shelves||=||Folders of digital content|
|Teacher’s desk||=||Email, phone, or messaging system|
|Projector||=||Embedded slideshows and videos|
|Paper Assignments||=||Digital assignments|
|Face-to-face discussion||=||Online discussion|
There is no “one size fits all” plan, so you must decide what will work best for you and your families. To get started, ask yourself the guiding questions below.
Q1: What online classroom options are available to me and my students?
Learning Management System (LMS)
If your school has purchased a learning management system, use it. This is likely your best option since these programs are designed to be online classrooms. They typically offer useful features for posting content and communicating with students and families. Most LMS platforms also allow you to facilitate learning activities, such as digital assignments, online discussions, and self-correcting tests.
A key feature of the LMS platform is that the learning space is secure, requiring a login to enter.
Note: If you don’t have access to a school-sponsored LMS, there are free accounts available. While companies offer upgrades to premium versions, the free version can often meet your needs.
If you don’t have a learning management system, consider creating a classroom website to post materials and lessons for your students. Be aware that a website is typically public and functions primarily as a distribution tool for content and communication, rather than a full-featured digital classroom.
Websites can be created and hosted through a variety of free and premium services. As with the LMS, a free version will often meet your needs.
Shared Online Spaces
Links to online calendars can be shared with families and used to communicate assignments and expectations. Online folders can be shared with students and/or families as a way to distribute materials. If folders are created and shared individually with each student to protect privacy, they can also be used to collect work.
Both shared folders and calendars can be used in conjunction with a learning management system or class website to expand their functionality.
Email or Mail
While less efficient, email or traditional mail can be used to communicate with families, as well as to distribute and collect materials, when other options are not available.
In cases where information needs to be kept more private and secure (such as with special education), this may be a preferred method.
Examples of Mail Services
- When possible, use your official school email or mail system.
Q2: Do all of my students and families have access to the internet?
This is an important question and will determine if you can provide one consistent platform for all students or if you will need to provide multiple options. One of your goals will be to provide the most equitable access possible to all students.
If the answer is yes, you can likely conduct all of your virtual teaching and learning through your chosen digital platform. This will allow you to streamline your process and focus your efforts.
A paper mailing may also be considered as a way to initially direct families to the online resources and introduce the digital process to be used during distance learning.
If the answer is no, you might still offer an online classroom as your primary classroom for those families with internet access.
However, you will need to provide an alternative system for those who do not have that access. Options of that variety include:
- The US mail
- School deliveries
- A central pickup site