Have you ever needed to pound in a nail, but couldn’t find your hammer? It seems like such a simple tool, right? There must be something else you could use: Maybe a boot heel, a rock, a meat tenderizer, a crowbar...but no. Every alternative is going to make the job longer and more dangerous. Eventually, you give up and head to the hardware store (this is why I own at least three hammers now).
Having the right tool for the job makes the impossible possible, sure. More importantly, it can change “difficult and time-consuming” into “quick and easy.” And this is just as true for your work environment as it is for home improvement.
As an educator adapting to digital learning, it’s likely you have some tasks that could use a hammer — and you’re still pounding away with the heel of a boot. Let’s take a look at some of the most common challenges in digital learning and the tools that make them easy.
10 Essential Digital Learning Tools for Educators
There are hundreds of tools that make digital learning easier. To keep things simple, we picked one of our favorites for each type of tool. If our pick isn’t a perfect fit, feel free to explore others in the category.
1. Less Time-Consuming Feedback
Your constructive criticism is a crucial part of the learning process for students. But grading papers can be time-consuming, especially when you’re taking care to leave thoughtful, useful feedback. A tool like Kaizena can speed up the process without sacrificing quality.
With Kaizena, you can leave voice feedback (on docs shared via Google Drive) as recordings attached to specific points in the text. You can tie the assignment to a specific rubric, and track skills that the student is displaying while you make your initial read-through. Your notations will update the rubric score in real-time.
2. More Engaging Teacher Presentations
As a teaching professional, you know there’s nothing duller than a text-heavy, static slideshow. But as a teacher, it can be challenging to make presentations more dynamic and engaging. Ideally, your presentation tool fully leverages the interactivity that makes digital learning so effective.
Pear Deck enables you to create presentations with real-time check-ins, quizzes, and student comments. Students use their own smart devices to interact with your presentation. While this tool was designed for secondary education, we like its functionality for higher ed as well.
3. More Comprehensive Supplemental Materials
There’s a wealth of content on the internet that can enhance virtually any online course. The challenge for teachers is presenting material in a cohesive, easy-to-access way. A massive list of URLs might do the trick, but that wall of blue, underlined text is not immediately compelling.
A tool like Wakelet brings the best of the web into a single well-designed, visually-interesting document. You can add everything from tweets to YouTube videos to blog posts into a “collection,” which you can make available from a single URL. Think of it as a super-powered, more intuitive version of Pinterest.
4. More Interactive Video
We know that video is a crucial part of helping students learn. But watching a long video becomes a passive exercise for the student; it’s challenging to keep them engaged with the material and make sure they’re picking up the key points.
Edpuzzle is a tool for annotating online videos. It works with sites like YouTube, or you can upload your own video. You can add voice commentary, interactive lessons, and quiz questions that will play along with the video content. The software keeps track of who is watching, how much they’ve watched, and their questionnaire responses.
5. More Relevant Web Content
There are plenty of third-party sources online that can supplement your course materials: Wikipedia articles, blogs, journals, etc. Fully integrating this content into your course can be a challenge, however. You can link to the article and assign discussion questions, but these readings can still feel optional to students.
A tool like Insert Learning lets you customize content from online sources via a browser plugin. You can insert quiz questions, videos, links, and more. You can monitor students’ progress through the material and their quiz responses, too.
6. Quicker Student Check-ins
Online learning can introduce a disconnect between teacher and student; it can be hard to tell just how well students are absorbing the material without face-to-face interaction. The ability to solicit and track student feedback is an essential part of helping every student succeed.
A tool like Socrative makes it easier to measure and track understanding. Students can interact with the teacher through quizzes, exit tickets, and quick questions. They can also interact with each other in ad hoc discussion rooms and interactive quiz-show-style competitions.
7. More Dynamic Student Presentations
As I said earlier, static slideshow presentations can be dull. That’s true no matter who is doing the presenting. If your students are creating presentations to demonstrate their learning, equip them to make more visually compelling, dynamic documents. Better presentations are good for students...and for the teacher who has to watch dozens of them.
Prezi is rapidly gaining ground in business circles as a go-to presentation app, and it’s not hard to see why. Prezi presentations create a single huge canvas, not a series of slides. The software pans and zooms across the canvas throughout the presentation, keeping visual interest, and commanding attention.
8. More Productive Collaboration
Student collaboration is a crucial part of learning. It should be easier to collaborate digitally, since students don’t have to juggle schedules to meet at a physical location. Frequently, though, students struggle to share ideas via forums and chat apps.
A tool like SpiderScribe can help students work together. Students can work together on a “mind map,” a flexible document that can include text, drawings, images, files, and even video.
9. Better Group Organization and Discussion
Speaking of collaboration: It’s important that students have a way to communicate with each other and with the instructor. Text messaging or social media platforms are poor substitutes for a dedicated, secure discussion medium.
Slack is a chat tool designed for the business world, but it has plenty of features to recommend it for digital learning. It’s easy (and free!) to create channels in a Slack workspace and invite specific people to chat. Each channel has a threaded chat pane and supports file attachments, too. Plugins bring in functionality from Google Docs, Calendar, and more.
10. Easier Plagiarism Checking
Most of the tools on this list are for students and teachers, but the last challenge is unique to those on the educator side. It’s easier than ever for students to do research for term papers...and, unfortunately, easier than ever to pass off other people’s work as their own.
A tool like Unicheck takes the guesswork out of a potentially time-consuming and emotional process. It combines data from over 40 billion web pages with machine-learning algorithms to assess the originality of work. The software allows for paraphrasing and quotation, while tracking just how much of the document is original content.
Digital Learning Is Better with the Right Tools for the Job
It’s possible to encourage student collaboration, give engaging presentations, etc., without the right tools. But it can feel like using a rock instead of a hammer: You’re getting the job done, but it’s not safe, efficient or easy. Use the tools in this article to enhance digital learning for you and your students.
The right course materials are the most indispensable part of digital learning success. Caduceus creates interactive, multi-dimensional health curriculum that engages students and promotes learning. Explore our courses here.