Back-to-School season goes remote
It is that time of the year when many children would be gearing up to join a new pre-school, and their parents, shopping for new school bags and uniforms for the new school year.
But 2077 is different. Teachers are busy at Zoom meetings with principals are struggling with their IT teams to set up digital classrooms before fresh batches begin classes this week.
Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and good old Gmail are all useful in communicating simply and effectively via video and/or text. Teachers can always send assignments for the week or instruct live on video using an array of newly-essential tools for remote communication.
However, simulating a real classroom environment requires more complex channels built for teachers and students to interact and enjoy a virtual school.
There are dozens of ecosystems and learning management platforms, but which is the one best suited to K-12 schools in Nepal? Let’s find out.
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Google Classroom doubled its user numbers globally during the quarantine, which says a lot about how popular it is with schools across the globe.
Available as an app for phones and tablets, as well as a web app on Google Chrome, Google Classroom is the go-to online space for schools in Nepal for two solid reasons:
- Google’s product is completely free, while other virtual learning places charge per institution or per student
It is intuitive and easy to learn, especially for teachers who are new to remote learning, who can upload assignments, get into virtual video-based lessons, and mark submitted homework without technical training.
Google Classroom’s biggest advantage is that Google has a wide set of productivity products that work in sync to help teachers lead and facilitatevirtual classrooms. With Hangouts for video delivery of lessons and Google Forms to help create simple quizzes to test learners, Classroom seamlessly connects with other Google products to help get tasks done efficiently.
There are other unique features: teachers can create a Google Doc assignment just once, and each student gets own file to fill in and even click a ‘Turn In’ button to submit.
Classroom comes with challenges. When multiple teachers upload multiple assignments, it can get really overwhelming for students because Math, Science, Language and Social Studies are all subjects that have been activated simultaneously out of one digital classroom and into their brains.
One teacher sharing a list of weekly assignments at once, makes the work flow easier to manage for parents and kids alike. Schools will have to arrive at solutions on their own – something no tutorial will teach them. Overall, Google Classroom is an excellent product that is already being adopted by Nepali institutions.
Ideal for kindergarten and primary schools, Edmodo is a user-friendly, attractive platform, easy for both Windows and Mac users. The design and interface remind people of social media platforms that they are already familiar with, but the functionality is tailor-made for online learning purposes.
Keeping in mind that schools are increasingly shifting online to kickstart new academic sessions, Edmodo offers a Distance Learning Toolkit that works as a set of free resources to give educators a place to start and help them make better decisions. This initiative welcomes traditional schools with older schoolteachers to the new normal of online classrooms and a constantly evolving teach-from-home system.
Edmodo is already popular with prominent elementary schools in America, primarily because it equips teachers with a super organised space, stores all their data on cloud and offers real-time updates that help maintain quick interaction, much like in real life. Edmodo has partnered with JumpStart Academy Activity Studio to help launch activities that help young kids learn in a fun, interactive manner.
The platform calls itself a ‘social learning network’ where teachers can share notes, assign homework, interact with their students, launch class discussions, administer online tests, measure student progress, and much more. It allows both recorded screencasts as well as live streaming, so that teachers can choose to pre-plan and prepare classwork for students to complete at their own pace, or deliver live video lessons. Google apps and MS Office are also integrated into the platform, so that teachers can use the tools they have been using for years.
Like everything with Edmodo, the assessment method is limited and simplistic, which makes it difficult for secondary level teachers to grade assignments completed by middle or high school students. Also, Edmodo is not ad-free. But these are minor complaints.
Students get a personal planner that helps them keep track of their school work and systematically tackle their task list. Moreover, schools willing to pay for the premium version of the platform are privy to a unique gamification tactic that introduces badges as a way of motivating students to stay on top.
Edmodo gets brownie points for involving parents in the learning process.Teachers communicate with parents through Edmodo itself to keep them clued into their children’s virtual school life and support them through this difficult change of academic lifestyle.
My top recommendation for a proper learning management system is Schoology, a super secure and safe platform available as an app on both iOS and Android, and also accessible on the web.
Schoology comes with an in-built classroom management suite that offers tools like online attendance, a grade book, a digital space for teachers to post assignments, quiz and test creation and publishing capabilities and various virtual tools to supplement or replace a physical classroom environment.
To help schools suddenly forced to go remote, Schoology offers free course-specific and public resources that assist teachers in lesson planning. Teacher groups can also be formed so that teachers can support each other and deliver content smoothly across departments.
A solid platform harnesses the power of automation, and Schoology is no different: assignments graded by the teacher automatically feeds into the grade book roster, thus reducing the extra workload for the teacher.
Schoology’s layout imitates Facebook to some extent, so, like Edmodo, it’s easy for users of all ages to navigate. Schoology has partnered with complementary apps, such as Remind (helps educators send messages to students and parents), Turnitin (checks for originality and prevents plagiarism amongst students) and Nearpod (uses dynamic media and helps deliver interactive lessons to increase student engagement levels),that make Schoology the one-stop-shop that schools can depend on. Google Drive, Facebook and Twitter can also be used with stay seamlessly connected.
Some schools in Nepal still perpetuate the teaching approach applied in pre-industrial revolution era, where there was a clear demarcation of students vs faculty, and where peer-to-peer interaction was discouraged.
Schoology gives traditional schools a fresh opportunity to transform the way they teach, not just in terms of channel but also approach, with an open and engaging online learning atmosphere where dialogue is encouraged.
Schoology adopts modern ways of the West, fostering asynchronous learning so that individual students can log in at their own convenience and still be totally on track along with their classmates. The secret to running successful virtual classrooms seems to be flexibility, and Schoology checks the box fairly well.
Teachers can create an access code for parents to monitor the progress of their children as well as check out what they are currently learning in school. The only issue parents face with this platform is that if two siblings are studying at the same school in different grades, they cannot both sign into their respective Schoology accounts simultaneously from the same device.Other than this, Schoology is professional and effective.
Other apps that schools and colleges may explore: Blackboard Learn, Seesaw, Canvas, Moodle
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