Online School Tech: A Resource for Students & Parents
From Google Meet and GoTo Meeting to Blackboard and Canvas, the tech behind online school can be tough to tackle. Discover the virtual tools and technological hardware that are common in the online classroom, and what you (or your child) will need to know when class begins.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Dan Keast
Dr. Dan Keast is a pioneer of online teaching and presents his research and innovations to a variety of disciplines in secondary and higher education. The link between Dan’s research and teaching is obvious as he continually adapts his courses and constructivist teaching methods to new media, student needs, and innovative pedagogy. Keast won the University of Texas Permian Basin’s nomination for the Regents’ Teaching Award in 2014 and the 2015 nomination for the Piper Professor due to his teaching accomplishments, reputation as an online educator, and caring mentor to his students, faculty, and alumni.
Online learning continues to be a major part of both K-12 and higher education. In Fall 2021, 60 percent of all college students took at least one online course and 30 percent were enrolled exclusively in online classes according to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES). Meanwhile, 375,000 students were enrolled in full-time K-12 online schools during the pre-pandemic 2018-19 academic year.
Whether you’re a college student earning your entire degree online or a parent who’s helping their grade school child acclimate to hybrid learning, online classes can be challenging at first. There’s getting the right hardware, finding the software and apps you need, and navigating one or more learning management systems. But acclimating to online school doesn’t have to be a chore, especially with good resources at your fingertips. The following guide is for new online students and parents of online students. It breaks down the technology and platforms involved in online school, from basic descriptions and pros and cons to the key tips to keep in mind. Get your (or your student’s) online learning experience started on the right foot.
Online Learning Glossary
To fully understand how online learning works, it’s important to learn basic terminology. The following section looks at some technology and logistics-related words and phrases you’ll likely see as you prepare for online class.
Core Online Learning Technology
When it comes to online learning, the amount of tools and tech available may seem endless. In addition to dozens of laptops and tablets, you have hundreds of apps and ways to connect, organize, and share information with others. But which tech devices lie at the core of online school and how do students at each grade level use them to learn?
Online School Communication
Many different tools for communicating in an online school exist, but it’s important to know which ones work best for specific needs. It’s also critical to understand how each functions so you can use them to their full advantage.
Online Learning Communication Tools
|Tool||How Is It Used for Online Learning Specifically||Tutorials||Age-Specific Tips or Tricks|
|Email helps students and teachers share information and have record of their communications. Teachers can also use chat functions on servers such as Gmail to hold virtual office hours.||8 Tips to Use Gmail as an eLearning Tool||Email offers a great early opportunity for teaching digital literacy and how to communicate appropriately with others online.|
|Zoom||Zoom helps classrooms meet in real-time through videoconferencing. Teachers can also share their screens as an alternative whiteboard or PowerPoint, message individual students privately, and divide into smaller discussion groups.||Tips & Tricks: Teachers Educating on Zoom Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Zoom Zoom Tutorial for Students||Students can show their personalities with approved backgrounds. Teachers can automatically mute students upon entering to help reduce distractions and background noises.|
|Google Meet||Meet serves as a great plug-in for classes that already use Google Classroom as it can be used within the learning management system. Teachers can also moderate and record training sessions.||Setting up Meet for Distance Learning Enabling Distance Learning Using Google Meet Google Meet for Students Tutorial||Because Meet can be used within Classrooms, teachers can keep learners focused and on track through the Ask a Question feature to test their knowledge in real-time.|
|GoToMeeting||This tool connects teachers and students in innovative ways, including cloud recording, transcripts of lessons, options for group projects and tutoring, file sharing, screensharing, and videoconferencing.||Using GoToMeeting in the Classroom GoToMeeting Online Learning Tools||While some programs require teachers to host videoconferencing meetings, GoToMeeting allows students to create their own learning spaces to work with each other on projects.|
|YouTube||In addition to accessing existing YouTube videos that fit within curriculum requirements, students and teachers can also use this technology to upload and share their own videos.||Harnessing the Power of YouTube in the Classroom||Students can easily get distracted by the endless amount of entertainment present on YouTube, but parents can set controls and boundaries to help learners stay focused during class or homework.|
|WebEx||WebEx operates as another videoconferencing tool and allows teachers to create virtual class lesson plans, host whole class, small group, and individual learning sessions, and facilitate group projects.||WebEx for School Students WebEx for School Teachers WebEx FAQs for Parents||WebEx allows for school sessions to be recorded, making it a great option for students who need to miss classes.|
|Online Delivery System (Canvas, Blackboard, Etc.)||Canvas, Blackboard, and other LMS technology was created specifically for delivering distance learning and provides tools within the software to help manage classes, create assignments, and provide assessments.||Canvas Overview for Students Blackboard Learn Help for Students||Ensuring students participate in an interactive tutorial prior to the semester beginning can ensure a smooth transition and avoid issues around usage.|
|Recorded Lectures||Recorded lectures make it easier for students to access course content and learning materials at any time of day. This helps those with busy or untraditional schedules learn at times that work for them.||Creating Effective Online Lectures||K-12 students can easily grow bored of a monotone lecture lacking interaction. Teachers should try creating multiple videos of shorter length, incorporating images, and developing some type of quiz at the end of each video to keep learners engaged.|
Virtual Class Time & Homework
Online school looks different at each grade level. Although some of the tech may stay the same across the grades, how it’s all used will differ. Before online classes start, parents and students need to know exactly what to expect from virtual lessons, interactions, and homework.
Online Learning: What to Expect
|Early Elementary (K-2)||For younger online learners, group work often consists of stories and read-aloud time conducted by the teacher and with interaction from the students. The teacher may call on learners to read individual sections to encourage participation and focus. Because younger students may be newer to online learning, teachers may organize small group discussions to keep them engaged and ensure comprehension.||One-on-one time is usually preset at this level and allows students to work on any skills gaps. These often take place 2-3 times per week.||Homework is minimal at this stage but requires support and engagement from parents. Homework packets are usually accessed via the virtual classroom or district bulletin boards and cover topics such as reading, writing, math, and art.|
|Late Elementary (3-5)||Group work in late elementary school starts building students’ skills in collaboration, compromise, and finding common ground with other learners. Teachers often divide the class into groups of 3-4 students, giving them unique projects to complete and present to the class.||While the class works on a group project, teachers may virtually pull students into a separate online classroom or chat space to address any areas of concern and work with them to identify subjects needing additional support. They may also meet with them outside normal class times.||Homework includes at-home projects in areas of math, science, reading, writing, and social studies. Students typically spend more time on homework at this level than they did in their earlier years of elementary school.|
|Junior High (6-8)||As students begin coming more into their own in middle school, group work gives them the opportunity to take on more responsibility in their teams. Teachers can set clear expectations around projects, assign each member a task, and help them build organizational skills by suggesting they use tools such as Google Drive to manage their work.||One-to-one work continues in the same vein as elementary school, with teachers and teaching specialists pulling learners requiring additional help during lessons. Some teaching aides may also maintain a separate dialog with learners during class to help with the project at hand.||Homework ramps up during this time, but students now possess the independence to complete assignments largely without the assistance of their parents. In addition to required classes such as language arts, social studies, mathematics, and science, students may also have elective classes such as language or music.|
|High School (9-12)||High school group work focuses on preparing students for their next steps, whether that be joining the workforce or starting college. Teachers emphasize working with students of different backgrounds, taking on leadership roles, troubleshooting problems, and keeping good time management skills.||One-on-one work continues supporting students who need additional help but a|