Technologies for Serving Different Learning Needs

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This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on August 7, 2018. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.  Just as all students are different, so are all instructors. We need to ensure we are implementing instructional technology tools that fit our teaching style, availability, and technology skill level. If any instructor wishes […]

This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on August 7, 2018. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved. 

Just as all students are different, so are all instructors. We need to ensure we are implementing instructional technology tools that fit our teaching style, availability, and technology skill level. If any instructor wishes to incorporate a new technology tool, it is vital we first assess the tool’s “goodness of fit” for both student population and course content. An instructional technology tool with a “goodness of fit” for a particular course and student group demonstrates that the tool was not selected haphazardly, regardless of its impact on the classroom. Rather, the tool was selected because it complimented the instructor’s teaching style and is a theoretically sound match for the instructional need.

Eight common online classroom needs and examples of vetted tools deemed as “fit” for college learners are described below. It is important to note the options available to meet each need. This helps you choose tools that will best fit your particular course(s) and teaching philosophy. Here are some “fit” web 2.0 options for different classroom needs.

Need: Current study tools are not working

Technology tools such as Quiziz or Socrative provide learners the opportunity to complete the quiz through their phone or tablet without the need of a separate sheet of paper. Furthermore, technologies like these also offer different features that can make them a fun way for students to take practice assessments. The tool can also help to reduce quiz anxiety as the assessments can be set to allow students unlimited retakes and can provide a chance to see how they scored in comparison to their peers.

Need: Student need for connection

Video biographies can be created quickly and easily with iMovieZoomFlipgrid, or any other video software. While this may not seem like a big deal, with all the virtual distance in the online classroom, putting a name to a face, and showing that you are a real person can go a long way. These simple techniques allow the students to make a connection with you as the instructor. Creating something simple such as a welcome video is also a great way to personalize your classroom.

Need: Text-only teaching is not working for some students

Technology tools can be a great way to offer students additional choice in how they wish to receive the content. It has become very easy for instructors to add video lectures or even podcast-like audio lectures with technologies such as Zoom, Loom, iMovie, and more. Video and/or audio lectures offer another chance for students to develop a connection to their instructor by seeing and/or hearing them. These can also be listened to in situations where it may be difficult to read; such as a during a drive home in rush hour traffic. Hearing our voice or seeing our facial expressions may provide some students with additional feedback on what we are emphasizing that week as well.

Need: The classroom needs pizzazz

Technology can add an element of gamification, which can be used to “spice things up,” increase motivation, and offer students another way to engage in the content. Tools like QuizizzSocrativeKahoot, and Jeopardy use a gamification approach, allowing students the opportunity to compete against one another. Others, like Google Docs, Goose Chase, or Classcraft allow students to work cooperatively to compete against other classes or to “beat the teacher.” Integrating these types of technologies can make rehearsal or application of content more enjoyable, potentially enticing more students to partake.

Need: Some content needs expansion or support for student understanding

Technologies such Moovly, which allows users to create animated videos, can be a fun way for an instructor to differentiate instruction beyond the standard video lecture. Other technologies such Comicmaster can allow instructors to create comics for content. Virtual poster sites such as Glogster can be used as a hub for additional instructor materials. Glogster allows instructors to embed pictures, videos, links, etc.

Need: The students who have mastered the content need more

Additional technologies can be created for those higher achieving students who have no problem mastering class content. These could include gamification techniques that were mentioned earlier as well as other technologies that can allow students to go deeper into the content. For example, an “Introduction to Psychology” instructor may have honors students create an interactive timeline with Timetoast.com or Sutori to show the connection between influential psychologists and major historical developments in understanding the mind, including psychologists not included in class material. In another example, a virtual interactive poster such as Glogster can be used as a repository for expanded materials.

Need: The normal grading feedback just isn’t enough

Loom and Screencast-O-Matic are excellent tools to provide surprisingly quick, visual and auditory assignment feedback. These tools allow for screen sharing and video conferencing. This provides the student with an opportunity to see their instructor embed feedback and point to various items directly on a worksheet or essay while explaining the rationale for the error or edit in need. The student can also hear the instructor’s tone and see their facial expressions. The instructor can also use an avatar or opt to turn off the recording of their face to direct the student to focus on the screen share feedback.

These screen share videos are not meant to be perfected with editing. Any editing or rerecording will make the videos too time consuming to create. Thus, you want to treat it as a traditional class where you would just make the correction commentary and keep moving. Screencast-O-Matic and Loom both allow student access to the completed video via a “share” web link. The video is only accessible to those with the link, making the feedback private for the student. This link can be pasted directly within the student’s submitted assignment, in the general comments next to their grade within the classroom portal, or even as a reply to a student in the “individual forum” of the course. Providing screen share grading feedback can be a great way to grade essays, big projects, or even worksheet assignments that are typically tricky to provide feedback with text alone.

Need: The need to get one or more people together at the same time

You may not have time to hold synchronous meetings. However, if you can hold a synchronous meeting, it can be another good option to help students and connect with them. Zoom is a great tool for live conferencing; it allows for screen sharing and free meetings up to one hour. Some students really like this, but it can be hard to plan for since many students take online classes due to time constraints.

Regardless of the technology, it must resolve the need, benefit students, align with your personal teaching philosophy, and be implemented without eating too much into your grading time. If anything, the tool implemented should help alleviate student misunderstandings, enrich the curriculum, or boost student connection to the course. Any of these three results could lead to higher rates of student mastery of material and better quality assignment submissions.


John Steele is an associate professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Sarah Robertson is an online professor, and Samia Humphrey is a professor of communication at Grand Canyon University.



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