A variety of manufacturers have made some of their popular tools more accessible to higher education students and faculty.

Apr 07 2020

Free Software Tools Colleges Can Use for Online Learning

The makers of a variety of tools and platforms are offering generous access to their solutions in a bid to help higher education adjust to its new normal with remote learning.

With colleges and universities shuttered and in remote learning mode, there’s a lot to figure out. Transitioning from in-classroom interactions to online or virtual education isn’t an easy task. Choosing the right solutions requires an understanding of what will help faculty connect with students to achieve their goals.

In the spirit of service and community, the tech industry has stepped up with an impressive assortment of generous offers for tools that deliver superior performance for higher education. Here’s a look at some of the top learning resources now available to colleges and universities thrust into a remote learning setup.

Free College Classroom Connection Options 

Classroom tools help students and instructors meet in real time, manage assignments and make critical connections. Here’s a roundup of some of the more popular platforms for higher education:

  • Google Classroom: One of the most popular online learning platforms available, Google Classroom has always been free for educators. Staff can easily integrate applications like Classcraft, Pear Deck and Quizizz, in addition to facilitating classroom discussions with posts, comments and links.
  • Top Hat: The Top Hat platform is now free for educators that require a remote working solution. Top Hat allows teachers to take attendance, present slides, create polls and host live discussions. Plus, staff can build and deliver formative assessments to evaluate ongoing student progress. 
  • Kahoot!: This student favorite made its premium option free for all higher education institutions starting March 1, and will extend the offer until schools reopen. Kahoot! empowers educators to create a bank of schoolwide gaming experiences, and the platform’s self-paced “challenge” mode allows students to learn at their own pace. 

Free University Videoconferencing Solutions 

Online learning won’t work if students and staff can’t reliably see and hear each other during scheduled class time or one-on-one appointments. To make these interactions easier, schools can now leverage solutions such as: 

  • Cisco Webex: To help schools transition from in-class to online learning activities, Cisco has made its Webex connection platform available free of charge. After signing up for an account, teachers can draft virtual lesson plans, schedule class sessions and meet with students virtually using Cisco’s Webex Edge Connect and Webex Edge Audio.
  • Pronto: Pronto combines chat and video applications to help students and teachers connect and is now available for free upon request.
  • Avaya: The Avaya Spaces platform is free for educators through August 31, to provide real-time video connection and collaboration.
  • Zoom: One of the most popular and powerful video meeting tools, Zoom offers high-quality videoconferencing with virtually no lag, jitter or distortion. Zoom has now lifted the 40-minute limit on basic accounts to help colleges connect with students on demand.

Free Higher Ed Communication and Management Tools

For e-learning to deliver successful outcomes, faculty must be able to communicate with other staff and manage their classroom initiatives. Potential online options include:

  • Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams empowers real-time collaboration and communication across documents, applications and services. The upgraded free version is now available to anyone — and has seen a 500 percent uptick in adoption since January as enterprises and educational organizations make the Teams transition.
  • Raftr: Communication tool Raftr is now free for post-secondary schools until July 1. Educators and administrators get access to public and private chat channels, can hold “office hours” in private channels and have the ability to create unlimited educational groups.
  • Bisk: Bisk makes it easy for schools to manage strategic planning at scale, create new online programs and deliver on-demand student support. Schools can now access Bisk’s faculty training course at no cost through June 30.

More from EdTech: Leading the Charge: Higher Ed IT Leaders Can Drive Digital Adoption

Free Tools for Remote Learning Still Need Security

Regardless of what tools colleges choose to support their e-learning initiatives, security remains a paramount concern. With remote education and work evolving rapidly, both in-code vulnerabilities and implementation issues represent increased data breach risks. The widespread use of home Wi-Fi connections, meanwhile, comes with the potential for “man in the middle” or eavesdropping attacks.

In addition to keeping an eye on current cybersecurity trends and installing all recommended updates, it’s also a good idea for schools to consider the use of virtual private networks and secure cloud solutions to enhance overall protection.

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