Mar 12 2021

Review: 3 Best Online Learning Tools to Boost Remote Instruction

Teachers are in search of good technology products that improve and enhance remote instruction. Here are three good options to consider.

For K–12 education, it’s no longer a question of whether online learning is here to stay but, rather, how can we make it better for our teachers and students? Even before the pandemic, the situation in many areas demonstrated the potential for the meteoric growth of online learning.

Although e-learning already provides a safe and viable option for educational continuity, school districts are investing in several advancements that will help to further and improve its adoption. The technique of gamification, for example, has led to the simplified tracking of progress and improved interactions between educators and students.

While diving deeper into some of the most recent advancements that are driving better student and teacher engagement, I’ve encountered important components to boost online learning. Here are three products I tested that align nicely with educators’ goals of boosting and improving online learning.

E-Learning Tool #1: Promethean ActivInspire — Display Software That Drives Student Engagement

Every teacher strives to develop creative and interactive lessons, and ActivInspire by Promethean can help them realize this goal. On the surface, ActivInspire is software for interactive displays. At its core, ActivInspire’s intuitive dashboard and vast suite of award-winning lesson creation tools are designed for teachers to better engage with students and more easily build compelling content.

ActivInspire makes it easy to import existing resources, such as PowerPoint slides or PDFs, which can then be embedded in multimedia files within lesson plans. When students and teachers return to an in-person classroom, ActivInspire can be downloaded and used with 4K interactive whiteboards, which encourages collaboration at the front of the class with multitouch functionality.

In a remote environment, teachers can use ActivInspire with all-in-one conference camera solutions such as Poly Studio, which delivers plug-and-play ease with outstanding high-definition video and exceptional audio quality. Used together, this setup promotes online engagement by allowing the teacher to remotely display at-home students’ work and projects on the digital board.

LEARN MORE: What tools does it take to get hybrid instruction right?

The Poly Studio and Promethean combo makes it fun and easy for teachers to also use ActivInspire’s sorting and spelling capabilities. For example, teachers can sort words into categories, such as colors or clothing, to provide a sense of the concepts that the categories represent. The sorting capability extends to common categories such as shapes and foods, which drives learning of both abstract and tangible concepts.

ActivInspire can also guide students to spell untaught words phonetically by drawing on phonemic awareness and spelling conventions. Using these phonetic capabilities, ActivInspire makes learning how to spell complex words an interactive exercise for the student by drawing on sound and letter relationships. Teachers can also use ActivInspire to bolster the lesson plans for teaching conventional spelling of words with common spelling patterns, as well as common irregularly spelled words.

ActivInspire is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. Setup took less than 10 minutes on a computer running Windows 10. Perhaps the best thing about the software is that teachers can leverage templates that other teachers create. For example, while testing the software, I used a world history lesson that I found online, as well as several other lesson plans on various subjects created by the increasingly large community of users.

Teachers can use ActivInspire to plan an entire school year of learning. I found and implemented a 200-day flipchart that covers the entire school year. The calendar I used starts on the first day of school and goes through to the last day. It was very easy to edit and customize, and best of all, it can be reused year after year.

SPECIFICATIONS

Supported Operating Systems: Microsoft Windows, macOS High Sierra (10.13 or higher), Ubuntu (16.04 or higher)

Processor: Requires 2.0GHz processor (Intel Core i3 or faster)

Resolution: 1024x768

Memory: Requires 4GB RAM

Disk Space: Requires 2.5GB available disk space for Windows and Ubuntu; 4GB for macOS

Additional Software: Adobe Flash 11 (optional for embedded Flash resources)

E-Learning Tool #2: ThinkWrite Ultra Ergo — Headphones Close the Attention Gap

One of the most challenging aspects of online learning is helping students pay attention, followed closely by encouraging them to communicate and interact with instructors. Keeping students’ attention focused on a screen, especially younger ones, can be particularly challenging. Often, children lose interest and drift away from the lesson.

One tool that can help stop daydreaming and keep kids focused is the ThinkWrite Ultra Ergo headset device. Weighing only 3.81 ounces and measuring 7 by 2.4 by 7.5 inches, it’s the perfect shape for young students, but is also robust enough to grow with them into young adulthood. I tested this device on three students who were 7, 11 and 14 years old.

All three attend online school full time and have done so since last March. Before the use of the headsets, they all had challenges staying focused in class — especially the 7-year-old. I know these students well because, as you may have guessed, they are my children.

After a week of using the Ultra Ergo, my youngest started focusing better in class and the improvement in his attention level was measurable, noticed not only by his parents but also by his teacher. He found the ergonomically angled ear cups very comfortable, and after a short while, he accepted wearing them simply as part of the online experience.

Our 11-year-old found it even easier to adapt to the headset. He thinks the optimized audio curve of the microphone is fun to use; it makes him think he’s a fighter pilot. His teacher noted being able to hear my son better, which was a relief to us because he typically speaks softly.

I was concerned about using the headset with our 14-year-old because he is unusually tall — at 6 feet, he has outgrown all of the clothes in my own wardrobe — and I was nervous the headset would break or simply not adjust to his head. Yet, to our surprise, he was the most vocal among my children when it came to praising the headsets. He set up the headset on his own and has used it for every online course at school. At one point, he even protested the fact that he was not allowed to use it for band class because the teacher needs to have all the students using their computer speakers.

As parents, we were relieved that their ears were protected from compression and their hearing from the strain of damaging frequencies over long listening periods. Our sons were much more engaged in their schoolwork and well protected too.

SPECIFICATIONS

Headphone Type: On-ear

Connectivity: Wired

Interface: USB

Sound Output Mode: Stereo

Frequency Response: 20 to 20000 hertz

Max Input Power: 100 megawatts

Sensitivity: 98 decibels

MORE ON EDTECH: Know how to answer to the most-asked hybrid-learning questions.

E-Learning Tool #3: Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 — IT Security as a Virtual Learning Tool

Another solution for boosting online learning is not traditionally considered an online learning tool. But the danger to districts and students participating in online learning is real, which makes security a top priority. The number of malware attacks committed each day, in the hope of exploiting new vulnerabilities created by the pandemic, are on the rise — especially in the education sector.

Staying safe while working remotely has not only exposed cybersecurity gaps, but also provided a new opportunity for cyberattackers and their malware to strike schools and other educational organizations. Ransomware is a particular problem, as it can affect both schools and their students. These challenges highlight the importance of solutions like Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 to protect teachers, students and schools from nefarious activities.

Normally bundled with other solutions like Bitdefender Total Security 2020, this anti-virus platform runs the gamut in robust threat detection, flagging both the most basic attacks and the most sophisticated intrusion attempts. I tested Antivirus Plus 2020 by sending viruses from my testing zoo to a typical laptop protected by the software. Without fail, Antivirus Plus 2020 was able to stop all infections and remediate each attempted attack. Nothing got through, and no user intervention was required.

When looking for effective anti-virus software, one additional item to consider is protection against multilayer ransomware, which can compromise personal files. Bitdefender’s layered approach easily eliminates known malware and also monitors for behavior that might indicate advanced threats such as ransomware. The ransomware protection is specially designed with layers that include a separate data protection feature, which safeguards all documents, including pictures and videos, from unauthorized encryption. Together with the Advanced Threat Defense module, Bitdefender protects all important files from encryption by ransomware in near real time.

Bitdefender Internet Security 2020 includes — in addition to anti-virus protection — a Windows firewall and a spam filter to keep students safe online or when checking email. The firewall continuously scans web connections and can even halt webcam hijacking, a real concern when minors are learning in front of a camera all day.

Online education is here to stay, in one form or another, for the foreseeable future. With these three key solutions, everyone in the educational community benefits: Teachers, students and school systems can improve student learning rates. Teachers can create dazzling lesson plans. And everyone can be kept safe in their online learning environment.

SPECIFICATIONS

Software Type: License

Supported Operating Systems: Windows 7 (SP1), Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10

Processor: Requires Intel CORE 2 Duo (2 GHz) or equivalent processor

Memory: Requires 2GB RAM

Disk Space: Requires 2.5GB available disk space

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