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Published August 19, 2021 | Multidisciplinary

Bringing Distance Learning Tools into the Classroom

As we are transitioning back into physical learning environments, are you doing away with the online materials created during the pandemic and going back to printed handouts? Or are you looking for innovative and effective ways to integrate some of these distance learning tools in the physical classroom environment? I opted for the latter, and will be sharing some ideas in this article to encourage you to do the same. As part of a co-development effort, please don’t hesitate to share your own ideas and practices using the “Comment” function at the bottom of this page.


While teaching at a distance during the pandemic, I used Teams as the sole communication hub with my students:

  • An FAQ channel in the class team allowed everyone to ask their questions about the study material and benefit from their peers’ answers as well as mine. This also avoided repeated individual questions.
  • The chat function facilitated ongoing individual conversations, which made it much easier for me to keep track of discussions, compared to email or messaging functions on Omnivox (MIO), for example. It also made switching to a video-based conversation much easier.
  • The Bookings plugin (which can also be used as a standalone web page) made it easy for students to check my availability and schedule a meeting.

I will keep using these modes of communication, not only in between classes, but also in the classroom. If students have access to a mobile device or a laptop, they can easily ask questions, for example while working individually or in small groups. This will help with physical distancing by reducing classroom traffic, or even allowing students to work elsewhere on campus (e.g., at the library) when appropriate.

Using Bookings may avoid students lining up outside my office, and also makes it possible for students to choose whether they want to meet in person or virtually.

Course notes

To help my students structure their study materials, I created a digital set of course notes, organized by week, using the OneNote Class Notebook through Teams. This offered several advantages in a distance learning context that are equally beneficial when teaching in person:

  • Students can engage with the content in the format of their choice. They can work digitally if they have access to a computer or mobile device, print pages and bring them to class to annotate, or even takes notes on separate sheets of paper and use the camera of their cell phone to seamlessly add their written notes to their digital notebook. Many students, who haven’t taken handwritten notes in a physical classroom context for over a year, may appreciate this variability.
  • Students can easily highlight, annotate and reorganize the content in the way that suits them best. They can also use the Immersive Reader function if they wish to listen to certain passages rather than reading them (e.g., on their way to or from campus).
  • Students can watch the video tutorials I had prepared on an as-needed basis. Rather than replacing classroom-based teaching as they did in a distance approach, video materials will contribute to making the course more inclusive, as students are offered to engage with essential concepts in different ways, at the moment of their choice.
  • Students can submit online assignments and quizzes easily, and get feedback more quickly. As a teacher, I can give feedback in different formats, which may be quicker or more relevant than annotating paper copies.

Of course, most of these benefits also apply to digital course notes presented on other platforms, for example on Moodle or another learning management system.

Classroom interaction

As students may be apprehensive about working in close contact with their peers, especially for speaking activities, or may feel hindered by the face covering they have to wear, I will continue using the video-based discussion forum Flipgrid for some communicative activities:

  • By giving students a set amount of time to record their response to a question or their opinion on a topic, a good degree of spontaneity can be maintained, if desired.
  • Allowing students to spread out allows them to be active and potentially also remove their face covering while recording themselves. When planned around break times, this needn’t be more time-consuming than setting up an in-class discussion.
  • Students can continue the conversation beyond the classroom. For example, they can be asked to respond to or comment on the videos of their peers for homework.

Many other tools, such as polling apps, mind map makers and social annotation platforms offer interesting opportunities for classroom-based use. If you decide to implement some of the online tools you turned to when teaching remotely into your classroom activities, don’t hesitate to use the comment section below to share your “digital keepers”!

About the Author

Andy Van Drom

Andy Van Drom enseigne l'anglais, langue seconde, et la linguistique depuis 2005, d'abord à l'Université Laval, puis, depuis 2012, au Cégep Limoilou. Après avoir terminé des études doctorales en linguistique, il travaille maintenant à temps partiel à une maîtrise en enseignement collégial avec Performa. Andy a également publié 3 manuels chez Pearson ERPI et a développé plusieurs ressources éducatives libres en format numérique. Son grand intérêt pour les outils technopédagogiques et l'apprentissage actif l'ont mené à travailler avec Profweb, où il est éditeur depuis 2017. En 2019, il a reçu une Mention d'honneur de l'AQPC et le prix EF Excellence Award in Language Teaching.

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