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Online Teaching: A Guide To Tools, Software And Best Practices

Published on 31/03/2020 by Capterra

Online teaching is nothing new. Tutors, teachers, and professors have been using technology to connect remotely with students since the advent of the internet. 

online teaching solutions and tips

However, in recent months, the Coronavirus pandemic has required more students and their educators to adapt to online or digital courses than ever before. Regulations around social distancing and isolation have come at us so quickly, many teachers and tutors are scrambling to find the best ways to convey their lessons to students, even when far apart. 

Here’s the good news: The technology required to connect educators and students in these uncertain times exists. In this article, we’ll provide tips for educators facing the reality of virtual teaching, and outline some of the best technology for building digital classrooms. 

How educators are adapting to Covid-19

The news about Covid-19 is changing every day, but one thing is for certain: Our way of life has changed fundamentally for the foreseeable future. Social distancing guidelines require us to limit human contact as much as possible, which has had an enormous impact on the traditional classroom. 

Fortunately, this is not uncharted territory. Digital classrooms have existed before, and schools in Italy, China, and other countries impacted by Covid-19 earlier have already paved the way for teachers today. And they’ve seen some incredible results.

“We were initially concerned about whether our students, particularly younger students, would adapt well to online learning,” says Hannah Titley, Director of The Golden Circle, a UK Professional Home Schooling Group. “However, the feedback is that they are proving as effective as in-person lessons.”

 

In some cases, online education may be an improvement for some students. Learning in the comfort of their own home, free from distractions found in traditional classrooms, may make it easier for them to absorb information and apply their lessons. 

Leaning on technology during the pandemic

One silver lining to the timing of the Coronavirus outbreak is that we already have the technology required to help students and educators communicate—while maintaining social distancing. 

There are many video conferencing tools, document management applications, and digital collaboration products available on the market. These tools are easy to use (for students and educators) and don’t require a huge IT team to manage. They also work reliably and are typically available for little to no cost.

We’ve outlined some of the best platforms and tools for educators. We’ve selected these apps based on the features they offer, their overall rating, ease of use, customer support, and the number of reviews on Capterra. Find the detailed methodology at the bottom of this page.*

Software for online teaching comparison
A quick comparison of the online teaching software solutions analysed in this article.

Software to run virtual lessons

Zoom Meetings & Chat

Rating: 4.6/5

Ease of use: 4.5/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

SME Pricing: £15.99 per user per month

Free version: Basic plan

Zoom meetings and chat product image
Demonstration of Zoom Meetings & Chat interface (Source)

About Zoom:

Zoom is one of the leading video conferencing platforms. It’s versatility and low price point (including a free option) make it a preferred tool for businesses large and small, and educators. The tool features one-on-one video conferencing (suitable for tutors), but it also easily accommodates large group lessons—the free version allows for up to 100 participants. 

You can make the call as interactive as you like, or you can elect to be the leader on the call. This means you will be the only one able to speak out loud, and you can share your screen as a presentation. 

The free version also includes: 

  • HD video conferencing
  • Unlimited number of meetings (maximum 40 minutes runtime) 
  • Chrome & Outlook plugins
  • Breakout rooms 
  • Group messaging
  • Whiteboarding
  • Scheduling for Chrome & Outlook

Zoom is compatible with Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android.

Cisco Webex Meetings

Rating: 4.4/5

Ease of use: 4.2/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

SME Pricing: £11.25 – £14.85 per user per month

Cisco Meetings Team Meeting
Cisco Meeting’s team meeting layout (Source)

Free version: Personal plan (recently updated with new features), plus first month free with any paid monthly plan, and four months free when purchasing an annual plan (updated: April 2020).

Over 110 million professionals use Webex to connect every month. Though originally developed for business use, Cisco Webex has become a popular option among educators in the virtual classroom as well. 

Webex works particularly well for education settings because a number of its built-in features allow for collaboration that mimics traditional classrooms. For example, Webex allows “virtual hand-raising” so students can ask and answer questions, and it also has live chat features so that pupils can discuss the lessons with one another without interrupting the teacher. 

Additionally, Cisco Meetings includes: 

  • Brainstorming features
  • Attendee and invite management
  • Web conferencing and screen sharing
  • Collaboration tools
  • Screen capture and recording
  • Presentation tools

Cisco is compatible with Apple and Windows products. 

Join.me

Rating: 4.3/5

Ease of use: 4.4/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

Pricing: £9 – £20 per month for multiple users

Free version: 14-day free trial

Join.me screenshare function
Join.me’s screen-sharing feature demonstrated (Source)

About Join.me

Join.me has been helping groups connect virtually since 2003. Users highlight the tool’s simplicity—it’s easy to set up, and once you’re on the platform, launching meetings with small or large groups only takes a few clicks. 

Join.me also features personalisation features. For example, you can customise backgrounds and chat bubbles to suit your personality—this may be particularly appealing to educators who are keen to help students express themselves and have fun while learning. 

Join.me also includes: 

  • Meeting prep tools
  • Action item tracking
  • Time-zone tracking
  • Desktop/browser sharing
  • Real-time chat
  • Mobile access
  • Multi-hosting. 

Join.me works on both Mac and Windows products, as well as iOS and Android. 

Communication tools

Further requirements: To aid remote working environments, we extended the tool requirements to include a live group chat conversation feature.

Slack

Rating: 4.6/5

Ease of use: 4.6/5

Customer service: 4.4/5

Pricing: US$8 – US$15 per user, per month

Free trial: Available (contact sales for free trial options)

Slack group communication channels
Slack’s conversation channels group communication (Source)

About Slack

Slack is a versatile communication tool, and it’s used widely by businesses of all sizes. However, it’s well-suited for educational purposes as well. 

Slack works in your browser, as a mobile app, and also as a downloadable app for laptops and desktops. At its base level, Slack is a customisable chat platform that allows users to create chat rooms within a single, digital environment. For example, teachers could create a room for every course they teach or create small groups for students to work on projects together. 

Slack also features one-on-one chat features, and it’s very simple to share videos, screenshots, hyperlinks, and other forms of media with anyone on any channel. 

As a communication tool, Slack features: 

  • Realtime chat
  • Task management
  • Chat search
  • Chat threads
  • Audio and video calls
  • File sharing
  • Third-party integration.

Slack is compatible with virtually any browser and can be installed on Mac and Windows machines.

Google Hangouts Meet

Rating: 4.5/5

Ease of use: 4.6/5

Customer service: 4.3/5

Pricing: Free with a G Suite account

Free trial: 14-days free trial (G Suite)

Google Hangouts live chat function
Google Hangouts live chat function (Source)

About Google hangouts

If you use Gmail, you may already be familiar with Google Hangouts. The communication platform is built into G Suite, making it easy to hop on a chat or video call with anyone else who uses the platform for email (or anything else). 

Google Hangouts allows you to start a one-on-one or group chat with other users, or you can start an audio or video call in just a few clicks. You can also schedule meetings, which comes in handy for tutors or teachers who want to make sure their students are available at certain times. 

In addition, Google Hangouts includes: 

  • File sharing
  • Real-time chat
  • Audio calls
  • A mobile app
  • Private chat
  • Recording & playback ability.

Microsoft Teams

Rating: 4.4/5

Ease of use: 4.2/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

Pricing: Free with Office 365

Free version: Try 1 month free

Microsoft Team Group Conversations
Microsoft teams group conversation features (Source)

About Microsoft Teams

If you and your students are comfortable with Microsoft products, then Microsoft Teams may be a logical tool for you to manage your virtual classroom. The diverse product, which includes features such as one-on-one chat to group video conferencing, is well-suited for educators of all sorts. 

Microsoft Teams is an all-in-one, cloud-based solution. Not only can you use the platform to communicate with teams, but you can also use it to manage documents, as it integrates seamlessly with Microsoft’s OneDrive

Other features of Microsoft Teams include: 

  • Discussion threads
  • Surveys/feedback
  • Task management
  • Presentation streaming
  • On-demand webcasting
  • Presentation tools.

Collaboration software:

Further requirements: Must include a document management feature.

Dropbox Business

Rating: 4.5/5

Ease of use: 4.5/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

Pricing: £12 – £18 per user per month

Free version: 30-day free trial

Dropbox document management interface
Dropbox document management team folder interface (Source)

About Dropbox

Dropbox is a popular document storage and management tool for businesses, but it’s also well-suited to students working in a virtual collaborative environment. With Dropbox, anyone who has access to a “box” can upload documents from their mobile device, browser, or desktop/laptop. 

Once documents have been uploaded, they can easily be accessed by anyone else who has permission to organise the “box”. Documents can be updated live, or downloaded in their original form. It’s a way for teachers to share syllabuses, worksheets, and other documents students will need. On the flip side, students can upload their papers and projects for a teacher’s review. 

Some other great features from Dropbox: 

  • Access control
  • Backups
  • Archiving & retention
  • Encryption
  • Project management
  • Real-time editing.

DropBox works on both Mac and Windows products, as well as iOS and Android devices.

Trello

Rating: 4.5/5

Ease of use: 4.5/5

Customer service: 4.3/5

Pricing: US$12.50

Free version: Free plan

Trello education features
Trello education board (Source)

About Trello

Trello’s unique design allows users to create visual task management dashboards, where anyone can see the different projects and tasks happening at any given time. 

Trello allows you to add labels, assign tasks to specific people, group tasks together, and add backgrounds to your projects. Users can also upload imagery, videos, and links to your different tasks, making this tool a diverse task-management platform too. 

Trello also includes: 

  • Milestone tracking
  • Resource management
  • Project roadmapping
  • Idea management
  • Agile & traditional methodologies
  • Gantt charts
  • Customisable templates.

Slack

Slack's document management feature
Example of document management within Slack (Source)

About Slack

We’ve already discussed the benefits of Slack as a communication tool, but it’s also an option for document management. If you need students to be able to exchange documents, find them later on via search, and collaborate on live documents together, Slack can fulfil these needs

Slack integrates with third-party document storage platforms you or your students may be using. While you can exchange documents via the platform itself, you can also integrate Slack with Google Drive storage or Dropbox, for example. This means that students can easily share their work, even if they are using different storage tools. 

Check out Capterra’s directory to discover more document management, collaboration and web-conferencing software.

 


*Methodology 

All of the software on this list meet the following criteria: 

  • Rated 4+ stars by users on Capterra.co.uk
  • High search volume in the UK
  • Free version available
  • Rated 4+ stars for ease of use
  • Rated 4+ stars for customer service.

Note: The tools included in this article have been listed in no particular order.

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.