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  • Marjorie Bugayon

4 Free-to-Use Digital Tools for Schools



Just like that, another school year is upon us. And to schools of all shapes and sizes, the year of virtual learning continues. In 2020, the e-learning space became our academic commonplace, but not without major hiccups along the way. Schools learned that live-streaming classroom sessions is easier said than done — and learned the hard way, they did. Meanwhile, overall classroom productivity took a hit. The shift in the learning paradigm and the absence of classroom dynamics are forcing some students and parents to hit pause — albeit, temporarily for most — on education.


But amidst the story of struggles, comes technology, one of the biggest advocates and drivers of learning in all forms possible. The rise in digital platforms, specifically designed to curve the digital gap in the education system, has enabled the education world to smoothly transition to a digital space — without compromising the pedagogical techniques unique to each school.


This incoming school year is a tabula rasa for improvements and innovations, an opportunity to heed the mistakes of the past school year, and to seek mediums that will pave the way for a much better online learning experience. And here are some tools that can help make that happen.



Koha

(image lifted from the Koha website)


Quarantine orders have made several school infrastructures, like the library, inaccessible to faculty and students. But in navigating through the unsure waters of virtual learning, it’s to books and other scholastic resources we must rely on to support the gaps in learning outside the classroom. And this is what digital libraries like Koha want to resolve.


Koha is a free, open-source library system that can mirror the activities of a physical library, such as acquisitions, circulation, cataloging, serials management, authorities, flexible reporting, label printing, multi-format notices, offline circulation (for when Internet access is not available), and much more. In addition, this online library system is fully scalable, and schools can easily migrate and update their collections to their Koha virtual catalog. In the presence of digital libraries like Koha, anyone from your school can access a wide array of resources essential to teaching and learning with greater ease — all but just a click away.


Canva

(image lifted from Canva's website)


Members of the faculty, we get it — online teaching just doesn’t spark the same level of joy as it is with being present with your students. But alas, in the presence of an ongoing pandemic, we must persist and carry out our duty as educators. One of the biggest challenges of online learning is making sure that our students are still very much eager to listen and learn, even if it’s sustained within the four corners of a computer screen. And adding some creative and visual flairs to our lesson plans might be the way to do it — and so to Canva, we go.


Canva for Education is a free offering for K12 educators. Through Canva, teachers can take their lessons to the next level and translate them into visual materials. With its drag-and-drop interface, teachers can whip up creative outputs and even incorporate their personalities into each design, even if they don’t have any professional experience in graphic design.


Discord

(screenshot image lifted from Discord's website)


In the absence of classroom interactions and deep-dive discussions, it’s paramount that we create a digital hub where teachers and students can continue to communicate and collaborate, a job that message boards do well. And while these platforms can’t capture the spirit of student exchanges in action, we can turn to communication hubs like Discord to connect with our class on subjects related to and even beyond the confines of our curriculum.


Discord is another free-to-use communication space where teachers and students can create an invite-only server, limiting users to only those who belong to that channel. There are modules within the platform that allows file sharing, one-on-one or small group discussions, notification alerts for urgent class announcements, and other activities unique to your class.


Grammarly

(screenshot image lifted from Grammarly's website)


Beyond their outstanding teaching merits and years of experience in the academe, even educators commit structural errors here and there. As the old saying goes, to err is human, educators, included. And so for reports with questionable sentence constructions and teaching materials that is temporary home to a couple of misspelled words or even incorrect choice of a preposition, it won’t hurt to seek professional help from online writing assistants like Grammarly.


More than a spellchecker, Grammarly is a cloud-based writing assistant that reviews, corrects, and suggests ways to improve your writing. It’s a writing tool especially helpful to those whose first language isn't English. While it's not part of their free offerings, Grammarly@edu is a premium solution to help educators catch plagiarized works from a hundred miles away - making sure that pirated write-ups from your students won’t fly their way to the A+ zone.



Using technology to pave the way for virtual learning and digital classrooms is no longer optional, especially when presented with a myriad of opportunities to improve the quality of education we impart to our students — at no cost at all! And contrary to popular belief, utilizing these digital tools will not make classroom-based teaching and learning obsolete. Innovation, and all the forms it may present itself, is not binary. Traditional learning and digital transformation best co-exist and share the same goal: to create a better and more efficient environment for all the microcosms in the educational sphere.





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