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As universities continue going online with their courses as the COVID-19 spreads, I thought it’d be beneficial to offer some tips on how to use your LMS class website and other free digital tools when teaching from home. My university uses a version of Sakai as our LMS software, but I’d assume similar tools are available in other systems. Plus, the free tools I mention in the second half of this post are available to anyone with internet access (and in two cases, a Mac). If you’re required to switch to online teaching unexpectedly, this post is for you.

LMS Tutorial Video (from the very basics to my favorite tools)

What LMS tools do I go over in this video?
  • Making sure you can find your class website and that it’s published
  • Site Info (to add and reorder the tools on the site)
  • Overview
  • Announcements
  • Syllabus
  • Forums (great for creating digital activities)
  • Assignments (try these digital final projects)
  • Tests and Quizzes (here’s a tutorial on creating a final exam)
  • Gradebook
  • Lessons (the best tool for organizing instructions, materials, and activities, which I write more about here)
  • Calendar
  • Blog
  • Chat Rooms (great for synchronous discussions)

If you already know the basic of using this LMS software, I suggest going about 10 minutes into the video (when I start talking about the forums tool) or around 22 minutes in (when I start talking about the lessons tool and end with the chat rooms tool). And if you want to know even more about using the “lessons” tool to keep everything organized, here’s that blog post.

Use Canvas LMS? Here’s my Canvas video tutorial series!

Teaching Online? Free Tools to Try

I go through the process of showing viewers the basics of each tool in the above video. Here’s a bit of information about each tool listed, along with an activity idea or two.

Kahoot: I’ve mentioned this tool multiple times, including in this blog post about different discussion activity designs. [Here’s a video all about online discussion activity designs.] What’s great about this gamification tool is that students can play the game from anywhere as long as they have access to the internet. As I show in the video, the app records the responses to each game played, which means you can just go to the reports tab after the game is finished and use that resource to design follow up discussions or activities. [Note: Kahoot is offering free premium service to schools that have gone online because of COVID-19.]

Activity Idea: Create a quiz or poll in which you ask your students leading questions about a text they’re reading or a set of concepts they’re learning. I show an example of this in the video, and mention a similar activity in this blog post on discussion designs. Once you design this game, play it with your students (see video). Don’t worry about recording the answers. You can see the results of each question in the reports section afterward. Once you have the report, you can use it in a number of ways to facilitate a class discussion:

  • Start a Zoom call in which you go through each question and ask students to support the answers they chose with textual evidence or other information (you can “share” the report on the screen when using Zoom).
  • Upload the report in full or question by question to the LMS discussion forums tool. Ask students to write short responses defending their answers.
  • Set up different chat rooms in your LMS site (see tutorial above) and add the question and results of one or two Kahoot questions to the chat room. Have students discuss the reasons behind their answers in the chat rooms and facilitate a deeper consideration of their answers. Have students switch between chat rooms as you’d like.

Loom: Update: I have a short tutorial that goes over the best features of this tool, as well as a recording of my live tutorial for using Loom Pro which is slower (and longer). I usually use QuickTime to do my screen recordings, as it’s a free tool on my Mac. But, if you don’t have a Mac, Loom is a great free tool for screen recording. [Note: Get a free Loom Pro account by signing up with your edu email and verifying that email address.] With Loom, you can record your screen while also recording yourself talking about what’s on the screen (the Screen & Cam option). The videos you create with Loom can be sent to your students by simply copying the hyperlink and sending it via email or your LMS site.

With this app, you can have students record themselves presenting information that’s on their screen. [They can create great graphics (like infographics) using free tools like Canva (or if you’re looking for something a bit more advanced, Canva for Education).] Or you can use it for your own pre-recorded lectures. Just keep in mind that editing these videos in Loom is time consuming and only allows basic editing functions. If major editing of a video is necessary, I use a combination of QuickTime and iMovie. [Here are my tutorials for QuickTime and iMovie.] You can also download Loom videos and then upload them on iMovie or another editing software.

Activity Idea: Once students complete a step in their project or a project as a whole, have them record a short video in which they present the project using the Screen and Cam option (see video). For example, if students are working on a research paper, have them present their research proposal or outline so you can give them feedback on elements of the proposal/outline that they mention feeling unsure of or on parts that you see need improvement. I suggest modeling this type of presentation before assigning it to students. If students were supposed to do an individual presentation at some point in these next few weeks, they can use this tool, as well, especially if you want an unedited version of their presentation.

Zoom: This is a really popular video conferencing app that I use all the time as a participant rather than as the creator. Still, it’s a simple app to use if you want to host a live lecture or discussion with your students. You can record the session and post it to your LMS afterward, as well. Just read the fine print when using the free version, as I believe it limits the length of the recording and the number of people on the call. Note: Check to see if your school has bought a Zoom license in response to going online.

This app is great for live discussions, including digital office hours. Students don’t have to appear on camera if they don’t want to, and you can mute everyone else’s microphone while you’re lecturing so you don’t get any extra background noise. When students want to talk, they can just un-mute their mic and type into the chat box. Students can also call in, rather than going online and being on video. [This option can work for students that don’t have strong (or any) internet access at home, but it won’t fully help since they probably won’t be able to see the recording afterward.]

Activity Idea: You can use the breakout rooms feature to divide your whole class discussion to a small groups discussion. [Here’s a tutorial on how to do this.] But, that involves all your students and you being on Zoom at the same time. Here’s another option: Find [X] time slots at the beginning of the week in which all students are accounted for as being available to go on Zoom (by calling in or by video). So, let’s say 5 groups of 6 students each are scheduled to go on Zoom at 5 specific times from Monday to Wednesday. For each group, have one student in charge of starting the Zoom meeting so that they can record it. [Or, take part in each small group discussion so that you can create the meeting and record it.]


Once the small groups finish their discussion, have them send the recordings to you (if you’re not doing the recordings yourself). You can watch them and use them to lead a whole class discussion or lecture at the end of the week. You can decide whether or not to share the video links of the small group discussions with all students. Whatever the case may be, remember to add the whole class discussion recording to the LMS class website.

QuickTime: As I mention earlier, this app is available for Mac users, so it might not be for you. It’s an incredibly easy app to use to screen record your computer screen while giving a lecture using slides, PDFs, visuals, etc. Just go to File > Start Screen Recording and follow the directions on your screen. Make sure your mic is on! Once you end the recording, you can edit it or post it without editing. If the file is too large for your LMS site, you can upload it to YouTube as an unlisted video and share that link instead. An unlisted video can only be seen if the person has been given the link. It’s not searchable on YouTube.

Note: You can also use QuickTime to create a DIY digital whiteboard and/or doc cam experience using your iPad or iPhone. I show you how in this video tutorial.

Activity Idea: If your face being on screen doesn’t matter for the activity, you can use this tool to create any screen recorded lesson or activity that you’d like. You can use this tool to record yourself going over an assignment instruction sheet, a mentor text, a visual lecture, etc. Again, just make sure you’re recording sound along with the screen.

iMovie: Another app only available for Mac users, so you might want to try DaVinci Resolve instead, which I hear is free and available on Windows. [Or look up free video editing apps on your phone.] iMovie is an easy to use video editing software, and there are tons of YouTube tutorials available if you want to learn more. In the video above, I go over how to import a video file and edit it by simply cutting out the parts of the video that you don’t want included in the final version. Nothing fancy, but it’s a great tool for simple video edits. Once again, post to your LMS or to YouTube.

Activity Idea: This tool is for editing videos, rather than for activity creation. Still, let’s say you need to go over 10 different concepts or terms with your students. You can record 10 separate videos on your phone or laptop and post those on your LMS or YouTube channel. Or, you can import the 10 videos into an iMovie movie (see video) and create one longer video to share with your students. You can add text on top of or between video clips, which can help guide your students through a longer video. For example, you can “add a title” in between each video clip (see video). This title can include the concept/term along with its definition before the clip explaining it is played.

Teaching Online with Free Tools Infographic

More of My Resources Tied to Digital Teaching:

My Favorite LMS Tool: Lessons

10 Icebreaker Ideas for Online Classes

7 Online Class Discussion Activity Designs

7 Tips for Making Better Video Lessons

7 Tips for Increasing Student Engagement in Virtual Learning

5 Digital Final Project Ideas

Different Modes of Communicating Information When Teaching Online

Teaching Strategies for Hybrid and Online College Courses

Free Digital Notebooks to Use as Teaching Journals

Even More Resources on Digital Teaching:

Educational Apps/Websites Offering Assistance/Free Options

This Online Teaching Resource by Stanford Professors

Chronicle Article on Going Online Quickly

Chronicle Advice Guide for Online Teaching

Cult of Pedagogy’s Post on Distance Learning

A List of Potential Tools to Use When Teaching Online

Twitter, which is full of advice threads

Final Thoughts

I hope these videos and tools prove useful in your future online teaching experiences. I definitely recommend checking out your school’s IT or CTLT websites to see about their own LMS tutorials and other information on digital tools available to you. If you have any suggestions for others who are considering creating digital lessons and activities, please share them in the comments below!

Comment Below: What’s your favorite LMS or digital tool to use when teaching online?

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Looking for ideas on how to teach online? Here are some tips on how to use your LMS class website and free online tools to your advantage. Online teaching doesn't have to be a confusing or expensive experience. Check out these two videos to learn more. #education #onlineteaching