By Donna Smith, General Education Faculty

When teaching an online course, how do you make your course feel alive? As an online instructor, I often find myself asking this question. Instructors may find themselves wondering, besides written feedback and discussion threads, “What are some tools or strategies I can use to connect with my students?” “What tools can I use to help establish an online presence?”

One of the most obvious tools instructors can use to make their online environment feel alive is video instruction. Instructors can design and create videos featuring companion course content, allowing students the ability to see and hear their instructor. However, besides traditional video, what else could instructors use to help connect with their students? With the risk of sounding cliche, the answer is: “There’s an app for that!” With the explosion of digital media, there are many tools educators can integrate into the online classroom. Digital media has changed the way we interact with the world, and this paves the way for educators to try new tools and strategies.

The digital tools available for faculty to use in the online classroom are endless. I have been experimenting with Piktochart, Tellagami and Smule AutoRap, which are all free apps. The goal: to help connect, engage and motivate my students. Here is a glimpse at how I have integrated these into the online environment.

The First Tool: Piktochart
Make a Visual Impact

Piktochart is an easy and free infographic design app that allows amateur designers to create beautiful, high-quality graphics. Online courses often require a lot of reading and written communication. Infographics can be a breath of fresh air. There are many benefits to incorporating infographics into the online classroom. They can be used to convey complex course concepts in a simple, visual form and ultimately, help increase student comprehension and engagement. Infographics can benefit visual learners as well as students with below-average reading skills. I have used Piktochart to communicate welcome posts, course expectations, and mindset expectations. Here is an example I’ve created with Piktochart.


The Second Tool: Tellagami
Animate Yourself

Tellagami is a great mobile app that lets you create and share a quick animated video (called a “Gami”). It is fast, fun and easy to share across online platforms and mobile devices. Instructors can create and post a Gami in different areas of an online course or send them as text messages to students. Gamis could easily be used to reinforce or highlight course concepts or as a creative outreach tool to students.  The example below was used to motivate students to complete the final assignments in the course.

A Message from Your Instructor

The Third Tool: Smule AutoRap
Let Them Hear You Sing

Smule AutoRap transforms your speech into a rap. By no means am I rapper, nor do I aspire to be one, as the evidence shall reveal. However, I do believe in taking chances by putting myself out there in an effort to make a connection with students. The benefits of being vulnerable with students typically outweigh the risks.  I want my students to know I am cheering for them. Music can move and motivate us, not to mention, it’s fun! To incorporate AutoRap, I first presented a challenge to the class on the Class Wall in which I used Piktochart to make the post. Then the reward, or “virtual gift,” for the class meeting the challenge was an AutoRap. The AutoRap was also presented using Piktochart.

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There is an abundance of digital tools available to educators today. Becoming a savvy content creator won’t happen overnight. That’s okay; being an educator means being a lifelong learner. The key is to be open to trying different digital tools and strategies. Start small. While teaching, pick one new tool or strategy to try each term. Otherwise, you could easily become overwhelmed. Consider collaborating with a colleague. Set a goal together and create course content. Collaborating could quickly double or triple your digital course content. With intention and dedication, before you know it, you’ll have a vibrant collection of digital tools to help breathe life into your online classroom and strengthen your connection with students.