We need a set of viable tools that specifically can be shared across GLCA institutions, can be easily learned by faculty and students, and need minimal IT support. All the tools I will discuss below are free of cost and already in place on the various campuses.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) vs. Google Drive File Sharing
LMS (Blackboard, Canvas, Notebowl, Carmen, Moodle, etc.) are widely used in academic settings and while individual campuses benefit from these course management systems within their campus communities, they are less practical, if not prohibitive, for the Shared Languages inter-institutional environment.
Security considerations determine how institutions set up their technology infrastructure. Campuses, such as Denison, with single sign-on (SSO) access to all available apps and databases would not wish to grant access to students from other campuses to their LMS.
A protected folder on one’s Google Drive, on the other hand, is available to all invited participants. Most campuses in the GLCA are “Google schools,” which means that users can work with their regular sign-in access and email address (in other words Google is behind the scenes). All that is needed for users from non-Google schools is a Google account, which the majority of our students and faculty already have in place as an alternative to their campus email account. This folder, organized into a set of sub-folders for a better organization, will enable instructors and students to exchange course materials, assignments, videos, images, etc. thus in effect avoiding the limitations of a LMS for the Shared Languages environment.
Another useful tool for file sharing is Dropbox. It is very user-friendly and free – except it has limited space on the free version, which makes it not as useful as the Google Drive, which has unlimited capacity.
Blogging and Website-creation tools
WordPress (less suitable for Arabic, Font issues)
Personally, I prefer having my entire course available on a WordPress site. (e.g. German 302, German Youth Culture). Everything, including course materials, course information, daily class content, assignments, etc. is in one place, which I can then share with students during class with desk-top sharing.
Google Sites (especially beneficial for Arabic; WordPress does not work well with the Arabic script fonts.) This alternative web creation program come with the Google suite and is especially simply to learn and manage.
Ideal video-conferencing platform: Zoom
Zoom allows us to all be in the same virtual space synchronously interactively via a simple email invite with a link to the meeting.
Zoom is free to all users for up to 40 minutes connection time. I recommend the instructor have the professional account available at a small cost ($100/year) to have access to more tailored Zoom support and to have no connection time limit.
Especially useful features for virtual classroom environment are:
Desktop Sharing: Both the instructor and students can share images, text documents, PPT presentations, video-clips, Google docs, and more with everybody in class viewing these together. For example, students do in-class presentations with PPT with desk-top sharing.
Chatting: The instructor can use the chatting function either with the whole class or individual students. Students can do the same. I use the chat function in lieu of a blackboard to share spelling new words, write correct grammatical sentences, comments, etc. At the end of the class, Zoom automatically downloads the chat as a .text file, which can then be shared via the Google Drive course folder with all students.
Break-out Rooms: Just like in a physical space, the students can work together as partners or in small groups. The instructor can join these groups just as if s/he were walking from group to group in the classroom. The instructor can assign students into these rooms quickly and efficiently or even let the computer program make the room assignments for a more random composition of students working together.
Sharing Google Docs: Students can work on a shared Google doc together to write down ideas in small groups during class, which can then be share with the entire class for further discussion.
Automatic video-file creation of recorded class session, which is then downloaded to the host’s desktop and can be shared with all students for review or as a make-up class via Google Drive.
An example of a class section using these features. (The video file does not show the chatting.):
Example of a Zoom chat text file:
In this teaching and learning environment, students learn much more than the specific course content. They acquire advanced technological skills, how to interact professionally in the virtual environment, digital etiquette, communicative effectiveness, dialogue etiquette, participation as a learning community member/team player, group leadership competencies, and how to learn and teach (for our future teachers!) in the 21st century.
A special rubric for this environment spells out these learning goals.