Cool Cat Teacher’s Tips for Building Your Digital Classroom

Vicki Davis April 02, 2018

By Vicki Davis, @coolcatteacher and Host of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

First, we had physical classrooms. I call those bricks. But now, we have online classrooms. I call those clicks. And when we have bricks and clicks, we have to bring them together to create a blended classroom.

As teachers, we’re used to organizing our physical classrooms. We have inboxes, procedures, and color codes. We have a place where students turn in assignments and a process for grading and returning them. We call this workflow, and we plan it before the first student steps into our classroom. But I’ve found that teachers aren’t so methodical in their online spaces. If you don’t organize your space online, students can be confused and won’t perform up to their ability. Our digital classrooms deserve the same attention as our physical classrooms.

I’ve compiled several tips to help you build your digital classroom. See them all below.

1) Think about workflow

Students need a consistent place for getting and turning in their assignments. My learning management system (I use PowerSchool Learning) notifies me when students submit work. But I still need them to know where they can always find the assignments. An LMS will include a calendar showing assignment due dates, but I’ve found that students often miss the context for those assignments if they just look at them on the calendar.

So, big picture — I think about workflow, just like in a physical classroom. How will students learn? How will they communicate with me in the online space? How will they receive feedback and ask questions?

In my mind, the test for all of this is the question, “Could I run my online classroom from home one day without being physically present in the classroom?” If so, then my workflow with the students is solid.

2) Organize your content

The first thing I  do is organize the class pages. I consider the web page design and separate the information by content and topic. I also don’t like having more than five days of work on any one page.

I label the “pages” or web pages for each lesson with the date to help students easily find content we’re working on right now.

Naming pages is also very important. While I don’t have to include the date in the page title, I’ve found that putting it at the beginning of the page makes it easier for students to figure out where  they need to be.

For example, this week’s work is called “Oct 19-23 Color Theory,” so they know that we’re working on a Color Theory lesson from October 19-23.

I can put whatever I want here, but students should be able to look at it and know which page to go to without always relying on the calendar. That’s because I sometimes have to change an assignment’s due date for students who were out due to sickness or sports activities. The calendar might confuse them about whether they have extra time. So I teach my students that the pages are the ultimate authority.

While pages have the assignments on them, I also include the assignments in the places where students turn in their work.

3) Clearly outline assignments (including all resources)

Even though everything about an assignment is on the class page, I still copy all of the assignment information into the actual assignment itself. You might think this is duplication, but I believe in effective digital organization: Everything needed for an assignment should be on one page, or one click away. Students shouldn’t have to worry about LMS navigation structure. Any links should take them directly to the assignment. Rubrics, content, videos, and anything else they need should be on the assignment or one link away. I can’t stress how important this is.

Students in my digital classroom don’t see the assignment and the additional material as two separate things. A nice bonus of assigning work this way in my LMS is that PowerSchool Learning and PowerSchool Teacher Pro Gradebook are linked together, so the assignments that I enter in PowerSchool Learning also end up in my gradebook. Parents who are looking at assignments can see a full description as well.

4) Be consistent

When you’re organizing your online classroom, consistency is everything. So if I see that students are having trouble finding something or struggling with an assignment, I’ll ask if there’s anything in my page layout that’s making it difficult for them to get the work done. Depending on their feedback, I may change how I do things in the future — but I will tell students how I intend to make that change. If you move something, you need to tell students. And no matter what you do, you need to be 100 percent consistent in how you lay out the page, how you set up your assignments, and how students can expect to receive content in the digital classroom.

Learn More

What skills do we want our students to gain before they graduate?

Jared Cotton, the superintendent of Henry County Public Schools in Virginia, addresses this question in the on-demand webinar, “Preparing Students for Success: Measuring What Matters.”

Check out the webinar to discover the district’s innovative approach to education.

About Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time teacher and the IT director at Westwood Schools in Georgia. Vicki co-created more than 20 award-winning international global collaborative projects, the MAD about Mattering App Development Project, the Flat Classroom project, Digiteen and more.

You can follow Vicki’s commentary at the Cool Cat Teacher blog, which has more than 100,000 views a month and was named by Onalytica as the top female edtech influencer on Twitter. She’s also the host of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast, a five-day-a-week show that tops more than 60,000 downloads a month. Vicki has spoken at Microsoft, Google, Discovery, and more than 30 edtech conferences. She serves as a judge for the Global Teacher Prize and as a Top Global Teacher Blogger for the Global Search for Education. Vicki is a Google Certified Teacher and Discovery S.T.A.R. Educator. She lives in Camilla, Georgia with her three children and husband, Kip.

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