Design resources that foster 21st Century learning environments

By Emily Schickli

We’re all in the 21st Century, right? Many schools across the country are incorporating more digital learning tools and environments in order to prepare students for success in our increasingly technologically driven world. Help your students (and the students of the educators downloading or purchasing your resources) increase their digital wherewithal and make your resource more interactive, effective, and appealing to students with these four tips.

Laptops and mobile devices allow students to consume and create different kinds of content, and your resources can take advantage of these new possibilities.

When you’re designing your resource:

Tip #1: Support project-based learning and include multimodal activities and materials that differentiate for diverse learning styles.

Kinesthetic: Ever heard of makerspaces? They’re a great way to challenge students’ creative thinking and problem solving skills, especially for kinesthetic learners. EdSurge wrote a great guide on how to create a makerspace in your classroom. Perhaps your resource could help an educator set one up or integrate it into the curriculum.

Multimodal: For students who are more visual or auditory learners, you can encourage them to get creative by making a video, screencast, or a presentation with a voiceover for a class project. You can also use these tools to make your resource ready-to-use.

  • For example, many educators are now testing out flipped classrooms, where they have students watch the lecture at home, take notes, and then come to class to ask questions and do their work. Perhaps your resource can serve as the lecture that students watch at home before class. Check out YouTube Teachers for inspiration; it has some great examples of how other educators are using videos to teach content in and out of the classroom.
  • Screencasts also work well for walkthroughs or tutorials, and are an effective way to demonstrate how to use software or a web-based tool. Screencast-o-Matic and Screenr are free, web-based programs that enable you to export screencasts to video or upload them online. If you upload your screencast to Youtube, keep it “private” and accessible only to individuals who receive the link, which you can include in your resource files. Here’s a nice guide to creating quality screencasts. ​
  • You can also create a presentation with a voiceover by recording a slideshow with a voiceover to support educators preparing to use the resource in class. Voiceovers are an especially compelling way to deliver content intended for independent learners. Visit this page to learn more.

Auditory: For those students whose ears are always attuned to the latest buzz, you can create a podcast lecture or a lesson plan that assigns a podcast project. Podcasts are a great form to use when students need to analyze materials and teach and entertain their peers. Perhaps instead of having students create a tri-fold poster that showcases the results of their latest chemistry lab, they could create a podcast (complete with sound effects of course) that tells the story from hypothesis to conclusion. Here's a great list of example podcasts you can use in the classroom.

Visual: Don’t forget the tried-and-true medium for visual learners: images. To spice up this age-old teaching tool, try creating a digital infographic to convey information to students or encourage them to make their own. Maybe their latest field trip was to a natural history museum -- have students pull out their pencils and paper or boot up their devices and sketch out their own version of the diagram of a California Clapper Rail or a Roman aqueduct. Need an easy-to-use infographic creation tool? Try Canva’s infographic maker for free.

You can also create or have students make a storyboard, which is a graphic representation of a scene or story as it unfolds. Storyboards can provide an outline for how your resource can be used, or they can be included in a resource as a teaching tool or project-based assignment. Check out StoryboardThat for a free and easy storyboard creation tool.

Tip #2: Promote students’ digital literacy.

When students enter the workforce, they’ll not only need to know how to use computers but also understand various software and digital creation tools. In addition to designing resources that challenge students’ digital research skills, you can help them get ahead by creating your own digital lesson plans for educators.

Blendspace (by TES) is a fantastic tool for making collections or bundles of web content and files -- links, videos, images, and documents -- all in one place. When you click “share” on Blendspace, you can generate a link to your collection, and if you don’t want your Blendspace shared openly, you can go to “privacy” to make it so that only those with the link can view your Blendspace. Then, simply include the link somewhere in your resource.

PowerPoints, Keynotes, and Google Sheets are most commonly used for creating presentations, but you can use Prezi as a popular, non-linear alternative. Just make sure you make your Prezi private and accessible only to individuals who receive the link, which you can include in your resource files. Here’s a popular Prezi about how to make an effective one.   

Tip #3: Facilitate social emotional learning and a collaborative classroom community.

When facilitating 21st century learning, don’t forget to address the whole student. Nowadays students are under even more pressure to succeed in this highly competitive academic and job market, and as a result, they need more support from excellent educators like you (and those who are purchasing or downloading your resources).

You can help take the edge off by creating avenues for students to give their educators feedback, to take ownership of their work, and to reflect on their own learning goals and achievements with a growth mindset - where success is viewed as a result of effort rather than an innate ability. These avenues could look more like traditional face-to-face or written check-ins (one teacher asked students to write down what they wished their teacher knew on anonymous cards, and the results are both heartrending and inspiring.), or they could look more like digital interactions.

Encourage educators to take the classic in-class discussion digital by facilitating safe and productive online discussions. Higher education institutions often use Moodle and Blackboard for encouraging students to continue academic discussions outside of the classroom. Often professors will require students to post an original comment about a text or discussion topic and a reply to their peers thoughts each week.

You can steal this idea and make it even more accessible to middle and high school teachers by using other digital discussion spaces:

  • Wikispaces (by TES) provides a free platform in which educators can post links, assignments, worksheets and more, as well as host online class discussions. You can easily create a wiki to provide even more support for educators and link to it within your resource.
  • You may also want to consider making or providing support to create a class or subject blog on Tumblr or another blog platform for educators to facilitate student engagement.

Tip #4: Create digital assessments with these tools

How will educators know if their students are achieving your resource’s desired learning outcomes? You’ll want to include some way for educators to measure student success: create and upload a diagnostic or formative assessment as well as a summative assessment. Since educators will be using your resource in a variety of ways, you’ll want to develop both a print-ready and a digital version of each assessment.

Here are some tools for creating a digital assessment:

  • Socrative allows you to create digital and print-friendly multiple-choice, true/false, or free response quizzes. You can also embed images into questions. You can save your quizzes as PDF files for simple printing, or you can keep them digital by sharing a unique code from Socrative in your resource, which allows them to use the quiz through Socrative’s online platform. By providing a Socrative code, you’ll allow students to complete the quiz online and teachers to view the results online. We recommend both attaching the PDF and sharing the digital code to provide teachers with the greatest flexibility.​
  • Create assessments embedded in online videos with Zaption. Zaption allows you to place questions and other content at specific times within a video and allows viewers to answer these questions and interact with the content as they’re watching the video. To include a Zaption in your resource, create and publish your video “tour.” If you post your tour to the Zaption gallery, it'll be publicly available (not recommended for premium resources). Alternatively, you can press “share” to generate a unique URL that you can include in a document within your premium resource. Whoever purchases or downloads your resource then can use that link to make a copy of your tour, share it with his or her students, and monitor his or her results.