Changing your classes to online?

Have to set up online content for your classes?  Clearly, different classes will have different needs. Institutions will also likely have different restrictions with budgets and how learner private data is handled.

Anyway, based on my experience (also including feedback from a few peers), here are six platforms you may want to consider.  Perhaps no single one of them can completely cover your needs, but hopefully they can at least supplement them.  Don’t forget, you can still complement these platforms with more do-it-yourself content such as pre-recorded video material (eg. first class orientations), email or shared drive submissions, and possible live online broadcasts (just make sure your network is secure).

This online extensive reading and listening platform allows learners to access books based on their reading level from a range of established graded reader publishers.  I found it easy to register my learners (at short notice), adjust the settings (eg. reading deadlines, quiz restrictions), and later monitor learner progress.  As reading speeds etc. can be monitored and quiz answers are randomized, it’s also difficult for learners to cheat regarding their progress.  Although institutional subscriptions are about JPY2,000/year (and, yes, they also have six month ones), it eliminates the need for a costly hard-copy graded reader library and learners can access the content anytime from their mobile device or PC.  Being able to also have all learners potentially read the same books, it can be great for all kinds of ensuing classroom activities (eg. post-reading discussions).  Xreading had a few issues regarding access speed 1-2 years back but they seem to have been resolved now. They are also looking at revamping/upgrading the platform later this year.  Link: Xreading

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So much has been said about Moodle, on both positive and negative sides. It is truly such a flexible and customizable platform and is well worth setting up, especially if you have a multiple courses and teachers in the same program.  It really is like an open blank book though, with you having to create and upload in all the content, so you want to be sure you will be using it for a few years at least (yes, it takes longer to set up). Two of my favorite features are the chatroom and forum functions. These allow the learners to access specified content (eg. a YouTube video link) and then discuss it interactively online (their level of contribution can also be also be graded).  You can also prevent learners cramming at the end of a course by setting time-windows for when content can be accessed.  A range of optional free plugins make Moodle functionality almost endless.  It is a free platform but some institutions may be concerned about keeping it updated (the versions are often upgraded) and learner data protected on a secure server.

While you need server space and other utilities to set it up (eg. MySQL. PHP etc.), once it’s there, it’s easy to add and edit content and there are plenty of free tutorials online.  Keep in mind though, Moodle has many versions and the content you make is often not reverse-compatible (your stuff may not work on an older versions etc.).  M-reader, a large collection of graded reader quizzes, can also be incorporated into Moodle to run an extensive reading program (of course you still need hard copy books).  Link: Moodle

Word Engine
This is an online vocabulary-building platform, and like Xreading, is very quick and easy to set up.   After an initial diagnostic test, personalized word lists are created for the learner and they are then periodically quizzed in a variety of ways.  Learners can also choose which types of vocab they wish to study (eg. TOEFL, TOEIC).  The platform is very stable and professionally made, and can be accessed from both PC and mobile device using their app.  I found student progress easy to monitor using my V-admin access, and really liked how I could get weekly learner target achievement summaries forwarded to my email on Monday mornings. Although their site says subscriptions are JPY4,000/year, institution ones are around JPY2,000 (from memory, six month ones are 1,300).  My learners seemed to really enjoy using this platform (and become quite competitive with other learners!) and it appears to be well designed pedagogically with corpus frequency/range based vocab and spaced-repetition etc.  Link: Word Engine

Extensive Reading Central
This best part of this extensive reading/listening site is that it’s free to use.  It includes a wide range of level-based (graded) reading and listening on a range of both fiction and non-fiction topics.  These range from short passages to longer stories with both fictional and non-fictional topics.  The bulk registration function allows you to register a class for learners and track their progress.  The quality of the material is generally to a high standard (although not as polished as Xreading which usually takes its content from established publishers),  however the quality of the listening recordings vary.  Link: ER Central

Google Classroom
In the same way as Moodle, this platform operates as a fully-fledged LMS (Learner Management System).  It’s relatively new to the scene but already has a wide range of functionality in the way learners interact with your content.  Like Moodle, you have to create/upload all the content though.  It runs most effectively when you’re using the other platforms in the Google suite (eg. Google Docs), and can now be seamlessly linked to other sites such as Quizlet (below).  The platform is free for teachers to use for up to around 50 students, but any more and you need to subscribe to an institutional account.  While it’s probably easier to set up than Moodle and is better for sharing content, the range of functionality for how learners interact with the content (eg. quiz types etc. etc.) is probably still better with Moodle.  Seems to be rapidly catching up though.  Link: Google Classroom

A fantastic app (and website) for making vocabulary study flash-cards and sharing them online with your learners.  It also has a very large number of pre-made word lists in a range of languages (including the AWL). It’s also possible to add images and audio to your cards.  Most importantly, it now has a some new functions including Quizlet Teacher which allows learners to register to classes you set up and their progress to be monitored (although they don’t recommend it for formal grading).  You can trial the teacher version for 30 days free, but then you have to pay 300/month (per teacher; learners just have to register).  Link: Quizlet

Related links

Having trouble getting your learners reading outside class?

Eight free online tools for developing lesson resources

Recomended TED Talks on language learning