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5 Digital tools for making the virtual classroom more inclusive

Education used to be associated with classrooms and chairs, desks, and blackboards. Nowadays, education also takes place online, as an integral part of academic education or lifelong learning programs.

Online teaching has undergone an adaptive and transformational journey, especially for K-12 students in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The transition from face-to-face to online teaching was abrupt and came with many challenges: not enough devices, faulty or missing internet connection, insufficient training, the need for interaction, and home and school/work-life balance, doubled by a desire to maintain a sense of normality in a completely new scenario.

After establishing a certain routine for online teaching, a new challenge emerged: creating an inclusive learning environment for every student to thrive academically and psychologically. For this to occur, online education has to follow the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) standards, addressing learning barriers while providing multiple modes of engagement.

Read more: Applying Universal Design for Learning in remote classrooms

5 Digital tools for an inclusive virtual classroom

According to UNESCO’s 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report, attention has to shift towards those excluded from education on background and ability criteria . Schools should ensure inclusive and equitable education for every child.

Inclusivity refers to equity first and then equality. Therefore, online education has to live up to these standards and make students feel safe, confident, and respected to reach their full potential. Inclusivity is achieved through teaching and assessment methods that create a sense of community, provide personalized learning solutions and offer opportunities for active participation.

There are numerous digital tools teachers can use for mixed ability classes, while offering a sense of inclusion to every learner.

  1. Equity Maps

    Equity Maps is a platform that allows you to create a “space for all voices to be heard”. It's an iPad app that can easily be integrated into class discussions fostering collaboration and equitable participation for each student. This tool helps track the quiet students to try to include them more in the class activities. Also, it's a self-observation tool for teachers to see if they monopolize their lessons.

    Teachers can track any type of contribution from students in any format and generate a report downloadable to a CSV file, provide targeted feedback, assess classroom interaction and involvement, promote wider collaboration and encourage equitable dialogues.

  2. Explain Everything

    Explain Everything is a digital whiteboard perfect for remote teaching. Compatible with iPad, Android, Chromebooks, and all available browsers, this tool brings teachers the benefits of a whiteboard and multimedia animation software.

    It supports a wide range of file types which teachers can include in explainer videos to reach students at their level and help them become less teacher-dependent.

    Read more: 5 Quick and easy instructional video ideas for teachers

    The platform facilitates visualizing sketch notes to capture the main ideas of a discussion or debate. This way, everyone can observe the peer involvement in a task and have a snapshot of how their ideas have evolved throughout the activity.

    The platform offers a wide space for collaboration and active participation where students can explore, create and share information in an inclusive environment.

  3. Flipgrid

    Flipgrid is a tool teachers can use for different-abled students to promote accessibility and build inclusivity in their classrooms.

    This platform offers solutions for every student, from the outgoing ones who love to be seen and heard to camera-shy students who prefer recording audio presentations of a whiteboard or blackboard, which they can design with texts and stickers, to the deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) students who can use sign language for their videos or just create a presentation and use captions.

    With its integrated Immersive Reader features, Flipgrid can be used to improve reading comprehension by offering dictation, decoding solutions, read alouds, and translations. Also, it can be used by teachers to share explainer videos with the class for students to revisit anytime.

    Although its main use is for capturing the human voice and presence to give online teaching and learning a natural feeling, Flipgrid provides time and space for every voice to be heard, whether with the sound on or off, the camera on or off, or with alternative visuals which humanize the learning process in the virtual classroom.

  4. Empatico

    Empatico opens the door for every student and allows them to share their uniqueness. Teachers create an account, and the platform finds a suitable exchange school partner with which they can collaborate.

    Students benefit from the contact with other cultures and communities through Empatico while promoting empathy on a global scale.

    Read more: Transforming our schools through empathy

    The platform is also adapted for special education with sign language directions, vocabulary words, and even word lists to share via output devices. In this way, non-verbal students can fully participate in Empatico activities.

    Empatico brings together students from around the world to find similarities and celebrate their differences beyond the classroom walls.

  5. Wakelet

    Wakelet helps teachers gather all the resources they want to share with their students in one place for clarity purposes. It can also be used as a tool to communicate with parents and keep them informed.

    As a curation tool, it allows teachers to organize and share content with their students by simply creating a collection and saving different materials. Students can also use this tool to research certain topics and create digital portfolios. This way, teachers can observe the evolution of students' contributions even if they work in pairs or groups.

    Read more: 7 digital portfolio guidelines for outstanding learning performance

    This inclusive platform empowers students to showcase their knowledge and creativity in a safe learning environment. It is also integrated with an Immersive Reader so every student can access text and other learning materials at their own pace to help them reach the desired outcomes.

Final thoughts

Education is more than the sum of concepts and notions learners retain. It's about each student as an individual with specific needs, but also as part of a community of learners where they feel accepted.

Today’s digital tools offer better solutions for inclusive teaching and accessibility for every student regardless of their learning needs, helping them reach their potential.

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