Virtually Inspired Blog

With a focus to inspire innovation in online learning, our blogs feature multiple authors including our founders, Dr. Susan Aldridge and Marci Powell, along with a network of guest bloggers from across the international academic world. This network of colleagues is comprised of education futurists, experts, visionaries, practitioners, and researchers with a passion for the world of online and distance learning. Together this group shares blogs on a variety of topics surrounding the next generation learning environments.

Embracing Digital Tools of the Millennial Trade

Now 77 million strong, millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation.  Moreover, they are fast becoming the driving force behind today’s online college student population, especially given the unique history they share with modern technology – having also been the first cohort to grow up with the Internet and social media, cell phones and cable television.  

Thus, millennials are well-acquainted with – if not highly dependent on – the digital tools they use in their personal and professional lives.  Tools that empower them to connect and collaborate in a way that is immediate and efficient, interactive and self-directed.  Which is why they expect technology-enhanced education to replicate this user experience in the virtual classroom.  And when their expectations fall short or go unmet altogether, millennials are more likely to go in search of other alternatives.     

In addressing this challenge, creative online educators are beginning to incorporate some of these increasingly popular tools of the millennial trade into the virtual learning environment.   

Real-Time Chat Tools 

Collaboration apps like HipChat and Slack are steadily replacing email as the “go-to” for digital communication in the workplace. But they are also emerging as game-changing options for connecting geographically distributed students with their professors, both in and out of the online classroom, on virtually any device.    

HipChat is grounded in its ability to create different “rooms” (both open and private), in which instructors and class members can upload files and have ongoing conversations around selected topics.  It also alerts users as to who is online and available; offline and idle; or simply away doing something else.   What’s more, for $2 per user/per month, HipChat provides screen sharing and video chat features.              

The ever more popular Slack offers the basic features of a messenger app, while also making it easy to share all sorts of instantly searchable content – from screenshots and files, to links, images and even web code.  Likewise, users can create “channels” or content threads for both open and private group discussions.  And unlike HipChat, this real-time tool allows users to set up mobile alerts to their phones, should they want to communicate on the go.   

Project Management Tools 

In the millennial age of virtual teamwork, global companies are starting to adopt cloud-based project management software platforms, such as Trello and Wrike, to streamline even the most complicated workflows.  Now claiming millions of workplace users, these tools are moving into the online classroom, making life easier for students learning across multiple time zones to successfully collaborate on group projects.  

Known for its simplicity and accessibility, Trello enables elearners to create what is essentially a digital whiteboard organized into lists or buckets that represent stages of progress (i.e. to do, doing, done).  Group members then use “drag and drop” cards, each of which holds information on a specific task – checklists, due dates, attachments, images, discussion notes, and responsible parties – that can be moved from list to list for tracking work in progress.   

Wrike is an all-in-one, real-time online project management tool that can accommodate virtual learning teams of all sizes.  Its dashboard is designed to display project timelines and workflow status at a glance.  Equally impressive, it provides an automatic updating system that alleviates the need for staying on top of individual group members to ensure that the project is both on-track and on-time.   

Video Conferencing Tools 

With remote work on the rise, millennials have been quick to embrace videoconferencing as a handy tool for meeting and collaboration.  But it also paves the way for creating that all-important, real-time social presence in the virtual classroom.  Take Zoom, for example, a cloud-based platform for hosting face-to-face meetings with up to as many as 100 interactive participants, which is widely used because of its reasonable cost, flexible functionality, and streamlined interface.   

As such, it incorporates more than a few handy features for both one-on-one and group collaboration, beginning with dynamic screen and content-sharing, on computers, tablets, and smartphones.  Likewise, Zoom makes it easy to create breakout rooms for small group collaboration within the larger classroom discussion.  On top of that, it comes with HD video and voice, and allows users to record sessions for future reference.   

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