10 Tips for Converting to Distance Learning

An image of a computer on a home desk.

Considering that Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has already started closing schools, teachers need to have a plan in the event they are asked to convert to distance learning. Before we explore these tips, here a couple of caveats:

  • The fears over Coronavirus may be more hype than substance. Without a crystal ball, we cannot know the future for sure.
  • Not all students have devices at home or internet access at home. We need to have a much more equitable society. Beyond that, these students should not be punished in a distance learning scenario.

Having established those caveats are 10 tips for teachers who are asked to convert to distance learning.

Tip 1: Use Google Classroom for Lesson and Assignment Workflow

If you are not using Google Classroom, this is the perfect time to get started with the easiest platform for lesson and assignment workflow. Benefits of Classroom include:

Classroom makes it easy for teachers to handle typical classroom workflow tasks such as guided notes and giving students feedback. Even if your school stays open during the Coronavirus era, start taking advantage of all Classroom has to offer. For more information about Google Classroom, please visit my page of Classroom resources.

Tip 2: Record Yourself with Screencastify

Good news! Your students can still see your face and hear your voice thanks to the Screencastify Google Chrome extension. The free version of Screencastify allows teachers to make up to 5-minute videos with no Screencastify watermark. Here are some tips for using Screencastify:

  • Be very careful about going any longer than 5 minutes with video. Attention spans are short!
  • Take your slides and any websites you want to include and download them as PDFs. Viewing the PDF instead of the full-on Google Slides editor when you record will take less device memory.
  • Include your face on the video. It’s better than the disembodied voice.
  • Be sure to not be backlit. If there are windows in your room, face them as you record. Additionally, stack your laptop and its webcam on some books so you look better.
  • You will use verbal pauses such as “um” and “like.” It happens. When I started making screencast videos, I used the word “essentially” a lot. Just power through and get better over time.
  • Consider making quick-hit 1-minute videos about single concepts. These will hold your students’ attention better and help them study.

Tip 3: Add Assessment to Video with edpuzzle

Edpuzzle may be misnamed but it is is a wonderful tool for making the most of video. Add short answer and multiple-choice questions to video. This is perfect for lesson videos made with Screencastify. As a bonus, edpuzzle integrates with Google Classroom.

Tip 4: Use Google Forms for Assessment

Google Forms is a teacher’s best friend for assessment. Some of the benefits include:

  • Multiple-choice and short answer questions.
  • So simple and easy with Google Classroom.
  • Response validation – when students answer, Google Forms tells them if they answer correctly or incorrectly.
  • Quiz mode. Give students remediation feedback when they answer incorrectly.
  • Shuffle questions in the form’s settings and answers in a question’s three-dot menu.
  • With digital questions, there is no longer any need for numbers and letters. No more “Number 23 is A” cheating.

Tip 5: Use Quizlet for Vocabulary

Quizlet is a great web app for creating vocabulary flashcard decks. Teachers and students can do this. Quizlet integrates with Google Classroom. Quizlet diagrams are especially useful. Teachers can generate quizzes from Quizlet decks and make them into Google Forms.

Tip 6: Use Verso for Anonymous Class Discussion

Verso is a web app for anonymous class discussions. Teachers see student identities. Students do not. For more information about class discussion with Verso, please read my blog post, Upgrade Class Discussion with Verso.

Tip 7: Use Jamboard for Math, Collaboration, Brainstorming, and Drawing

Google’s Jamboard app enables freeform collaboration and brainstorming. Jamboard has perfect Google Classroom integration. Use Classroom to give a group of students edit access to a Jam. Jamboard even has graph paper as a background setting. Infinite collaborative graph paper for your students! Jamboard is also a great tool for having students draw digitally. For more information about Jamboard please read:

Tip 8: Use Google’s Geography Tools to Teach Students with Geography

Google has some great geography tools that students and teachers can use to tell stories with geography. They include:

Google My Maps is a great tool for teachers to tell stories with geography. Students and teachers can now create stories with Google Earth too (explanatory PDF). Even being away from students, teachers can still use Google Expeditions. There are 104 expeditions published on the web and even more expeditions from Google Arts and Culture. Additionally, students and teachers can create VR expeditions with Tour Creator. These expeditions can be shared on the web or viewed using the Expeditions mobile app.

Tip 9: Meet Remotely with Hangouts Meet

If teachers need to confer with individual students, small groups, or whole classes, they can use Google’s elegant conferencing tool, Hangouts Meet. Google recently announced they are making Hangout Meet premium tools such as recording available to all EDU users through July 1.

Tip 10: Use ThingLink to Add Dimension to Images

ThingLink is such a great app to add information and interactivity to imagery. One of the best things about ThingLink is how Google Slides, Google Forms, and YouTube videos work without opening any new tabs! Have a look at this ThingLink that condenses information in this blog post:

What do you think? What do you plan on doing if you need to convert to distance learning? Please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney.

Does your school need remote professional development to keep teachers sharp during this possible time away from school? Have a look at some of my offerings and connect with me on Twitter.

Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash.



  1. “Convert” is too dainty a word! We have been slammed into distance learning. I’m all innovative and techy and stuff, and I am just overwhelmed. We have to do asynchronous. Everything has to be something they can do on their own. I found some great lesson plans on PBS yesterday that will be awesome because the video clips have been curated and pulled together with all sorts of great lesson components to lead from one to the next.

    But then – “Think Pair Share.” How do I “convert” that to asynchronous? What I would dearly love to have is a cheat sheet that would tell me:

    Students Brainstorm: try A, B, or C.
    Think-Pair-Share: Try D, E or F
    Jigsaw: Try G, H or I.
    And so on.

    Just quick suggestions of comparable independent techniques, so that I’m not spending hours figuring out the best ways to adapt these lessons. I always have to adapt other people’s lessons anyway, but this is two levels of adapting.

    Does this make sense? Is it a reasonable thing to ask the universe for? How would we go about making such a cheat sheet?


    1. Hi Teri,
      Thank you for your comment. This situation is taking a toll on all of us. I do think a lot of what is happening with distance learning is not helping. Let me share some broad ideas before addressing your specific issues:

      – Keep it small, especially with the work assigned to students. Think you’ve assigned too little? Great, cut it down some more.
      – Use Hangouts Meet for small groups and 1:1 office hours instead of live lessons.
      – Understand we are all competing with spouses, guardians, and/or siblings for wifi and devices. This is the time to show grace and be accommodating to students.

      As far as things when you see “Think-Pair-Share” and “Jigsaw” in the directions: You have to make changes. It’s OK. For both of those I would suggest using Verso and making it a class discussion. I like Verso because of the student anonymity. Having said that, you could create small group discussions using questions and differentiation in Classroom. I prefer Verso for the anonymity but still.

      For any student brainstorming, Google Jamboard (more info https://tommullaney.com/google-jamboard/).

      Do not spend hours modifying lessons. Ask yourself what is the quickest-and-most-painless way to do a majority of what the original lesson set out to do and do that. This is not a time for perfection and arduous labor!

      I hope this helps.


  2. Yes, this is not the time for perfectionism. Any time you hit the pillow without any coronavirus symptoms, the day was a resounding success no matter what happened with online teaching!


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