26 Digital ToolBox for Online Learning

Stephanie Thompson


Although educators in Ontario schools, colleges, and universities have been embracing technology at the point of instruction and learning in varying degrees for quite some time, the pandemic has significantly impacted the uptake of these technologies over the past two years. As a result, teachers have faced the additional responsibility of selecting, learning, and implementing several digital tools to keep their students engaged and learning in virtual and face-to-face learning environments. However, without adequate training or targeted professional development, how are teachers to know which tools to use and how? How will they ensure that deep learning (Fullan, 2013) occurs? Moreover, how can they harness the power of these tools to enhance their assessment practices?

Teaching and Learning

An abundance of research has shown that learner engagement is paramount to their success in learning (Herrington et al., 2003). Today’s learners are no exception; however, students of today demand access to an increased quantity of information and the availability of emerging technologies in the classroom to optimize their learning (Yang & Wu, 2012). Robin (2008) believed that through these multimodal technologies, teachers couldmotivate students to learn and that significant gains could be made in the areas of higher-order thinking and problem-solving abilities such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Forehand, 2010). Furthermore, teachers can make their students’ thinking and learning visible by implementing accessible, user-friendly, collaborative software tools such as the five examples shown in this chapter (Hattie, 2012). Also, students can develop essential transferable skills or global competencies such as collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking (Fullan, 2013; Tiven et al., 2018).

The key to engaging students in the learning process is to integrate technology into meaningful activities that enable them to construct their knowledge in ways that did not exist before the advent of new technologies (Dexter et al., 1999; Sadik, 2008; Trilling & Hood, 2009). Additionally, students are more engaged in learning when interacting with their peers in a socially constructivist learning setting (Vygotsky, 1978) that is both low-risk and highly participatory. Social constructivism theory suggests that successful teaching and learning rely on interpersonal interaction and discussion, focusing on the students’ understanding of the discussion (Prawat, 1992). With minimal setup, the tools in this chapter can provide these opportunities for student collaboration, interaction, and fruitful discussion. These low-floor, high-ceiling web-based resources are described in detail in terms of the features they provide, how they can be used to enhance teaching and learning, and how they can be employed as effective assessment tools in online classrooms.


Most teachers will agree that providing ongoing assessment for learning with effective descriptive feedback can be challenging (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Ambrose, 2010) in both face-to-face and virtual learning environments. However, the benefits of formative assessment in improving learning outcomes and bolstering student achievement are well documented (Hattie, 2007). In a review of the literature on assessment and classroom learning, Black and Wiliam (1998) found firm evidence that “innovations designed to strengthen the frequent feedback that students receive about their learning yield substantial learning gains” (p.7). The tools described in this chapter can all be used to make student learning visible (Hattie, 2012), provide teachers and students with opportunities for formative assessment, and facilitate ongoing descriptive feedback. Using the many features available in these platforms, teachers can decide when and how to give timely and specific feedback to individual students or the class as a whole. For example, suppose teachers notice significant gaps in understanding a concept based on student responses as a whole. In that case, they may wish to provide further explanations or additional examples for clarification to the whole class. Alternatively, teachers may provide targeted additional instruction to individual students whose responses indicate that they require support.

However, not all feedback must come from teachers to be valuable; students may use the tools to engage in peer and self-assessment practices. As Ambrose (2010) wrote, “with explicit guidelines, criteria, or a rubric, students can provide constructive feedback on each other’s work. This approach can also help students become better at identifying the qualities of good work and diagnosing their own problems” (p. 151). Additionally, according to Growing Success (2010), Ontario’s policy document on assessment and evaluation, “group work provides students with opportunities to develop and practise skills in peer and self-assessment and gives teachers opportunities to model and provide instruction related to applying success criteria, providing descriptive feedback, and developing collaborative learning skills” (p. 35). The tools described in this chapter can help students develop their peer- and self-assessment skills and the metacognitive skills that can help them improve as learners (Stanton et al., 2021).

General Guidelines

The five tools described in this chapter have been selected based on their ease of use and embedded features that, when utilized to their full potential, can help students develop their skills in Fullan’s (2013) 6 C’s of deeper learning:

  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving,
  • Creativity,
  • Communication,
  • Collaboration,
  • Character Education, and 
  • Citizenship

These digital tools can challenge students to think critically, problem-solve, work collaboratively, communicate with their peers and instructor, and help them develop as global citizens. Additionally, as assessment is an integral component of lesson planning and design, the tools provide educators with valuable assessment data on student achievement and well-being, informing teaching and guiding the next steps.

Each section below contains a description of the tool, its use in teaching and learning, how it can be used as an effective assessment tool, examples to illustrate its use in the classroom and possible challenges with using the tool.


Tool #1: Pear deck


Pear Deck is a free, Google-based, interactive presentation tool that can be used in a variety of ways to engage students in individual and collaborative learning actively. When used as an extension of Google Slides, Pear Deck elevates the learning experience from a static presentation to an interactive and participatory lesson. For example, teachers can create diagnostic or formative assessments from existing templates that can be implemented at the beginning, middle or end of a lesson. In addition, students can work collaboratively or independently, in the classroom or remotely. Teachers can select several types of question/response activities. For example, students can drag their responses to a prompt in an agree/disagree or thumbs up/thumbs down screen, respond to multiple-choice questions or draw or type their answers to open-ended questions.

Teachers can display individual student responses or make responses anonymous, enabling them to make their students’ learning visible without singling out individuals. Teachers can also pause, slow down or back up the lesson based on student needs.


Teaching and Learning

  • Pear Deck provides several pre-made and customizable prompts and interactive activities that enable teachers to actively engage students with the lesson content and the learning process. For example, students may respond to questions, complete concept maps, answer polls, share their ideas through drawings, text or images, post their observations, questions, wonderings or solutions and provide supporting evidence to support their ideas, either individually or as a class. Teachers may also publish student takeaways, which give students a record of the lesson and their responses which they can later use to review concepts or for test preparation.
  • Active learning strategies such as discussion and participatory activities can significantly reduce achievement gaps and improve student achievement outcomes (Theobald et al., 2020). Students may also share their ideas anonymously through the Pear Deck teacher dashboard, which encourages participation from quieter students, ensures that all student voices are represented, and provides opportunities for students to learn from one another.
  • Pear Deck promotes the development of Fullan’s 6C’s of deep learning (2013) by reminding teachers to incorporate critical thinking and complex problem solving daily in their teaching and by providing templates that focus on critical thinking and collaboration in various ways of communicating.


  • According to Growing Success (2010), “assessment plays a critical role in teaching and learning and should have as its goal the development of students as independent and autonomous learners” (p. 29). Using a backwards design model (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), assessment should be planned simultaneously with instruction and integrated seamlessly to guide instruction, inform next steps, and help teachers and students monitor students’ progress towards achieving learning objectives.
  • Pear Deck’s embedded tools allow teachers to easily integrate diagnostic and formative assessments into each lesson, providing students with opportunities to make their learning visible and demonstrate areas of strength or need. This approach allows teachers to use the data to adapt their lessons to meet all student needs. Teachers can quickly gauge the class’s overall understanding, address any knowledge gaps that may exist, and adjust their lessons accordingly. Teachers can use the feedback tools to provide timely, targeted, and individualized feedback for students who require additional support.
  • Pear Deck’s design promotes the development of metacognitive skills. It assists students in learning how to learn by providing formative assessments and feedback in real-time and opportunities for students to reflect on their learning, close gaps, correct misconceptions, and develop a growth mindset (Rathakrishnan et al., 2018).

Possible Challenges

  • Pear Deck’s platform and the collection of pre-made templates are quite extensive and can be overwhelming for teachers who are new to the tool. However, many tutorials, webinars, and videos are available to walk teachers through the various components.


Tool #2: Nearpod


Like Pear Deck, the Nearpod platform is a web-based application that enables teachers to take static lessons and transform them into interactive activities in the classroom and through a virtual platform. Some of the features [16:02] that can be embedded include quizzes, polls, audio files, videos, open-ended questions, matching activities, and collaborative whiteboards.


Teaching and Learning

  • Students can be invited to share their ideas and knowledge by drawing, posting a note or image, or typing their responses. Also, educators can create lessons from scratch. Hundreds of pre-made lessons for K-12 and higher education can be used or customized in any classroom, including topics that promote social and emotional learning (SEL), character development, and digital citizenship.
  • Nearpod presentations can be controlled by the teacher or student-paced, which is useful when assigned tasks for homework, breakout groups, or asynchronous learning. Nearpod can also be used by teachers in its presentation format to enhance direct teaching as it makes a static slideshow more engaging by increasing its interactivity. In addition, educators can set up presentations to include accessibility features such as closed captioning and the immersive reader function, which may be necessary for students with exceptionalities but are beneficial for all students (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013).
  • To challenge students to think critically, Nearpod has a facility to create open-ended, rich discussion questions. To encourage students to develop their collaborative skills, they have introduced Collaborate!, a forum where students can share their ideas through written responses, images, links, or photos. Creativity is encouraged by the Draw It! feature, which can demonstrate the solving of equations or as a mind-mapping activity.


  • Nearpod contains several formative assessment activities that can make student learning visible and gather data on student learning. For example, teachers can create customized quizzes, polls, and open-ended questions to check for student understanding and inform future teaching practice. Nearpod then collects this data and creates reports to assist teachers in documenting student progress. Students can also self-assess their learning through a polling option in which they share their understanding of the lesson, which helps to build and develop their metacognitive skills.

Possible Challenges

  • There is a bit of a learning curve with Nearpod compared to some other platforms, and it can take some time for users to become comfortable with the features. Nearpod offers a great deal of content, but the filtering system is not ideal, and teachers may need to have some patience as they search for the lesson content.
  • As an American-based product, Nearpod may not correspond directly with Ontario curriculum expectations.


Tool #3: Jamboard


Google Jamboard is an interactive digital whiteboard platform that teachers can use effectively in a virtual learning environment. Multiple users can contribute to a Jamboard synchronously or asynchronously from any location. The only requirement to access this free and user-friendly tool is a Google account. Work can be saved to Google drive or as a PDF file.

Jamboard offers several features to annotate text, such as pens, markers, and highlighters in various colours. There is also a laser feature to briefly highlight areas on the boards. Participants can also add sticky notes to insert text into a Jamboard and upload images. Several customizable backgrounds are available, including graphing, dots, lines for writing, and scenes. Because there are 20 frames available on each Jamboard, teachers can have up to 20 groups working simultaneously. Frames can be easily moved around, duplicated, added, or deleted as needed.


Teaching and Learning

  • There is an almost endless list of ways that Jamboard can be used in the classroom to build the global competencies (Fullan, 2013) or transferable skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity that students will need in their academic and professional lives. For example, students can collaborate in real-time to brainstorm, share ideas, curate images, resources, or research tools, draw collaboratively or independently, or create presentations. Students can be presented with a problem and work as a team, building on one another’s ideas as they post on the Jamboard. For example, students can be given an equation to solve and graph in a math classroom. As students post their solutions, teachers can see how their knowledge evolves and how consensus builds on the correct response. Teachers can then debrief the exercise to address any misconceptions students might have had.
  • Jamboards can also be used to determine prior knowledge and as a review at the end of a unit for test preparation. For example, an effective small group task could be to annotate an image, map, painting, historical photo, diagram, or short article and then share results with other groups. Students can do the annotation activity in a classroom setting or breakout rooms in a virtual platform such as Zoom or Google Meet. Teachers can also use Jamboard to do a four corners activity or create a concept map.


  • Due to its ease of use, accessibility, and range of features, Jamboard allows students at all proficiency levels to demonstrate their learning by sharing and defending their answers and reflecting on their next steps in the learning process (Epstein, 2021).

Possible Challenges

  • Although students can upload images, there is no facility to add other media forms such as audio or music files or videos.
  • Multiples of students editing at once will slow down the process.


Tool #4: Flipgrid


Flipgrid is a free, interactive platform where teachers and students can engage in video-based discussions. Teachers can set up forums and assign topics or provide prompts to which students respond in video format. Videos can be between 15 seconds and 10 minutes in length, with teachers setting the parameters. Teachers can provide feedback to individual students by written response or video. Student videos can be made private so that they are only visible to the teacher. They can also be used more as a discussion forum [PDF], whereby students view one another’s videos and contribute their comments via text or recorded responses. There are several filters and tools available to students to customize their videos; students who are uncomfortable with being on video can use emojis in place of their images or submit an audio version instead. Students can also type out key points before recording their responses on the screen, and they can edit their responses using the pause, trim and re-record buttons.


Teaching and Learning

  • One of the benefits of Flipgrid is that it can help build communication and critical thinking skills by offering students an opportunity to articulate their ideas and responses to rich questions. After, they can plan, formulate, revise, and share their thoughts in their own time and experience the alternative viewpoints of their peers.
  • The platform can be used for asynchronous learning and a flipped-classroom approach. Students are assigned a topic to research or a prompt to consider and invited to create a Flipgrid video response. The conversation can then continue in class the next day. For example, Flipgrid can be used in the mathematics classroom to describe how an equation was solved or in a science classroom to solve a complex problem or demonstrate design thinking or procedural knowledge. In addition, students can share their reflections on an assigned topic in other subject areas or reflect on their thinking processes to develop their metacognitive skills.
  • As a teaching tool, Flipgrid encourages deep thinking, sparks discussion and encourages ongoing dialogue on relevant topics in the classroom. By providing prompts or questions that encourage students to think critically, question why or how, make comparisons or provide examples or evidence, teachers can inspire students to think deeply on topics. In addition, by having students respond to the videos of their peers, teachers are encouraging the development of communication skills and the ability to respect diverse opinions and perspectives (Davis, 1993). There are thousands of pre-made topics that educators can explore to facilitate this. Teachers can also use the Shorts tool to create videos to share with students or parents via a link or a QR code.


  • Using video can be an effective way to make student learning visible (Morgan, 2013). Flipgrid offers built-in rubrics that are customizable and provide students with formative feedback.
  • Students can also provide peer feedback either by written comment or video response.

Possible Challenges

  • The many features of Flipgrid that make the tool fun and engaging to students can also distract students from the purpose of the assignment.


Tool #5: Padlet


Padlet is a versatile and easy-to-use digital notice board that allows teachers and students to display images, links, audio clips, videos, and documents on a digital wall. As moderators, teachers can make the walls private, public or password-protected, allowing students and parents to join in the discussion.

Padlet can be used as a collaborative whiteboard or a way to curate information, resources, or research. Students can be required to display their names, or teachers can adjust the settings to post anonymously. Posting responses anonymously helps with sensitive topics or providing authentic feedback to peers. Teachers can also add moderators to discussions and enable the comment function to engage in richer discussions. Students can share work they have created, such as notes or assignments.


Teaching and Learning

  • Padlet’s ease of use and variety of features provide many options for creative collaboration (Bond, 1983) and social constructivist learning (Prawat, 1992) in the classroom. For example, students may work in groups to explore a topic and curate research articles or other resources to share with the rest of the group. These resources could include text, videos, audio clips, or photos.
  • Students could also use the draw feature to solve equations and problems in the mathematics classroom. Then other students could add comments about the different ways they may have approached the problem. In the science classroom, it can be used as a way for students to collaborate on a lab report or to solve a complex issue. Padlet is also an excellent tool for brainstorming, ice-breaking activities, building community, reflecting, and responding to open-ended questions.
  • Additionally, Padlet can be used for note-taking, to review a topic as quiz or test preparation, as a classroom message board, or even as a portfolio to showcase student work.


  • Padlet offers teachers the facility to view student work and make their learning visible at a glance at all stages of a lesson or unit. For example, Padlet can be used as a diagnostic assessment via a minds-on activity to determine prior knowledge. It can then facilitate peer assessment by allowing students to review and comment on one another’s work. At the end of a lesson, teachers can use the tool to consolidate knowledge and/or as an exit ticket. The tool’s versatility allows teachers to provide ongoing diagnostic and formative assessment and tailor lessons to individual and group needs based on student responses.

Possible Challenges

  • Although there are several free features in Padlet, the more advanced features require an account upgrade.
  • There is also a risk of students posting inappropriate content before the teacher can remove it.


General Resources

  • Cult of Pedagogy offers articles, videos, podcasts, access to teaching resources, and courses run by teachers for teachers on a wide range of educational topics.
  • Edutopia is a research-based blogging site that provides articles on a wide range of topics for educators. The link above includes information on various tools that can be used to enhance teaching and learning in virtual and face-to-face classrooms.
  • Teachers Guide to Tech is a digital resource that contains descriptions of over 450 educational technology tools and how to use the tools in the classroom. The resources are grouped into assessment tools, interactive lessons, video creation tools. It is available for download at the cost of US$25.
  • Teachthought is a professional development site for teachers and administrators that provides workshops, articles, podcasts, etc., on various relevant topics. The link above provides recommendations for tech tools that facilitate collaboration amongst teachers and students.



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About the author

Stephanie Thompson is an Associate Teaching Professor and the B.Ed. Program Director and teaches a number of courses in the B.Ed. program at Ontario Tech University. She previously taught at the Junior and Intermediate levels in the Durham District School Board. She holds a BA from the University of Toronto, a B.Ed. from OISE-UT, and an MA in Education in Digital Technologies from Ontario Tech University. Her research interests include digital literacies, digital storytelling, maker pedagogies, and most recently, creativity and critical thinking in teacher education. In addition, she has been involved in several research projects exploring social justice topics, adolescent identities, bullying, and the effects of media on young adults.


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