Online learning portals were always an area of interest for schools before, but the pandemic has forced systems to turn it into a priority. It seems simple at first, but replacing an entire classroom is no easy feat – what about the social components? What about using automatic calendars and forums to improve on the educational experience instead of just replacing it? You can see how it’s easy to get carried away. But for now, here’s our list of seven must-have features for online classroom apps.
1. Logical Course & Subject Pages
The home page for each subject should clearly display every area of study, organized in a hierarchy that makes sense. Sorting items into folders with clear naming systems will save students and faculty a lot of time when it comes to locating activities and documents.
It is definitely a good investment to have a system that all teachers follow when it comes to sorting their educational materials.
2. Online File Submission & Storage
There’s nothing more frustrating to students than having files they have worked on become lost somewhere in the cloud. Put your online submission and file storage system under rigorous testing so you can be sure they work and that they are secure.
The ability to store and share files in a Google Drive style is always a plus, but many institutes find it just as efficient to use a separate file sharing platform on the side. Talk to your students and faculty to determine what they’d prefer.
3. Academic Calendars and Timetables
Both are integral to a student’s orientation within their educational space. A calendar should include items such as assignment due dates, events, and exam dates. Timetables, on the other hand, display the date and time for every class the student must attend.
While both things are absolutely necessary, this is not to say that they should be combined – quite the opposite. Combining class times alongside academic due dates is incredibly confusing, and will clutter the calendar.
The best practice is to organize these items alongside each other in different tabs or windows, so that they may be compared.
4. Navigation Menus and Bars
The navigation menu (typically on the left) must always allow the student to move between units of a course, as well as all of their courses.
Ideally, pages not related to coursework, such as calendars, forums, and online file storage, should be organized along the top so as not to be mixed up in the already-confusing list of courses and units.
5. Course Forums
One of the biggest things students are missing out on is a playground where they can ask questions and bounce ideas off of each other.
The University of Toronto’s student portal has adopted a forum system where students may post anonymously to ask questions or make suggestions to one another. In order to prevent trolling (posting nonsense or inflammatory content) however, faculty members can see who the original poster of these items are.
For UoT students, their experience is surprisingly positive. The anonymous aspect even encourages more shy students (who may be familiar with semi-anonymous forum and communication apps such as Reddit and Discord) to speak up, and have their ideas heard.
6. Message Center and Alerts
Alerts can be life-savers. But they can also become exceedingly annoying. Ensure your online education tool has customizable alert settings so each student can configure the settings to match their work-style the best.
A built-in message center not only allows for easy and private communication between students and faculty members, but should also notify students of responses to their course forums, school news, or changes to course curriculums. In the best-case scenario, an approachable, easy-to-use message center may also encourage students to speak to one another and form friendships.
7. Accessibility, Security, & Responsiveness
It sounds basic, but this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Prioritizing accessibility means ensuring your online educational tool works on different devices, browsers, and even offline (with a sync button).
The big goal here is for all your students to receive an equal quality of education to each other, no matter what device they’re using, or where they are.
Education should be natural and fun for students and teachers alike. Online learning is equal parts challenging as it is a valuable study in user experience. If something isn’t working out for you, that’s okay! Consider looking into alternatives, including custom-built portals, which have the advantage of being tailor-made to your educational structure.
As Microsoft Gold Partners, we’re experts in building technological ecosystems for businesses. We take pride in putting user experience best practices to work in portals that allow users to manage all their modules from one place. If you have an idea you’d like to bring to life, send us an email and our team will make it our priority to write back.
To see what kind of portals we can make for you, click here.