by Rose Piacente Waples
Staff training used to rely mostly on classes, seminars, and retreats. With increasing demands on time and budget, not to mention the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, online training has become almost a necessity for professional and paraprofessional staff. However, not everyone working in residence life is an instructional designer and may not know where to start. Do you just put your PowerPoint slides up on Blackboard? Do you record yourself giving the lecture? Or are there other ways?
In addition to helping meet social distancing requirements, online training supports scaffolded learning and flipped classroom methods. If utilized correctly, these approaches can provide staff with the concepts and knowledge they will need for their positions so that in-person (or, likely this year, Zoom) training can focus more on experiential learning, brainstorming, and preparation time.
There are an incredible array of both free and paid platforms to make interactive and engaging content to which a variety of learning styles will respond. You can make a comic book strip (MakeBeliefsComix), a podcast (any audio-recording software), edit videos (iMovie), upload a PDF article, and really anything else you can think of. Even if you don’t know the name of a certain product, just start searching online using keywords like “choose your own adventure software” or “map with info points.” Here are some recommended platforms to help any department get started or amplify their online training journey.
ThingLink is a great piece of technology with a multitude of uses for training. This platform allows users to augment an image with info points that can include text, other images, links, and even audio. Interactive and engaging, ThingLink can replace or supplement a wide variety of in-person trainings. The platform can also be used for virtual tours. Free (with restrictions on views) and paid.
Spark Page bills itself as a website creator that allows images and text to flow together like a magazine-style web story. The image glide feature allows images and text to flow across the screen, creating a more visually engaging experience than simply reading text. Users can also add links and videos. This platform can be used as a replacement for any presentation as long as both images and text are available to create the gliding feeling of the page. Free (with restrictions on theme options) and paid.
Canva has become increasingly well known for its wide variety of creative content templates, including presentations, infographics, flyers, and more. Not all online content needs to be a long module. Some can be simple one-page fliers or an infographic or imagery for social media. Canva will allow users to edit any of their pre-designed templates into something that works for them. Free and paid.
Branching scenario software, as it is formally called, is a great way to turn experiential and role play training into a virtual experience. YoScenario and H5P act like a choose-your-own-adventure book that adds an extra layer of videos, information points, engaging visuals, and more. Allowing for a video or text scenario, different points to click, and quizzes or branches that can lead to incorrect responses allows for an immersive experience that keeps learners engaged with the module. Free (limits on views and number of scenarios) and paid (H5P free only).
Videos can sometimes seem like an overwhelming option, given the need to find actors, to film and to edit, and other requirements. Using a video maker such as Powtoon or Renderforest with provided templates and options for both real footage or animation can help you make your information more exciting and allow for short videos that are packed with information and are engaging both visually and musically. There may be a slight learning curve for these products, but they are significantly easier to create than homegrown videos. Free (with restrictions on length of video and creative options) and paid.
Recording the computer screen as you work is a great way to explain to staff the details of documents, flow charts, forms, or online forms. Screencast-O-Matic allows you to record all or a portion of your screen, narrate over the recording, and save it all as a video. Free (with limited features) and paid.
In many cases, a housing department can use the campus’s learning management software (Blackboard, Canvas, Google Sites, and others) to facilitate training. Thinkific is another option for online course creation; it has a visually engaging interface, is easy to learn and use, requires no knowledge of coding, and allows uploading or embedding of most of the above content creation tools. All tutorials on anything more complicated are readily available and easy to follow. Thinkific also tracks progress through modules, and you are able to easily run student progress reports. While the free version includes most of the features needed for residence life training, the paid version includes some of the more exciting features such as scheduled content release, manual adding of students, certificate generation, and more. Free and paid.
Rose Piacente Waples, Ed.D., is an area coordinator at the University of Rochester in New York.