Going beyond file uploads in digital learning environments

Teachers who have been teaching for a while tend to have accumulated a treasure trove of digital lesson materials over time: we hoard handouts created in Word, PDFs gathered and shared online, scans of resources and everything inbetween.

Typically, these are saved on a shared school network drive or ‘My Documents’ folders and then printed out or photocopied before class. 

It’s only natural that when we’re then presented with a digital learning environment that we upload all those precious resources for our students — after all, they’ve served us for years and having them digital makes it easy for students to save them to their devices. This is almost always how such environments are used initially, at least from what I’ve seen. However, in this article I’m going to outline a few reasons why in most cases it’s worth it to go a little further and properly convert them for digital delivery, as well as outline some use cases where file uploads are perfectly suitable.

Worksheets and handouts

Most teachers I know have whole folders full of these - from simple one-pagers with a few questions on them to complete learning experiences for differentiated group work that go over multiple pages for each group.

While it’s of course possible to upload these ‘as is’, I think that especially one-pagers would be better off turned into a digital lesson for a number of reasons:

  1. students’ workflows are not interrupted: they can keep working seamlessly in the virtual learning environment they’re in without having to open up other apps, deal with file downloads, remember to constantly save work and reupload or even print it when they’re done and then maybe download another copy with teacher comments. It’s quite a lot of overhead. If a handout just has a few questions and images, I highly recommend copying and pasting them into the page where students are accessing them in the first place. This reduces cognitive load and streamlines the student experience.
  2. it makes teachers’ lives easier too. Dealing with student work on files brings a with it a few pains as well: The files need to be saved somewhere (often a thumb drive at home that then needs to be brought into school the next day), commented and reuploaded or printed. With a cloud-based learning task such as a Stile lesson, everything is contained in one place and accessible from anywhere, constantly autosaved and feedback is also given and seen there.
  3. fewer points of failure: more apps open means often more things can go wrong. While programs like MS Word have become a lot better at recovering auto-saved work, it’s still a headache when crashes happen. Also, devices like older iPads that are very limited in computing power then to struggle with multitasking in several apps. Most cloud-based apps have the benefit of constantly auto-saving and no work is ever lost, so no more lost thumb drives, etc.
  4. Handouts are static things. They’re not interactive, you can’t add videos to them and in printed format, they get lost, torn, tossed and crumpled. Simply uploading such a static file doesn’t make it interactive and there are alot of fun and creative things that are now possible. Why not make more out of the possibilities we now have and use them to their full potential?

When uploads are perfectly reasonable

Things like reference PowerPoint slide decks or lengthy reference materials that do not require interaction other than passively reading are perfect for uploading, in particular when they can be embedded and read without having to leave the page (which you can now do in Stile!)

Of course, some files need to be downloaded as well. For example iMovie project files have to be downloaded and opened in iMovie to work. 

However, I think that the majority of files that are currently uploaded to digital learning environments deserve the generally quick and painless conversion process to the native format of the environment such as a Stile lesson. Sure, it’ll take some time to convert, but the reduction of administrative overhead, not to mention the improved experience for both teachers and students, are worth it in my opinion. Keep them as a backup should the internet fail, but otherwise, I think it’s time we go beyond simple file uploads and embrace the possibilities.

If you have a file and are unsure how convert it to Stile, send it to us and we’ll Stile-ise it for you 😊

Guido Gautsch | VP of Happiness @ Stile