Whether you’re a tech-savvy teacher or a virtual classroom newbie, moving your entire scheme of work online is no easy task.
What might have seemed like a solid-gold lesson plan in September now may not be fit for purpose. And even if you have something that will work in the virtual classroom, the best-laid plans can come crashing down if the technology doesn’t cooperate.
With this in mind, we spoke to some e-learning experts, all of whom have joined TwoSigmas' online teacher mentoring programme, to get their advice on working from a virtual classroom. Here’s what they had to say:
Tips for teaching online
1. Utilise the platform
Alaina Marino encourages teachers new to online learning to make the most of this new medium. Teaching online gives you the opportunity to get creative, so make the most of it.
“As the instructor does not have to have students huddle around a small screen or set up a way to project items on to a larger screen, they can take advantage of visual media more, by implementing various (relevant) videos and images into the module.
“With a set-up identical to a traditional classroom except for being in a virtual space, all students can see the same image/video at once, allowing for better debate.”
2. Accept that things will go wrong
As with any new teaching style, practise will eventually make perfect. Well, almost perfect. Until then you need to accept that there will be hiccups.
With more people working remotely, web tools and sites will crash and your wi-fi will inevitably buffer. Vlad Privezentsev explains why this shouldn’t be cause to panic.
“As you start your online career, it is likely that you face some technical issues during your classes,” he explains.
“It may be a sound delay, you may have some white noise, or some buttons may not respond. Even if your connection is fine, something may go wrong with the server you are working with, or your students may have poor internet connection.
“When it happens (not if, but when), don't panic. This is not the end of the world, it is just a new peculiarity of your new job. Your possible problems depend on the system you work with and it takes a bit of a learning curve to master it. Most of the time, all you need is to change your browser (Google Chrome usually works fine).”
3. Mix things up
Being physically separated from your students might leave you less able to gauge who is grasping a topic and who is struggling. Allana Da Graca encourages you to vary materials to give everyone a chance.
“Keeping in mind Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory, there are visual, spatial, linear and non-linear learners in a class,” says Da Graca.
“This makes it vital to have a mixture of handouts, videos, and training resources that introduce and strengthen student knowledge on a given subject.”
4. Establish some ‘netiquette’
Much like in a physical classroom, it’s essential to set some behaviour standards early on. As well as the usual rules around communication, Da Graca highlights the need to consider any chat functions you might incorporate.
“In an online classroom, students may not understand that they are YELLING when they use all caps or bold letters,” says Da Graca.
“You will want to pay attention to how students engage with one another. A student may be frustrated with a reading or assignment and write, ‘I JUST DON"T UNDERSTAND!’ This would be a major red flag for the teacher to own the online classroom and respond to their concerns.”
5. Make notes as you go
Without a seating plan to refer to, it can be easy to forget who said what, and who has said nothing at all. You will be staring at a grid of similar-looking video displays, so Privezentsev ensures he keeps track of any contributions.
“To make sure that all your students get your attention and support during the class, I recommend that you have a list of your students in front of you and mark the students who have already answered,” he says.
“Also, it is a good idea to jot down their mistakes and your comments immediately. It may be uncomfortable to fiddle with sheets of paper and a pen in front of your webcam, so I use Sticky Notes. This is a free Google application, it works fine."
6. Empower the less confident
According to Marino, this new format might actually bring the best out of some students. While the traditional classroom setting sometimes results in the same hands going up, for some the online lesson may be seen as more of a level playing field.
“A student with a speech impediment may not feel comfortable speaking up in a traditional classroom setting,” says Marino as an example.
“However, in a virtual classroom, they can use chat programs to ‘speak’ up instead. If the space has a forum area, all students can use that for debate. Essentially, an instructor can use the new medium to make students feel more comfortable about answering questions.”
All teachers featured in this article are signed up to TwoSigmas' online teaching mentor scheme. TwoSigmas is part of Tes