Tips for Teaching Online

18/03/2020

Many teachers and lecturers will be looking at teaching online in the coming months. For those who have never tried it, it can seem daunting, especially if 'tech' is not your thing.

I've been teaching English to Chinese students online for around four years, working with I-Tutor Group. Drawing from my experience, these are things to consider:

1) Equipment

You will need to have a webcam (Camera for filming) the good news is these are built into most tablets and laptops. I prefer to use a separate one, that I connect to my laptop, and can disconnect when I'm not online. 

Microphone and headphones / speakers. Again, most devices have these built in, but I find the sound quality is very poor for teaching, so a good headset with a built in mike is essential. But, do test your microphone first (advice here) and your speakers / headset. If the quality is good enough, then it saves costs. 

2) Backdrop and presentation

Consider where you'll be working, and ensure that what is behind you reflects the image you want to project. My company requires a specific backdrop, but you can easily hang a sheet, use a blank wall or book case as your backdrop.  It is possible to buy good quality backdrops - I usually get them from Amazon. 

A whiteboard / flipchart pad can be very useful (although some teaching platforms include these) You can buy whiteboard paper from Amazon, which sticks to the wall using static. 

Equally, consider what you're wearing - dress as you would for teaching. Some people think it doesn't matter what you're wearing from the waist down, as it is off-camera, but should you drop something, or need to move for any reason, you could be in an awkward situation. 

It's best to have a space where you won't be interrupted by children and pets, or other family members. My family have strict instructions not to disturb me unless the house is burning down!

3) Comfort

Make sure you set up your workstation so that you can work for extended periods without becoming uncomfortable. I have a laptop, but have a separate keyboard and mouse, and have them all set correctly. You can find advice on this here. I like to have a bottle of water on hand. 

4) Props and teaching materials

I teach English to children as a second language. I use a lot of props, from Puppets to a wide range of toys. I have them stacked around my desk in baskets, and usually pull out the ones I need for the lesson before I start teaching. Cue cards, and images are also very helpful. Teaching online can be challenging, so having a range of items to use helps keeps learners engaged, and interested. Of course, they need to be age and lesson appropriate. I often use them for warm up exercises, drawing everyone in to the lesson. 

5) Presentation

The skills you use in your classroom, or lecture theater will translate to the online classroom: speaking clearly and slowly, using emphasis, varying your tone etc. It's good to be more animated though, again to engage your students, and keep their interest. It's hard to leave a physical classroom, but easy to leave a virtual classroom! 

6) Platforms (systems and software) for virtual classrooms

Chances are your organisation will have access to some form of presentation software, allowing you to teach online. Their functionality varies enormously. If you are given a virtual classroom system, then follow all of the advice and guidance you're given. if you haven't been given a system to use, then the internet is your teaching oyster! Look for blogs that evaluate the best teaching platforms. I've been happy with Zoom (the free version is limited to 3 people in a class at once)  and Microsoft Teams, which allows up to 250 in a group at one time. Both allow for screen sharing, so you can show your slides, or whatever you want your students to see. I came across EasyClass when researching this blog, and it looks worth investigating. These are all free to use. For them to work best, download the desktop app, and encourage your students to do the same. 

Explore these blogs / sites for further ideas

Capterra

GetApp

Top 10 free Webinar platforms

Whichever  system you use, play with it, test it, and make sure you know your way around it - much like you would with a physical classroom. 

Be prepared to help your students use the platform too - ensure they have instructions ahead of the lesson, and review them briefly at the start of the lesson. Most of the time, they work it out quickly, and intuitively. 

7) Classroom rules

It's good to have classroom rules in place - only one person speaks at a time etc. How to ask questions etc. One of the great elements of teaching online is that there is often a chat option, so students can type questions as you speak, and you can answer them. 

8) Advantages of teaching online

Some teaching platforms allow you do to more than others, so explore the range of tools available to you, from polls; quizzes; screen sharing; the ability to record the lesson, so the students can go back over it; chat facilities; whiteboards for writing on (children love writing on these too, so if you are teaching children, draw them in by encouraging them to write on the board) 

You can also add files, sound, video to your lesson, again depending on the platform you use. 

9) Challenges

Teaching online is demanding, and you do have to be well prepared, the same as for any teaching.

It is easier for students to bunk online lessons, so make sure there is an element of assessment included in the lesson. The more engaging the lesson the less likely they are to want to leave it.  

Multitasking is a challenge - talking, while typing, changing slides pages etc, all require you to focus. As with anything though, with time and practise, you will get better at doing it. 

10) Safety online

If you are working online, then stay safe:

- consider setting up a separate email account for this activity, if using free tools, separating from your personal accounts. For work activities, use your Work email account. 

- Read our previous blog about staying safe online, and ensure you have good passwords etc. 

it's never easy adapting to something new, but it's a good chance to learn. Teaching online is apparently one of the fastest growing careers, so you may well be building skills for your future. 

Good luck, and happy online teaching.