Around the world, teachers have moved their classrooms online in an effort to ensure social distancing. As I catch up with my teacher friends, I listen as they tell me about the ways in which they’re needing to adjust to not having a physical classroom or studio. They express their concerns about teaching remotely and we postulate how long this will go on. With each conversation I am amazed by their resilience and dedication to master their remote teaching skills so quickly. Although most have already been thrown in the deep end of distance education, I’d like to share some tips from my 15+ years of remote collaboration experience that will hopefully help teachers leading their virtual classrooms.
Plan Your Lesson
- Plan as if you were in your classroom. Have an objective, format or structure, map out timing, and allocate time for student participation.
- Schedule virtual breaks to allow students to chat, use the bathroom, and share feedback about how this new format is going for them.
- Don’t ditch your regular classroom foundation!
Provide Agenda in Your Lesson Invite
- Send your students a calendar invites for your virtual lesson with the basics: date, time, details and joining instructions.
- State your expectations clearly. If students need to download any lesson materials, access online resources, or complete preparation work prior to the lesson, make sure this is clearly stated with instructions and set deadlines before the lesson.
- Establish video etiquette guidelines. Basic ground rules such as, staying on mute if not speaking, how to ask questions via the live chat or virtual hand raising, and whether or not students are expected to have their video turned on greatly influence the flow to your lessons.
- Don’t fuss over getting every little detail perfect on the first go. Remember that many of us are new to this and you may forget to include somethings. Note these and improve.
Perfecting Your Remote Setup
- Make sure that you have adequate lighting. It’s best to keep light as natural as you can by setting up your workspace near a window or using a lamp in front of your face. If possible, don’t position your desk with windows or lights behind you to avoid Dracula images.
- Decide whether you’ll you be teaching standing or sitting. This will be determined by your teaching style and subject. Then, design your virtual classroom accordingly.
- If you choose to sit, make sure your camera positioned at eye-level or slightly above. Get a laptop stand or raise your computer to the right height with a stack of books. If you want an even better video experience, checkout Poly’s EagleEye cameras.
- If standing, put tape on the ground so you know how much you can more around without going offscreen.
- Make sure you have all your class materials nearby, so you don’t have to get up or move offscreen.
- Don’t have anything visible in your background that might be distracting to your students.
- Don’t forget to warn others in your house before you go live so they don’t interrupt by mistake
- Don’t forget to close the door and windows to minimize background noise.
Master Your Technology
- If you can, plug your laptop directly into your ethernet over relying on Wi-Fi. I know it’s old school, but it really is faster and more reliable.
- Do a deep dive into getting to know your meeting technology (aka your VaaS provider). Make use of the plenty online tutorials for how to use platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
- Using high-quality headset with noise cancellation for the near and far end vastly improves your focus during lessons.
- Make sure you have the contact information for technical support handy if available.
- Download the meeting application ahead of time or have it ready to go in your browser.
- Make the mistake of assuming everything will run smoothly. This new medium requires tools and preparation.
Do Test Calls
- Check privacy settings to allow access for your mic/camera.
- Do test video calls with other teachers to get familiar with distance learning.
- Check links and invitation permissions.
- Play with volumes, the audio quality of your headset vs. the mic built into your computer, how to mute yourself or meeting participants.
- Test advances features like how to administer breakout rooms, screen sharing, sign in/ attendance, and virtual hand raising.
- If your lesson includes props or demonstrations, practice these first to make sure that the far end can see and understand what you are presenting.
- Record your test calls and it playback to see how it looks remotely and tweak as needed.
- Don’t forget there will always be unforeseen variables such as, sunny vs. rainy days affecting lighting or, pets and/or children getting rowdy in the background. Although these things can be unavoidable, you can try to prepare.
Live Virtual Lessons
- Close any applications on your laptop that you’re not using in your lesson. Anything that’s open may be visible when sharing content.
- Get on the call five minutes early. On some platforms, no one can join the meeting until the host has started the call. Starting early also allows for a bit of small talk before the lesson.
- Look at the camera so that you make eye contact with your audience at the far end.
- Teach as if you are in the same room. Chat with the students, explain clearly, repeat if necessary, and run through instructions.
- Encourage interaction to keep students’ attention.
- Allot time for independent work (while still connected) to answer a prompt or practice a technique, just as if you would in the classroom.
- Encourage feedback – ask your students if they have any ideas for improvement.
- End lesson strong. reiterate key takeaways, set expectations for the next meeting, and preview what’s in store for the next lesson.
- Don’t forget to hang up the call! Students can hear and see everything that you do and say until you hang up.
It has been great to see the educators in my network rise to the challenge of remote instruction. We all need to remember that everyone is working in unique and challenging circumstances right now, so it’s especially important to be patient, and help others as they learn to connect and engage online.