If you are new to teaching online, there are key techniques and things you can do to instantly improve how effective your classes are. Below I will give you 10 key tips on how to be a good online teacher or trainer.
Teaching online is not altogether different from offline in that there are many similarities in that in both, teaching methods (pedagogy) are really important, and the content you deliver in training is key. There are understandably though, also some differences when teaching online vs offline and from research I did and from experiences of teaching online myself, these are things I have learned.
1. Remember to Look Towards the Webcam at the Top of Your Screen When You Can
Whether you are teaching online using Zoom, Skype, MS Teams, or some other platform, there is a good chance that you will use a webcam.
When talking to your students online, the temptation is always to look directly at your screen. You need though to consciously remember to look towards the top of your computer to where the camera is.
It can also be tempting to look at oneself as you see yourself onscreen too. I experienced this same issue when I first started using Skype for online teaching and the solution I suggest is to practice using Skype or Zoom (or your teleconferencing software of choice) with a friend or family member.
Get used to seeing yourself onscreen to the point whereby you no longer feel self-conscious at seeing yourself. You will very quickly get used to seeing yourself onscreen!
ACTION: When talking online to students, make a point to talk directly to the camera and not directly at the middle of your screen. Also, do a practice run with a friend to get used to seeing yourself onscreen.
2. Make Use of Group & Team Building Activities Online by Using Breakout Rooms
I am sure that you already appreciate just how important using activities is when providing training in a classroom because it means that learners have:
- the chance to learn via different teaching methods
- a chance to mix with other students (normally making for a more relaxed class through the social engagement)
- some fun in that it can make learning more enjoyable
If you are brand new to online teaching, you may be wondering how it would be humanely possible to still run group activities and team-building games when teaching online. How on earth can you still do group activities if you are teaching online?
‘Break Out Rooms’ are basically side-rooms that you can put your students into online.
So imagine that you have 20 students and you want to separate these students into five groups with four students in each so that they do the activity in their own side classroom.
This is actually very EASY to do such as with Zoom and I have written a post on how to use and manage Break Out Rooms here for you!
ACTION: Make use of Break Out Rooms when teaching online to ensure that the training and teaching you offer is dynamic and helps all learners to develop.
3. Create the Right Working Environment for Teaching Online
You are in the middle of giving an online class providing corporate training to a virtual classroom full of people from around the world and it’s going well, and then the postman rings your loud doorbell!
Then because you don’t answer the bell he starts knocking on the door. And because you chose the living room (front room) to do your online teaching from, your whole class can hear the shenanigans going on. Now I am not saying that I made this mistake when I first started :).
Make sure to find a quiet room in which you are away from distractions and where you can be undisturbed!
Background and Setting
Being mindful of the background and setting that you use for doing online teaching is worth spending 5 or 10 minutes to plan and think about.
You do not, for example, want anything that is too distracting to be behind you, such as a television on a wall behind you. Do not think that this does not happen as I’ve seen this occur.
Likewise, avoiding having a mirror behind you can save any embarrassment if your partner decides to walk in and is wearing very little. This has happened before too. Avoid having mirrors behind or beside you.
You might want to:
- Have a light background and with just one or two simple ornaments or something simple is a good way to go.
- Try and be well lit (see lighting example on the best equipment page see point 5).
When teaching online, you need to remember also that there will be an extra focus on your face and how you emphasize things online (such as with your hands).
So make sure that you are positioned onscreen such that the students online can still see your hands and the top half of your body. Make sure to use your hands and try to be animated and enthusiastic to bring the virtual classroom alive. Do not overdo it though 🙂
ACTION: Make sure to create a room that is quiet and will provide you peace and make sure the background is not distracting and is well lit.
4. Make Effective Use of Pauses Correctly when Teaching Online
Understanding when and how to use pauses is always important in teaching and even more so, when teaching online.
Given that you cannot see exactly what people are doing and given that people may need a little longer online to find certain things (such as where to press a button to do an online poll or how to write on your whiteboard), so you do need to give those extra few seconds for your students to do tasks when you are teaching online.
ACTION: Be comfortable with brief pauses and do not panic when there is sometimes silence, especially in the beginning.
5. Understand How to Manage Students Logging in Late to the Virtual Classroom
Just like with a real-life physical classroom offline, some students will inevitably turn up late for the class. You know the story :). Whatever you say or do, someone will probably be late.
As an online teacher, when you are first getting used to virtual teaching, it can give you quite a surprise when someone suddenly pops up on screen alongside everyone else. It can, in other words, easily distract you.
The same can happen when you have students working in ‘Breakout Rooms’, working in small groups in virtual side rooms, in that people might arrive late.
The good news in a program such as Zoom is that you can have it set up such that you will assign a Breakout Room to people as they arrive.
ACTION: Just make sure, as the online teacher, to check now and again in case anyone is waiting in the main classroom to be allocated to a breakout room and Zoom (if you use Zoom) will tell you if a student is unassigned. (See our post on using Breakout Rooms for full info).
6. Making Sure You Have the Right Equipment
You might have already read the post we did on the equipment you need to teach online and, if you did, then apologies for repeating this.
There are certain pieces of equipment that will improve the quality of audio and video for online teaching and that I highly recommend (and that I use myself).
a) Use a HD Webcam That Records for All Screen Sizes
A high-quality HD webcam is really inexpensive these days and there are two key reasons why using an HD webcam can really make a difference.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the quality of the video will be high definition. As an online teacher, this will mean that you will be providing the best possible video quality for your students.
Secondly, something you may or may not have considered (because it’s quite a technical point) is that most new laptops these days use a 1920 x 1080 sized HD screen (or higher resolution). Basically, you want to use a camera whereby it will look great quality no matter what screen resolution your students use.
The camera I use and highly recommend is the Logitech C920 webcam.
b) Good Audio
Also, make sure that you are using a microphone that produces high-quality and clear audio so that your students can understand you well. There is nothing worse than when there is interference in the audio from a student’s point of view.
ACTION: Take a quick look at our post on the Best Equipment for Teaching Online and make sure you have a good camera and microphone.
8. Make Use of Whiteboards, Annotation & Polls When Teaching Online
Interactivity is important when teaching online, especially so because you have a number of people staring in essence, at a computer screen. Understandably, your students can get fidgety.
Making use of:
- whiteboards and annotation
- Break out rooms (for ice-breakers and activities)
will all help to make your online classes more fun in the same way that you would seek to make training offline interactive and fun.
We have written another post that goes into detail about using whiteboards when teaching online here.
ACTION: Take a quick look at our post on the best online teaching and tutoring tools.
9. Getting Used to the Technology
I cannot emphasize enough the value or allocating 30 minutes for practicing and getting used to:
- Setting up and connecting your webcam
- Making sure the lighting is correct for your setting
- Being clear on how to use breakout rooms and all features of your chosen teleconferencing software (i.e. Zoom, Skype etc.)
- How to correctly use your microphone and ensure that the audio sounds good to others
Even though you can test your webcam and microphone on your own computer, I highly recommend testing it by talking on video with someone externally, i.e. a friend or family member.
Tip: If you do struggle in any way with the quality of your Internet connection, consider turning off all of the other devices you have connected to WiFi in your house including iPads, smartphones and other computers. Turning off other devices can help boost your internet connection.
ACTION: DO take time to test, try and re-test the equipment and software you will use.
10. Remember to Turn Your Camera Off at the End
And Finally…Do Not Make Jennifer’s Mistake
You might well by now have heard about Jennifer, a student who was in an online class and who forgot that her webcam was on, took her laptop with her to the toilet (bathroom) and proceeded to use the toilet whilst her classmates could see all on video.
Make sure to turn the camera off when you have finished teaching. If you are nervous about being sure that your camera is off then the Logitech C920 camera (and possibly some other models) have a privacy shutter which, I think, is a great idea.
Other Useful Resources
- An academic paper we wrote ‘Skype as a Tool for Qualitative Research Interviews‘ that covers many of the considerations that you will need to consider.
- 7 tips on how to prepare for teaching online
Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds
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