April 8, 2020
Zoe Baptista

Colleges and universities across the country have shifted from in-person to virtual classrooms due to COVID-19, and this post focuses on some basic online training strategies to help teachers succeed in these new virtual settings.

Teaching online can feel bizarre. You’re sitting alone in a room, talking into a microphone or a camera. This is the opposite of in-person teaching where you have lots of visual feedback from your students to help you interpret the effectiveness of your presentation. For this reason, it’s important to compensate for the absence of nonverbal feedback with techniques to keep you and your students better connected.

Think of your online classes as more of a radio show then a traditional classroom setting.

Use your voice to keep lessons engaging for students. If you make an unexpected noise, explain where it came from so students can visualize what is happening. I like to talk to my audience as if I am speaking to one person sitting across a kitchen table. This keeps my voice more relaxed and helps keep things interesting in the same way a radio show or podcast can be interesting.

Use your video camera to engage with your audience.
(This method requires that you and your students have sufficient Internet bandwidth.)

Locate the camera lens on the device you’re using, and look directly into this lens when you present. It will appear to your students that you’re talking directly to them, and this will make your presentation more impactful. Also check for whatever is in the camera view behind you. Does the background enhance your lesson, or is it distracting? Make adjustments as needed.

Definitely use the camera to your advantage. When one of my cats jumps up on my desk during a virtual meeting, I incorporate it into the meeting by explaining that we have a new student joining us. The more you play around with the camera, the more ways you will find to connect with your students and enhance your lessons.

Build in lots of techniques for getting feedback about your online lessons.

The lack of visual cues from your students’ body language makes it more difficult to gauge their reactions to your lessons. For this reason, it’s crucial to ask them directly for feedback. One technique is to pause every 15 minutes, or right after you introduce a new concept, and ask students if they understand what you just said. Have them respond with a “yes” or “no” in the chat so you have a better sense if they are following along with your explanations.

For more tips on online training, see “Making the Transition to Virtual Classrooms – Part II” or listen to my EDC podcast with Kirsten Peterson. Good luck and stay safe.

Zoe Baptista is an e-learning professional with more than a decade of experience developing effective online facilitation and training tools that support distance learning.
Capacity Building for Individuals, Organizations, and Systems

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