Teaching online requires a different set of design architecture compared to traditional teaching in the classroom. The core principles of scaffolding; differentiating; working hard at engaging all of your learners and paying attention to feedback remain core.
Beware, replicating your powerpoints onto teams and expecting all of your learners to engage, is a recipe for disaster and is a surefire way to alienate everyone them from the outset.
By working to build an online learning community, you can make the process easier for yourself and encourage engagement. Let’s dive in to some strategies you can use to level up your online teaching.
Communication & Expectations
Crucial from the outset, is having clear expectations communicated to your learners. Include your course pages a set of expectations for how students communicate with each other and how they should communicate with you. When do they need to have tasks completed? When will they get feedback from you? Online learning requires you to be very clear proactive.
What type of responses are appropriate in your online learning? DRILL them into giving kind and specific and helpful feedback to each other; post comments, and comment positively on each other’s posts. Ask them to look out for each other and work hard to encourage each other to share a thought. You will need to work hard to moderate comments and praise engagement and make the classroom space a safe one.
Encourage pupils to take responsibility for the supportive mentoring of fellow pupils e.g. by summarising key points of a class assignment. Encourage pupils to work in smaller groups and use breakout rooms if your platform supports this – setting them a task where they have to report back, just as we would in class.
A community works well when there are a variety of activities and experiences. Online courses can be more enjoyable and effective when pupils have the opportunity to brainstorm and work through concepts and assignments with each other. Building learning creates group accountability which can be helpful, so it’s not just you policing learner engagement!
We also know that some pupils work and learn best on their own. So, building in options and opportunities for pupils to work together and individually is highly recommended. Explore fully how you can use this in your teaching platform.
Can you do something that requires more interactive brainstorming? Then have them sharing their discussions and feeding back? Build-inc in activities that give them planning time, to write and summarise their learning?
How can you use video; examples; and break up tasks to vary the learning style? Do not just put up narrated powerpoints and expect learners to engage. What elements can you do live as a webinar/teams discussion? Creating a typical time and point when classes come together, and consistency of routine will help with engagement.
Could you run a quiz? Have pupils populate a collaborate board (tools like www.miro.com) offer whiteboarding that encourages feedback; virtual post-it notes and sharing ideas together in a virtual space. Features such as breakout rooms are becoming more common and you should check if it’s in your own platform.
Keep it bite-sized – and plan activities for short attention spans. Find low stakes way to check to understand.
Quality of presentation matters just as it does in class – even more so! Such tools like Canva for making graphics and documents look good can help. Don’t overload powerpoints with too much text and use imagery to break things up. Sites such as www.unsplash.com provide great photographs you can use for free.
Use the information you can get from your learning platform to find out how long learners have spent logged in, what the last time they logged in was, and what they’re spending their time doing.
Talk to pupils who aren’t logging in. Ask peers to check up on them and check there are no unnecessary barriers to pupil’s participating and engaging.
Reading the virtual room
Our learners often need a different form of support from you when online. They can’t physically turn to their fellow pupils or stick their hand up! Virtual learning can lead to them feeling isolated. Who do you need to make a point of following up with offline via phone or video call?
In class, we use queues all the time to read the room – who has zoned out? Who is bored? What am I doing that might be confusing learners. As we can’t see this in realtime, we need to plan for them feeling isolated and confused. Plan for clarity and have that underpin your design of our topic/course.
Imagine being the pupil trying to make sense of what you have asked of them from the screen.
Take a step back and ask yourself “is this as clear as it can be?
Have I paired everything back as much as I can?
Do learners know what is required of them?
Can you give useful signposts; clues and share with them common hazards? Do you have a visual map of the topics?
Do they know the assessment criteria?
Think about the examples you are using that can help them see what the standard is.
Communication & Expectations
Include your course pages a set of expectations for how students communicate with each other and how they should communicate with you. When do they need to have tasks completed? When will they get feedback from you?
What time of responses is appropriate? DRILL them into giving kind and specific and helpful feedback.
Encourage pupils to take responsibility for the supportive mentoring of fellow students in their learning and summarising key points of a class assignment. The students might work in groups of 2, 3 or 4.
Use your peers to help.
Ask a peer to evaluate your class experience. They don’t need to be an expert in the subject matter. A fresh pair of eyes can see things that might be getting in the road of clarity. Ask them their opinions on the flow of the session and variety of tasks and ease of understanding.
Take risks. Try ideas. Be confident! Teaching online is no more complicated than face to face – it does require preparation and different approaches. to Work hard at the variety and constantly strive to balance instructional materials; live inputs; video and create a sense of shared commitment and responsibility in the learning space will all help your learners to thrive and for you to increase your confidence in teaching online and make your virtual classroom an exciting place to be.