Many institutions have been offering some classes online for at least several years now, but COVID-19 has created a significant shift towards online teaching. While the world is making gains in battling the pandemic and in-person classes are sure to return, online teaching is clearly here to stay in 2021 and beyond.
Shifting to Online Classes
Learning how to teach a class online is essential for educators at every level. In an ideal world, all teachers would get to choose whether to offer classes online and have plenty of time to prepare to teach them. Unfortunately for many instructors, the current public health situation has meant a sometimes abrupt shift towards teaching online.
Pivoting to online classes requires several types of preparation in terms of technology, pedagogy, and institutional support. After all, teaching online is more than just taking what you would do in an in-person class and doing it in front of your computer. Luckily, the technology needed to teach online has gotten easier and easier to implement and use. Additionally, research about what keeps students engaged and able to absorb information is robust. Success at teaching your classes online is easily in reach, and this guide is here to help.
How to Get Set Up to Teach an Online Class
While there’s a lot your institution can do to help you get set up to teach online (we’ll talk about that more later), there are steps you can take – regardless of your school’s level of involvement – that will help every time.
Make Sure You Have the Right Technology… and Know How to Use It
When you teach classes in person, you always make sure your classroom is set up to meet your needs before class; teaching online is very much the same. Even if the set-up for teaching your class online involves technology you already use regularly, make sure you test it out for this specific purpose. This will often mean making sure the audio and video work the way you expect them to on your laptop and making sure the software you’ll be using to connect with your students performs according to expectations.
It’s even more important to test out new-to-you technology (for example, that shiny new plug-and-play headset microphone), no matter how straightforward it seems. And don’t forget, you’re not the only person dealing with new technology. Encourage your students to test out the tech on their end too. If possible, you may even want to provide a special session just for this purpose. That way, class time won’t get eaten up with tech support.
Set Up a Workspace That Works for You
While some teachers may have the opportunity to teach their class online from their existing classrooms, many continue to be teaching from home. Either way, you’ll want to prepare your workspace in a way that helps facilitate your class.
Whether you’re teaching from home or from a traditional classroom through a lecture capture technology, be sure to consider what’s in the frame. Try to minimize distraction and have anything you need to show your students or otherwise reference close at hand. While you’re great at holding the attention of an in-person class while you look for a reference book, going off-camera or turning away from your microphone during an online class can be challenging for your students.
You’ll also want to consider whether students can clearly see visual materials you’re displaying from your teaching location. Depending on the devices students are using to access your class, a whiteboard or similar display may be hard to see. For this reason, making relevant handouts available to students before class can be a great idea. Additionally, some online classroom solutions make screen sharing, display of presentations, and virtual whiteboards a part of the teaching environment. If you have those capabilities, you’ll want to take full advantage of them.
Most importantly, while we all want to display professionalism and good boundaries when teaching our classes online, it’s important to accept that these are unusual times. Don’t worry too much if your pet makes a surprise appearance in your class, and do your best to give your students the same type of understanding.
Preparation Is A Key Part of Teaching Online
As a teacher, you already know this. After all, you always have homework – whether that’s grading student work or preparing the next day’s lesson. When teaching your class online, preparation is even more important.
This preparation goes beyond that technical check and setting up the space you’ll be using as your classroom environment. It even goes beyond lesson plans. Sometimes, when teaching online, you need to rehearse. If possible, use a test audience of friends and family. Why?
Because how you hold your students’ attention when teaching online won’t be the same show you’ve held their attention during in-person classes. The techniques you’re used to using, may not all translate to online teaching as well. Practice, and a test audience, can help you shorten your own learning curve, so you can focus on the people in your class.
In general, shorter bursts of information and interactive elements will help keep students engaged. Your test audience can tell you when they start to feel fidgety… and eager to participate!
Five Practical Tips For Teaching a Class Online
Now that we’ve talked about some of the big things you need to do before you teach your class online, let’s talk about navigating the class itself. These practical tips should help your students to each other, to the material, and to you.
Give Everyone a Chance to Introduce Themselves
Making sure your students have the opportunity to get to know each other is valuable in any classroom, but it’s even more important when teaching your class online. Without creating a formal structure for that type of interaction, online students won’t be as easily able to connect. Students who know each other are students who care about each other, and peer support is often a key part of learning.
Introductions can happen on the first day of class, but they don’t have to. With the right virtual classroom technology, students can offer an introduction in advance, whether through message boards or even uploaded videos.
Let Students Attend Lectures On Their Own Time
If you have content to share with students in a lecture format, consider pre-recording those so that students can view them at a time – and at a pace – most convenient to them. That way you can use classroom time for questions, discussion, and group projects. A blend of synchronous and asynchronous classroom activities will also allow students with additional pressures – work, family, and the presence of other learners in their home – more opportunities to successfully keep up with classwork.
Yes, Group Projects Can Help
Group projects are another way that students can connect to each other and build community. They can also help reduce the feeling of isolation that many fear can come with online classes (it doesn’t have to!).
However, if you’re going to assign group projects, make sure you offer support on planning, communication, and conflict resolution. Making sure every student has to do their fair share of work is key to making group projects work for an online classroom.
You’ve planned, you’ve prepared, and you know how to teach your class online. But sometimes, things won’t go as planned. Especially if you’re teaching right now, during the pandemic. It’s important to be flexible. This means being able to laugh at interruptions from pets, yes.
It probably also means some technical troubleshooting on the side. But it also means making room to deal with emotions about the times we’re living in. The more flexible you are while steering interruptions and digressions back to the topic at hand, the more willing to engage and work hard your students will be. In 2021, deadlines often need to be a part of this flexibility too.
Don’t Forget About Office Hours
Sometimes students need to contact you directly. This is even more important when you teach your class online. Since students can’t approach the front of the room casually at the end of a class, you’ll need to provide opportunities for students to reach out to you. Staying on live classroom sessions for a few minutes after the class ends to discuss anything students want to raise is one option. Creating set times when you’ll be available in a virtual classroom space is another. So is offering clear information on email turnaround time if students choose to reach out to you that way. Communication is always key!
How Kaltura’s Virtual Classroom Helps Institutions
Due to the pandemic, for some institutions, the shift to online classes has been abrupt, and many have used whatever technology was close to hand. But using virtual classroom technology explicitly designed for teaching can go a long way to improving how you teach your class online. Kaltura’s Virtual Classroom is purpose-built and can be used as a standalone product or integrated with a Learning Management System (LMS) your institution is already using.
For both students and teachers, entering a virtual classroom doesn’t require installing special software and only takes one click. But that click? It offers so much more than just a way for you to talk to your students. Kaltura’s Virtual Classroom has tons of interactive tools including a virtual whiteboard (no more writing on a board in your physical space and hoping your students can see it!) and screen sharing. Breakout rooms can help support group projects. And interactive quizzing can be used to make sure students are grasping the material… or to find out what they want to learn next.
Kaltura’s Virtual Classroom also provides ways for students to support each other. A real-time notes feature allows students to take notes on presented material collaboratively and share with the group.
Meanwhile, you’ll be able to prepare class materials in advance. And, the virtual classroom also supports asynchronous message-board discussions so that students can keep learning and interacting on a schedule that’s best for them.
Want to make sure students are viewing your pre-recorded lectures? No problem. Analytics will help you understand how your students are engaging with the course. They can even highlight what portions of your video content your students watch over and over again (maybe that material is particularly tricky) or where they tend to hit pause (a potential indicator of boredom).
Kaltura’s Virtual Classroom doesn’t just help your students be better learners, it can help you continue to improve how you teach your class online.
Want to learn about what Virtual Classroom is and how it works?