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Online Teaching Tips for the 2020 School Year

Rachel Maltese
Updated October 6 2020
teacher who needs online teaching tips
Rachel Maltese
Updated October 6 2020

Teaching has abruptly become much trickier this year. Most instructors were never given online teaching tips during their own training! But after a shocking spring, instructors are facing a continuing challenge this autumn.

 

Prior to the first few months of 2020, approximately 40% of teachers had previously taught an online course, while 33% of students had previously taken one. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused those numbers to change rapidly, and both teachers and students have had to adjust to doing significant portions of their classroom time virtually.

Here’s a List of Tips for a Better Online Teaching Experience

While in many ways teaching online is just like teaching face-to-face, there are differences, especially in 2020, when the pandemic has created added stress and the shift for many is sudden. Keeping students’ attention and building classroom community can feel like a challenge, but these online teaching tips for 2020 can help you get an A in classroom management and student engagement.

Online Teaching Tip #1: You Can’t Rush The Process

Who wouldn’t want to hit the ground running right from the beginning? It’s easy to want the first day of any class to go perfectly, but you’ll help you and your students if you don’t expect perfection right out of the gate. These are unusual circumstances, and if you can emphasize to your students that, in some ways, you’re all learning how to do this together, you’ll have turned your students into allies in the quest for a great class experience.

Online Teaching Tip #2: Teaching Online Isn’t Just About Content; In 2020, It’s About How You Deliver That Content

Because they are learning from home, students are experiencing different stimuli than they normally would in the classroom. They don’t necessarily have the energy of their peers to feed off, and they are not necessarily in a physical space that’s optimized for minimizing distractions. All of this adds up to how much teaching online in 2020 means having to work extra hard to grab and hold student attention.

 

One way to do this is to break the topics you want to cover in your lectures into small, easily digestible chunks. Requiring students to sit still for an hour while you talk can be a big ask, even if they were perfectly capable of doing it in a more traditional classroom setting. But providing five to seven minutes of lecture material before checking in with them for feedback or doing a related group exercise can help vary the rhythm of your class and keep students engaged.

 

Between these segments of your lecture, you may also want to up the engagement by providing different types of visual stimulus your students. This includes showing short videos or sharing your screen so that they are constantly being exposed to relevant information with both their eyes and their ears.

student learning online while at home

Online Teaching Tip #3: Teaching Online in 2020 Requires Practice

You’ve seen the recommendations that you should do a try run of your classes to make sure the technology you’re using is working for you. This is still true. But teaching online in 2020 also means practicing your lesson content and plans, not just your tech.

 

Keeping people engaged in online classrooms can be different than in face-to-face learning environments, so consider recruiting your friends or family to sit in on a rehearsal lecture with you. Ask for feedback on how engaged your volunteer students felt with the material and how connected they felt to you (their instructor) and to the other people participating in your practice class.

Online Teaching Tip #4: Help Your Students Be Prepared

Being prepared to teach online in 2020, also means helping students to be prepared to learn. Make sure you let students know what they’ll need to succeed in your class. This means a rundown of technology, yes, but also information on class content, your grading rubric, and what the ground rules are for the class.

 

Make sure students know how flexible the requirements are or aren’t, and emphasize factors – like participation — that will help you build the classroom environment you’re trying to foster.

Online Teaching Tip #5: Teaching Online In 2020 Requires Staying Focused

We’re all champion multitaskers these days, and distractions are somewhat inevitable. That said, close tabs you don’t need before teaching. Not only does this model good behavior for your students and help you to minimize distractions, it can also improve your eye contact.

 

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching online can be truly connecting with other people. It’s easy to stay looking down at your notes, looking at the faces of the students attending your virtual class, or even watching video of yourself as you talk. All these things are natural responses, but if you can remember to look directly into the camera, especially when engaging student questions, you can create an experience similar to eye-contact for the student and amplify the feeling of connection in your virtual classroom.

Online Teaching Tip #6: Build Community

Just because you and your students are far apart, doesn’t mean you can’t be together virtually.

 

Since the vast majority of young people watch YouTube and other video content daily and many students produce content this way as well. Thus, video is a great tool to center your community building around. Consider having your students create video introductions of themselves, so that the people in your class can start feeling connected even before learning begins.

 

And definitely focus on giving your students paired and group activities as part of the course. Do remember, however, that not all students are necessarily experienced with group activities, so don’t just spring this on them in a high-stakes way that’s all about a big final project. Instead, integrate group activities throughout the term and help each working group establish the ground rules and boundaries they’ll need to succeed – such as how they’ll make decisions, what the responsibility of a team leader is, and how frequently to communicate. To ease students into group projects, have them use virtual break out rooms during part of classroom time and report back to their experiences, so you can help them address problems before they go off to work entirely on their own.

 

One way to build community while teaching online in 2020 is to show caring. The sudden shift to learning at home can be stressful for many students. Additional issues, like family finances, a sick relative, or just the stress of spending so much time at home can also have an impact on learning. Asking students how they are and inviting them to share concerns in their lives outside the classroom can be an appropriate way to strengthen your classroom community.

elementary school student watching online class on tablet

Online Teaching Tip #7: Seek Engagement

One of the challenges of teaching online is competing with distractions in student homes you can’t see or control. This means that you have to be even more engaging than usual. While your expertise as a teacher and the quality of your lessons will do some of this work, you will also need to engage virtual students in a variety of ways, not all of which may be familiar to you.

For example, while calling on students without warning in a traditional class may be a common tactic, it’s not always one that works well in an online classroom. This is because of the time it takes students to unmute their microphones and otherwise deal with the transition between listening and participating. You may want to warn students when they are likely to be on deck for questions, so that they can be prepared. Additionally, asking students – either individually or in groups – to prepare short presentations on parts of the lesson material can help up engagement without the surprise factor that can be more challenging online.

 

Other ways to encourage engagement include asking students to lead discussions, creating virtual classroom games, and doing short quizzes that don’t impact the final grade to evaluate understanding.

Online Teaching Tip #8: Be Available

When working and teaching from home, it’s important to have boundaries. Your students shouldn’t be in classroom mode 24/7 and neither should you. However, providing virtual office hours where students can choose to ask you questions one-on-one can help your class run more smoothly while also giving students a chance to express concerns or difficulties, they are having in a less public environment.

Online Teaching Tip #9: Be Flexible

While some of us may feel we have settled into a new normal with the routine of working and learning at home, we are living through times that remain unpredictable. Students may face obstacles to attendance and participation that they can’t control. While the impulse to be stricter with students because the virtual environment can seem more relaxed than a traditional classroom isn’t without logic, it may not be ideal for fostering learning, participation, and achievement in 2020. Be willing to get creative to meet student needs – and your own.

Conclusion

While teaching online in 2020 may be challenging, it also represents an opportunity to connect with students in a new way and to offer consistency and a sense of positivity in a challenging world. While this level of virtual instruction may not be what most of us signed up for, it can be innovative, fun, and rewarding, as long as you remember that you and your students are on the same side.