Recently, as you’ll be very aware, some teachers around the world have been thrust into teaching online without much training or time to prepare. Kate Knight, the Director of Studies at International House Milan, described this situation in a recent episode of the TEFL Commute Podcast. The coronavirus has forced some teachers to come to terms with a whole new way of teaching almost overnight.
And while I wouldn’t consider myself to be an expert on online teaching, I’ve been giving lessons on the Internet for a few years now, and I thought I’d share some of my suggestions with you in case you’ve suddenly found yourself doing the same.
1 Look after your voice
I’m not a particularly loud person in general, but with time I’ve developed my ‘teacher voice’ so I can hold a room and get the students attention. But interestingly, even though it should be easier to speak online as I have a microphone centimetres from my mouth, I’ve noticed that I actually need to project more. I’m still trying to figure out why, but it may be because I have less body language to rely on so having a consistency in the voice is even more important than face-to-face. So if you find that too, make sure that you care for your voice when you’re not teaching.
2 Use your hands
As I said, you’ll have less body language to rely on, and less space to operate in. I have found that how I use my hands to demonstrate verb tenses, for example, is even more useful online than offline. In a classroom with a whiteboard behind me I can quickly turn around and draw a timeline, but I often find it easier to demonstrate this physically when I’m online. Another example would be using your fingers to demonstrate word or sentence stress, with each finger substituting for a syllable or word. The fact that you are close to the camera makes this technique even more effective than it does in a large classroom
3 Work on your setup
Do your best to make your technical setup the best you can. If your Internet connection isn’t great, make sure that there are no other apps draining your bandwidth. This means you might have to ask whoever you live with to stop watching Netflix for a bit while you’re working! Wear headphones so there is no risk of echo and feedback and you have a microphone closer to your mouth. Minimise background noise as much as you can so you might have to turn off that loud air conditioner in favour of a small fan, or close the window so the busy traffic outside doesn’t make you difficult to hear. Always think of the students experience and don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be.
4 Exploit the technology available
I use Zoom to teach online as I think it’s the best platform I’ve used so far. There are a lot of things I like about it, but my favourite feature is how it handles screensharing. You can choose which specific application you want to share, as opposed to sharing your whole desktop, and you can allow the students to hear the sound from that app. So you could share your browser and they can hear as well as watch the video. But even better than that, what it means is that you can create a powerpoint presentation with all the content of the lesson, including embedded audio and videos and use that as the basis of the entire lesson without needing to jump from one application to another. By digging into the platform and trying out different options, you can do things that otherwise seemed impossible.
Of course, in order to do things like the above, you have to prepare. Obviously, we need to prepare all of our lessons wherever we teach them, but with my experience, nowadays I don’t need to do a great deal of prep when I’m teaching with a coursebook. That’s not the same with my online lessons, where I have to be more careful about how I carry out the tasks that in my face-to-face classes, I can do on autopilot. I make sure that everything is ready and working in advance because, while there are a lot of things you can do with online teaching, you don’t have the flexibility that you have in person, so extra careful prep is essential.
6 Have a back channel
As great as Zoom is, nothing is perfect. Make sure you have another way of communicating with your learners. For me, that’s always using Whatsapp. My online students are all Brazilians and there are very few of them that don’t use it, so it’s my usual method of communicating with them outside of the lessons. Sometimes the internet goes down, or their image freezes for unknown reasons, or they can’t hear you but you can hear them etc, so you need to be ready with an alternative way of contacting them quickly. Plus it’s a useful way of sending them things during the lesson. I often send my learners comprehension questions to their phone so they can look at them easily while watching a video.
7 Don’t be complacent
Just because you can teach in shorts and no one can see your legs (this may be the best thing about teaching online 😉 ), doesn’t mean that you aren’t just as responsible for giving a great lesson as you would be in a traditional classroom. So dress appropriately, make sure you show up on time, and follow up on homework. The means may have changed, but the job hasn’t.
There is a real possibility that teaching online will become even more important in the future, so these tips might end up being more useful for you then you realise! In my next post, I explain why.
This was the third of my posts on online teaching:
This post was soundtracked by: