11 Best Practices to Keep in Mind for Online Teaching

Oct 19, 2023
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As schools find their way back at the end of a truly strange summer, there is a great emphasis on being flexible. Brick to click. Fluid instruction. Since virtual education or partially virtual is the new norm, educators are preparing to teach in a few different environments than just the traditional classroom.

For many of us, distance teaching or totally virtual classes are a whole new skill set that was not in the original plan. When we were completing the necessary training and preparation to become educators, there was never a course on teaching during a pandemic. But luckily, there are educators who have expertise to share when it comes to teaching online. After talking to the Edmentum Educator Network, here are a few practical suggestions for online teaching educators are sharing.

  1. Turn off everything you don’t need:
    To help keep the internet connection stable and not loose where you are in tabs, shut down everything you don’t need for your presentation. Put your phone on silent, close the office door, and reduce distractions. If you still need to receive certain notifications while you are focusing, adjust your phone settings so that only certain messages or calls will come through while you are set on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode. This way you can cut down on the temptation to check every notification you get, but still stay available in case a quiet student needs to reach out or if the class needs to let you know that you are frozen.

  1. Evaluate and Enhance:
    If possible, record the session and take the time to play back and look for areas that worked well or need improving. This might be new to you and feel very peculiar; give yourself time and practice to get better. Be sure to acknowledge your strengths and use them to your advantage.

  1. Know the Technology:
    Nothing kills a presentation faster than a presenter who fumbles with the technology. Practice, you got this.

  1. Make sure your whiteboard can annotate:
    Including a visual aid during presentations/online lectures is a plus, and finding a presenting method that works for you can really help your lessons stick. There are a number of tools to use to present information, such as Zoom. There are a number of resources and FAQs for effective use of Zoom’s tools. Here is one video for using a whiteboard.

  1. Play to the camera:
    When you are sharing your camera, be sure to do a quick check on your appearance, lighting, sound, and camera angle before turning on the video. Put the camera at eye level, not too far above or below you. If you are not speaking but your camera is on, make sure you look like you are paying attention! The idea that someone else is speaking and you are working on another project is very disheartening to the presenter and obvious. We have all been to the session where you see the screen changing in the reflection on their face. Be present, if you need to take a minute to deal with something off screen, turn your camera off before you step away, or send a quick message in the chat excusing yourself for a moment.

  1. Give your attention:
    Just like in the brick and mortar classroom, it is easy to try and multi-task, and just like in the classroom, your students can tell. Give them your attention, try to make sure you are creating a space with minimal distractions.

  1. Get comfortable with small groups:
    Organizing and utilizing small groups or break out rooms in a virtual learning environment provides for a great opportunity to build in some independence and ownership. You can facilitate and partner with other educators to create cross-curricular activities and projects. You can leverage paraprofessionals and wrap around services individuals. You can run small reading groups while breakout groups do other activities.

  1. Be Animated:
    Just like in a live presentation, you want to present with a little energy and animation. This is your opportunity to engage and be engaged.

  1. Know who is out there:
    Interact with your students by name. Have them chat or raise a hand if they want to speak. Keep track of the order of people and then call on them to invite them to turn on their mics or cameras, and use a class roster next to your computer and tick off those that have had the opportunity to express or need more chances. Use direct chats to let the students know you will come back to them or they are the next one in line to speak.

  1. Strategically Check the Chats:
    If you are presenting/teaching a topic, pay attention to the chat but try not to get too sidetracked. It is shocking how distracting it is to your train of thought if you attempt to read the chats while speaking. Before you begin your presentation, let your students know if you will be pausing occasionally and allowing time for them to ask questions on what you have covered, or if you prefer not to wait for questions and will address them as they come in. If your chat will also be used for discussion as well as questions, identify someone in the room, like a student, a paraprofessional, or another educator, to monitor the chats. If you ask students to chat you answers or comments to a question you’ve posed, take the time to pause and directly acknowledge the responses, read them out loud, and comment on them. Of course, this is most successful with students who are older.
  2. Come with an open mind:
    Not everything will work according to plan, but that may open the door to something else completely--something you might not have been expecting-- and that is ok. Be fluid, not just flexible.

Remember, this might be new, and there will be mistakes, but we can learn from them and move on. Be kind to yourself and know you are not alone as we are all trying to figure out the best ways to adjust and adapt to a new normal in a virtual world.

Discover more insights in our article, Best Practices for Teachers Making the Switch to Virtual Instruction: Q&A with Online Education Experts.

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