Teaching online: A checklist
Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many instructors have been rapidly pressed into delivering their courses from a distance. This remote delivery might employ some asynchronous instruction in the institution’s learning management system (LMS). However, most instructors are utlizing live sessions where everyone connects from the comfort of their own homes or offices.
Since many institutions are several weeks into the closure of physical campuses, you may have already offered online sessions and have come to realize that, when doing so, it’s important to give yourself and your students some grace. Stress can negatively impact teaching and learning by making it more difficult to concentrate and limiting cognitive load. As in any emergency situation, it’s important to put your own oxygen mask on first before checking on your students. Don’t judge yourself too harshly (or at all). What you are doing is very different from offering an online class, which frequently involves months of preparation and thought about how to best transform your traditional instruction for this new environment. You might deliver an online course sometime in the future, but now, we’re in an emergency situation that requires offering traditional instruction remotely, not rethinking it.
As the semester progresses, the tips and tricks below will help you bring your synchronous course to the next level.
Communicate with your learners
- 1. Remind your learners to meet. Even if the online meeting occurs at the same time as your classroom session, your learners will not be following their normal schedule. They will need to be reminded on a day before the session, and then again, a few hours before it starts.
- 2. Share the agenda. Let learners know the topics you will cover, how they should prepare, and what you expect them to do. Specify that you expect learners to focus on the class and avoid multi-tasking.
- 3. Let your learners know if you are taking attendance as well as any standards for participation.
Protect your privacy
You might have heard about people coming into meetings unauthorized and disrupting them. Although referred to as “Zoom-bombing,” your course can be vulnerable to it on any platform. However, there are several steps that you can take to protect yourself and your students.
- 4. Set up password entry for your meetings and share the password privately with your learners through email.
- 5. Disable screen sharing for everyone with the exception of the host. This will keep unauthorized users from hijacking your screen.
- 6. Don’t use your personal meeting ID for meetings, as this can be easily intercepted and shared on Reddit and Twitter. Rather, set up unique—but repeating—meetings for your class time.
- 7. Sharing your video. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable when appearing on video, but it lets your learners connect with you and reassures them that all is well. As you prepare to appear on video, these few tips might help:
- Close the blinds and turn off the lights behind you. Backlighting will make it difficult for the learners to see you. If possible, put a light behind your computer to illuminate your face.
- Use headphones in order to hear your learners more clearly and allow them to easily and clearly hear you.
- Bring the energy! The computer screen will suck up the enthusiasm and finesse that you typically display in the classroom, so move past a 10 to an 11. Doing so will provide continuity between the online and traditional classroom.
- Be mindful of your background. Learners will be able to see the room behind you so consider your presentation space. Some synchronous tools offer ways to change your background.
Note: Requiring your students to share their videos might be problematic for some. Offering their classmates a glimpse into their living spaces can expose some possibly embarrassing inequalities—one student might be living in a cramped apartment while another could be luxuriating in a larger, well-lit space. If you do expect learners to share their videos, you might want to discuss the background options provided by your synchronous tool.
- 8. Sharing screens: Sharing your computer screen has many benefits in the synchronous classroom. Many instructors begin by sharing the agenda for the session and questions prepared in advance. You can also share PowerPoint presentations or videos. When doing the latter, it’s important to make sure that you have enabled computer sound through the synchronous tool. Otherwise, your students will not be able to hear the sound from the video.
- 9. Muting: As the meeting host, you can mute and unmute participants. It is recommended that you mute your learners if their background noise interferers with class. Barking dogs or Amazon deliveries can be distracting and absorb needed class time.
- 10. Recording: Most synchronous tools allow recording. It is an effective practice to let learners know that you are recording the session and make the link or file available after the session.
- 11. Performing a tech check:. Experienced users of synchronous tools log online ten to 15 minutes before the class starts in order to check their camera, sound, and materials. This practice can save you valuable time when class starts.
- 12. Prepare for participation: There are several strategies that you can use to make sure that learners come ready to participate.
- Ask learners to come with a “burning question” about the reading or topic. This can be an area of confusion, discussion, or debate.
- Send out an “essential question” that gets learners thinking and intrigued about the discussion to come, such as, “When is restriction of freedom beneficial?”
- 13. The first five: Just as you would in class, get into the room about 10 minutes early, check up on and chat with learners as they arrive. This can help learners relax and get ready to learn. You can have your PowerPoint preloaded and open with a trivia question, cartoon, or observation to help stimulate conversation. As class begins, highlight your prepared agenda describing the topics and learning objectives for the session.
- 14. The five-minute rule: Keep learner interest by actively engaging your learners every five minutes. You can ask open-ended questions or provide scenarios. Use your knowledge and notes on the discussion forum to reference the ideas in specific learner posts and call on the learners who authored them.
- 15. Monitor the chat room: The chat room is your friend! It will keep everyone from talking at once while also encouraging learner participation.
- Students will use the chat area to respond to questions, ask questions, or participate in the discussion. You can acknowledge learners by name and ask them to participate by unmuting their microphone. If you have several students asking questions in chat, emphasize that you will address them in the order posted.
- You may ask a student to monitor the chat room. At intervals, you can acknowledge him or her and ask the student to summarize or read the posted questions.
- 16. It’s not all talk: Giving students a question or problem and asking them to write for three to five minutes can prepare them to actively participate in your synchronous classroom. This will ensure a lively discussion and let you know that students will be prepared when you call on them.
- 17. Engage in debate: Asking students to pick a side in a debate can help stimulate discussion. Learners can write and support their opinions in the chat. You can then ask learners to share their options. If you are concerned about all learners selecting the same side, you can always assign sides according to the first initial of the student’s last name.
- 18. Share the recording: Send out an announcement summarizing the session and emphasizing the next steps for your learners. Make sure that you provide the recording or a link to it. Most synchronous systems also allow you to save and share the in-meeting chat.
Congratulations! You’ve done it. Don’t expect to it to be perfect the first time—or even the second or the third. Teaching live, online takes practice and you will be up and running before you know it.