Besides when schools closed due to COVID-19 at the end of the previous school year, you may have never taught online before in your life. With the first day of school just around the corner, you may be wondering how to engage students and make your lessons more effective this time around. Proximity Learning, an online education service company, has been training teachers for a decade on the best practices for remote teaching through live video, so here are our top 10 things you need for successful online classes!
1. An Office Space Dedicated to Distance Learning That is Free from Distractions and Conducive to the Learning Environment
Not every teacher has a separate room that allows them to physically close the door from any outside distractions for a day of classes. One of our teachers taught underneath her son’s bunk bed for a month of teaching online, and her students never knew.
We advise that you try your best to designate an office space that is free from any distractions or noises if possible. The first spot you try may not end up being the last as it can take some experimentation to find out how you work the best from home.
If you teach standing up and walking around in the classroom, try finding a spot in your home where you can do that as well to help make the transition to teaching online easier and feel more comfortable. Zoom, a video conferencing platform, allows users to personalize their background with or without a green screen, which can aid with separating your work life from your home life. Not everyone works online the same, so finding your way to become and stay organized is key to successful teaching in the virtual classroom.
2. Appropriate Technology i.e. Computer, Headset, Tablet (if needed), Webcam
Having a computer and a webcam is essential for connecting with students via live video. A headset is necessary for being able to block out extraneous noises so that you can hear what students are saying, and they can hear what you’re saying with a microphone close to your face.
A tablet can be connected to the computer and used as a virtual whiteboard with a tablet pen. While not necessary, a tablet can be a necessity for teachers who enjoy engaging students with whiteboard diagrams and notes in the classroom.
As an alternative, Proximity Learning virtual teacher Cody Reid bought a document camera that could connect to his computer via USB and allowed him to use pen and paper to illustrate concepts for students. Another method teachers can employ is using their cell phone camera as a document camera by logging into Zoom with their phone and spotlighting the cell phone video.
If you don’t have all the technology you need, look for used electronic stores near you or at online marketplaces for electronics at a discounted price!
3. Knowledge of the Learning Management System and Video Conferencing Software Being Used
Proximity Learning utilizes Canvas, Zoom, and Teachable as the foundation of our digital learning environment. But whatever the software may be, setting aside adequate time to learn the platforms you will be using in the online classroom will help make your class run more smoothly in the long run.
We advise that you watch video tutorials, spend time practicing different features, and ask experienced teachers for help. Important features of your video conferencing software that you need to know include understanding how to control meeting settings, such as chat and student microphones, to minimize distractions.
Proximity Learning online teacher Lizette De Luna emphasized that teachers learn the programs they will be interacting with before logging on for class. She noted that students can see through teachers easier online, so it is key that teachers are confident and familiar with the tools they are using for a class to go smoothly.
4. Easy to Access Overviews of Lesson Plans or Week at a Glance for Students
More so now with distance learning, it is critical that students can easily access and view lesson plans online so they can stay organized and know what their workload will be like each week. At Proximity Learning, we utilize a feature of Canvas that allows us to send announcements out to students for them to view their Week at a Glance on the same platform where they access their assignments, grades, and all other information about their classes.
Proximity Learning virtual teacher Cori Allan said she schedules her announcements on Canvas at the end of each week to be sent out to her students on Sunday or Monday. Allan’s announcements tell the students what they will be learning about and what homework they will have for the week. By sending them out early, her students can see them before arriving to class and feel prepared for the week.
5. Plans For Students Who Cannot Attend Live Classes
Absences may occur in the live class session as they do in in-person classes. But in an online learning environment, there are easy fixes to ensure students don’t fall behind. Here are our suggestions:
- A recording of the live lesson can be posted for students to watch at any time. With just a click of the ‘record’ button, Zoom easily allows you to tape and share lectures with students.
- Peer study groups can be set up for students to gather and discuss what they missed in class.
- Post any class materials you have, such as PowerPoints, etc., on Canvas or your school’s chosen learning management system for students to access later.
For students who are unable to attend live sessions from home, paper packets have become a popular way to keep students on track.
6. Routines, Procedures, Expectations - Participation Policy, Late Policy, How to Enter Class, How to Leave Class, What to do if you walk away from the computer, etc.
In advance of the first day of class, it is important to set routines, procedures, and expectations so students are prepared and have an understanding before logging in for the first day. Since many younger students are new to learning online, more communication is better than less. Make sure your students know where they can access the link to class and how to get there, and then how to log in for class and how to log out. Set expectations for logging in, such as should they have their video and microphone on? Will they be expected to complete a bellringer at the start of class?
Furthermore, be prepared for the unexpected. Keeping students on a schedule during class is essential according to Proximity Learning online teacher Kris Wedington. She said interruptions occur online just as they do in brick and mortar schools. While teachers can try to minimize them the best they can, presenting a professional appearance when they do occur is important to maintaining control over the classroom. Wedington advises that if something urgent occurs and teachers need to step away, they can tell their students to carry on with the assignment so the issue can be taken care of.
Additionally, De Luna said that teachers can put on a short educational video for the class so that they can check on children or attend any other urgent matters. The transition time between classes is also a good time to check up on children. For lunch, she advised preparing meals in advance to make efficient use of the break. Once in a routine, she said teaching from home will run smoothly.
Working online for Proximity Learning, De Luna said teachers have the advantage of choosing their hours that can work around their family’s schedule. Nonetheless, she advised holding children to the same expectations as if they were still in the brick and mortar school.
7. Have Flexible Due Dates and Office Hours For Students Whom May Have Questions Outside of Class
Just like how you can utilize live video to engage students during class, video conferencing is perfect for holding office hours as well. Having times where students can connect with you for help along with flexible due dates are important for keeping students motivated during a difficult time where they may be learning from home.
Proximity Learning online teacher Marcia Hammond enjoyed hosting office hours because it was a way for her to connect with students beyond the virtual classroom. She said she was able to connect with students individually during this time and personalize her instruction to meet them with what they were passionate about.
“We were able to do specific, … differentiated reviews that helped them to grow, and really, to me, that’s what teaching is all about,” Hammond said. “As long as a student is able to learn something new or be able to apply whatever it is I am trying to teach them, that means the world to me.”
8. Have Presentations, Games, and Other Lesson Enhancements to Help Students Have Fun During the Lessons
With a world of technology at your fingertips, there are many different resources that can be used to engage students online. In math classes, Reid implemented a fun, free math game from Prodigy to engage students in and out of the live class session.
If you prefer traditional, hands-on activities, Proximity Learning teacher Casey Harris found a way to conduct science experiments online by having her students make ice cream with common household items.
9. Create Assignments that Will Allow for Multiple Modalities But Are Easy to Grade
In an online environment, there are a lot of opportunities for students to engage in different mediums of assignments. Reid utilized Pear Deck to implement interactive questions into his presentations that allowed students to answer by drawing or typing. Other great, free resources we recommend using in your online classes are NearPod and CK-12.
For teachers who may not have a lot of flexibility in their day, De Luna advised teachers to research and take advantage of automatic graders to save time and avoid getting bogged down with grading tons of assignments. Proximity utilizes Canvas for efficient grading, but other learning management systems like Blackboard have automatic grading as well.
10. Praise Students Often
Lastly, it is essential that students still receive acknowledgment for their hard work. During a difficult time where it’s still not clear what the upcoming school year will look like, it can be easy for students to lose motivation and become frustrated.
De Luna uses animated emotes, such as clapping hands and hearts, to praise her students for doing well. ClassDojo or other reward systems are also great to use in the virtual classroom. Because you are not physically in the classroom with them, remembering to acknowledge the work they are doing is important for keeping students engaged and wanting to learn.