I’ve been asked more than once to compare online teaching to traditional classroom teaching. More recently, I was asked in an interview to identify common challenges. I thought it might be useful to go more in depth for those considering some form of online teaching in the future.
– Presentation skills. No matter the medium, you need to explain subject matter clearly. You have less use of full body language when you’re sitting in front of a webcam, but you still have use of your hands and facial expressions. If you have the space and your mic can receive your voice well from a few feet away, though, who says you can’t teach standing up with greater movement? Don’t forget you also have use of visual aids, from slides to physical objects you can show on camera. When I worked with a beginner at one point via Skype, I kept teaching realia handy for examples. And if you’re working with a group, you need to remember to keep instruction interactive. Don’t turn live teaching into a lecture with one-way delivery. At the same time, you don’t want to overuse a particular tool for audience participation. In other words, don’t go poll-happy. In the traditional classroom, you use a variety of strategies from your “toolkit,” so do the same online. The combination of a single poll, some questions answered via text chat, and a creative activity, such as a prediction task based on a thought-provoking photo, could really help you engage a webinar audience.
– Organization skills. Teaching always demands the ability to multitask. You need to juggle resources and remain aware of your students’ performance throughout a lesson. What can you do to stay organized when working online? Before a Skype lesson, my practice has been to open up all windows and files needed. On a webinar platform, I know now to prepare all my tabs before launching the live session. You also want to do a tech check before any live meeting, so you can fully focus on instruction once you start. If you’re on a webinar platform, there’s likely an option to check your equipment. Do that. You can test your video and audio settings very easily on Skype under Tools > Options. There are also sites that offer a free webcam check. For a smoother private lesson, I’ve usually shared a lesson outline in advance as a Word document. The student’s copy has links, notes, and exercises that can be used during and after our lesson.
– People skills. A virtual classroom has real people who need a real connection with you. I like to be in contact with participants pre- and post-class. This is especially important with large webinars. Short discussion questions or simple tasks can increase anticipation of a live session and start building a sense of community. When everyone convenes on the chosen platform, many of you are already acquainted and there’s already a foundation for discussion. Once you do start teaching, remember to make eye contact with the webcam. It can’t be done at all times because you’ll also be reading slides and the stream of words in the text chat, but during an explanation or while listening to someone’s response, remember that the webcam is the “eye” of the learner.
There are certainly other similarities and differences to discuss. If this topic is of interest to more of you, I’d be happy to address it again in a future post. I suspect that more and more of us will truly be doing some form of online teaching in the coming years!