Tips for teaching online

In Uncategorised by Malini Devadas

As I write this, we are in the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher education institutions around the world are closing their doors and many academics are finding themselves having to move their course material to online platforms. If this is new for you then you might find some useful tips here.

I sent this to my email list yesterday and a few people said they’d like to share it, so I thought I’d put it here on the blog to make it easier for others to read.

Note that I wrote this fairly hurriedly in order to help people get started with converting their in-person course material to something suitable for online delivery. There are plenty of platforms other than Zoom, but this is the one that I use.

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Online platforms

Your institution may have software that you have to use, in which case you will have to learn about that. My experience is with Zoom, so I will be focusing on that here. However, the same principles apply regardless of the technology. (And no, this is not a sponsored piece — I just really like Zoom!).

There is a free version of Zoom but there are limitations (e.g. when I signed up free accounts couldn’t host meetings for longer than 45 minutes). I currently use a plan that is around A$21/month. People who are joining your broadcasts don’t have to pay but they have to download the software to their computer or phone. Note that when you use it on your phone then the privacy settings for the app may need to be changed from the default, so that the user can use audio and/or video.

I use both the Meeting and Webinar functions of Zoom. The Webinar add-on is an additional cost and is significant — about $A$60/month for 100 attendees and more for 500 people and beyond. Hopefully your institution is paying for this, so you don’t have to worry about the cost. To see the differences between the Webinar and Meeting functionality, see https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115005474943-Meeting-and-Webinar-Comparison

You can easily share your screen (e.g. Powerpoint slides, Word documents) using Zoom.

Zoom has the ability to record the session to your machine or to the cloud. You can then put the recording on a hosted platform or send people a link to Zoom where they can watch it. I’m assuming that your institution has a location for to you store recorded materials.

Lectures

When you want to give a lecture-style presentation you can use the Meeting function. You can go into the settings for the meetings and have it so that participants automatically have their audio and video off. As the host, you can control participants’ individual settings, so if you want to allow someone ask a question you could turn on their audio and/or video.

If you use the Webinar function then you have some additional settings, such as a Q&A box. This can be useful so that people can ask questions in a separate place from the general chat, as things can get lost in a busy chat thread.

Tutorials

For tutorial-type discussion, you can use the Meeting function and allow participants to turn on their microphone when they want to ask a question. I suggest that you give participants the option as to whether they want to have their video on. I personally prefer to be able to see everyone but not everyone feels comfortable with this and so they prefer to have their video off, especially if they are at home (e.g. they may have children at home as well).

One-to-one meetings

If you are scheduling one-to-one meetings, I suggest you use some kind of online scheduler. I have used Calendly and Acuity Scheduling in the past and both are good and have a free option. Using these tools frees up your inbox and make it easy for people to pick (and reschedule) meeting times. You can set your availability and have the option to get email notifications when people have booked.

Differences between online and face-to-face teaching (keeping people engaged)

The biggest difference that I have found between online and face-to-face is that I can’t see the participants on a webinar. In a room, I can gauge the responses and feel the energy of the group. I often give half-day or full-day workshops so it’s really important that I can adjust the content if I feel that people are getting tired, etc.

Online I would never do a session for more than an hour. It’s really easy for people to stop paying attention and check their email, surf the net or just walk away. During my webinars I get people something every few minutes, whether that be answering a question in the chat or writing something down in a notebook. I know it might be different if you are giving an undergraduate lecture, but personally I believe that if I can keep people engaged then they are more likely to retain what they are learning. So I do encourage you to think about how you can make your online classes interactive.

Also, just because a lecture has to last for one hour, doesn’t mean your online material has to be delivered in that format. You might record a lecture for an hour for convenience sake (if you have an audience) but you can split that up into shorter videos when you share them on the university’s platform, so that people can watch in bite-sized pieces. Or you might be able to index the video so that people can see where specific topics start, in case they want to watch one section again — it makes it easier to find rather than watching the entire hour again. If you are recording lectures without an audience then you could make shorter videos of various lengths, depending on the topic.

How to present yourself

Yes, it can be tempting to put all your efforts in dressing the top half of your body and then wear tracksuit pants or pyjama bottoms, but just remember that if you have to stand up (e.g. to get a book from your bookshelf) then everyone will be able to see your full outfit.

Check that whatever is behind you as you sit at your computer is OK to appear as a background. If you have a bookshelf behind you, have a quick look at the titles in case there is something there that you don’t want the world to see! Zoom does have some virtual backgrounds as an option as well.

Make sure that your microphone works. When I start each session I always ask people to let me know through the chat if they can hear and see me OK.

A friend of mine also posted the other day that if you wear airpod-type devices then remember to take them off during any toilet or other breaks!

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Good luck with converting your material to be suitable for online delivery. For me it helps to think of it as something very different from face-to-face teaching. Yes, the content is the same, but the mindset of both the presenter and student is different depending on which mode of delivery you are using.

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me through the Get in touch page on the website.