The recent shift to teaching online has been sudden and widespread.
It’s been difficult for many teachers to navigate this different teaching setting, especially with little-to-no notice. The pressure to become an expert in online teaching – and fast! – can be overwhelming.
But there are ways to cut through the overwhelm.
The key is to set up a bedrock of good practice principles, and go from there.
Here are 5 foundational principles that will help you to teach online effectively.
Clarify your communication
When you teach online, you can’t rely on non-verbal cues and the instant feedback you get in face-to-face communication. Without those cues, it’s easier for your message to get lost in translation.
Try this: You’ll be communicating via email, course announcements and possibly Zoom.
This means two things:
- There’s less scope for chatting and explaining.
Keep your messages short, clear, and to the point.
Don’t assume students will know what you mean.
Instead, ask yourself: could these instructions be misinterpreted?
Is this message crystal clear?
- Create a welcoming yet professional tone.
Use language that helps to create rapport and warmth.
But keep your message on-point and focused on what your students need to know.
Set clear expectations
There’s no traditional classroom in online learning, but there are still rules and deadlines.
Make sure your students know what they are.
Try this: Create an announcement, email or FAQ page that covers essential information about your course and what’s expected.
This should include elements such as:
- How you expect students to behave online
- When assignments are due
- When assignments will be returned, and
- When they can expect their emails to be answered.
With online learning, it’s notoriously common for students to disengage, and disappear.
Missed deadlines, and lack of participation are common warning signs.
Try this: Build engagement into your course.
- Create learning activities that require interaction
- Connect the learning with a media personality or event relevant to the students’ lives
- Set the expectation that cameras will be on during video lessons
- Set a percentage of the final grade for participation
- Send out regular course announcements that help keep students on track and remind them of impending deadlines.
It’s too easy to become overwhelmed, intimidated and frustrated by the technology involved in teaching online. And sure, we need technology to deliver the learning, and connect with our students.
But the technology is not in charge of your course.
The technology is simply a tool you use to help your students learn.
- Understand that technical difficulties will happen. That’s just the way it is.
And that’s what the Helpdesk is for.
So contact them when the technology gremlins arrive.
And set your students some independent reading to do in the meantime.
- Take half an hour to run through the free how-to tutorials most software companies have on their websites.
Once you know the basics, you’ll feel more confident.
And it’s quicker (and less stressful) than figuring it out by trial and error in front of a class.
With the sudden move to online learning, teacher burnout is a real risk.
It takes time and effort to adapt to the online learning environment, and it’s essential to be realistic about what you can achieve in a given day.
It’s true that sometimes you’ll need to put in a couple extra hours, or work a Saturday afternoon.
But this should be the exception, not the new normal way of teaching.
Overworking doesn’t help you do a better job.
In fact it leads to exhaustion, burnout, and puts your career (and health) at real risk.
Try this instead:
- Be absolutely ruthless with your To Do List.
Prune it back so that it’s achievable and realistic.
That might mean the list has 5 things you need to do today – not 25.
Take a step back, and realise not everything is urgent.
- Structure your work so that breaks happen naturally.
Answer emails twice a day – not as they arrive in your Inbox.
Grade a block of 5 essays, and then get up and stretch.
Regular breaks away from your computer will refresh your brain, reduce fatigue, and help you avoid muscle strain.
- If you’re working from home, shut your office door at the end of the work day.
Don’t sneak back to get more done after dinner.
When the working day is done, it’s done.
Healthy boundaries will help you do a better job and continue to enjoy your work.
Online teaching brings a range of challenges with it, there’s no doubt.
But when you base your approach on good practice principles, it’s easier to do a great job.
And then teaching in an online setting is not as overwhelming as it first seems.