Education

How to make your online classes a success

Covid-19 has resulted in a number of unprecedented challenges for schools and teachers. Schools were closed for long periods, and even now that educational establishments are open, it’s a sure bet that online classes will still be relevant.

We’ve put together a series of tips for making online classes not only successful, but also fun!

Many people say that it’s harder to maintain your student’s attention remotely than in the classroom. However, if you’ve got an interesting and creative plan for online lessons, then you’ll find that this probably isn’t true!

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How do you achieve real Engagement?

Successfully shifting from classroom-based teaching to online teaching requires an engagement strategy. After all, if your students aren’t paying attention during your lessons, they won’t be in a position to learn anything. That’s the same whether they’re in the classroom or at home on their laptops. An engaged audience is also an active audience. This results in a vibrant classroom environment and provides a positive outcome. Time flies when you’re all having fun!

With a fun-focused online teaching game plan all of this is achievable, and you don’t need to be an extrovert entertainer to get the results you want. With a positive plan in place, students will engage in lessons and, in turn, this will lead to motivation. And, when students (and teachers) are motivated, you get fun experiences and increased learning. Yes, that sounds easy, but there’s work involved!

Let’s take a look at some ways to make online lessons successful.

Pick The Right Tool And Test It!

Before you can host your first online class, you’ll need to find a video conferencing tool that enables you to connect effectively with your students. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Adobe Connect, Google Meet and others are all quite popular and easy to use – and most are free.

It’s okay being able to use Zoom for yourself, but you need to know it well enough so that you can answer questions about it from students AND parents. You can guarantee that your students will have difficulties with any system here and there, so it’s important that you can help them – they will be relying on you to know the answers!. Play around with it, test out the system and watch some online tutorial videos. Most programs are quite easy when you get to know them. You don’t need to be an IT expert, so don’t be frightened by the technology. And YouTube is always there to help!

Send invites and clear instructions

Once you’ve set up the classroom event, you need to send invites to all your students. This is usually done using your video conferencing tool. Make sure your invite include a list of anything the students will need to have at the ready, a rough outline of the what you’ll be doing and instructions on how to join the class. Remember that students have several different tech options from joining via mobiles, tablets, laptops etc.

Also, you need to make sure that your students know they are expected to be on their webcams and will need to use their microphones during the class. Basically, you need to give them time to prepare for the lesson themselves.

Another positive step is to send out a reminder approximately 25 minutes before the lesson begins. Students – from youngsters to teenagers have unusual brains and tend to let things go in one ear and out the other! Jog their memory and ensure that they also have the joining instructions.

Security Matters

It’s important to Keep your online classroom safe by following these simple steps.

1. Don’t share any meeting invites in public forums.

2. Password-protect your meetings. It’s easy.

3. Use a ‘Waiting Room’ to control who joins the meeting.

4. Make sure you know all participants in the room.

4. Ensure you know how to manage (and remove) participants.

5. If teaching younger children, ensure a parent is also present during the class.

Show Your Face

Make sure your camera is turned on so that you can engage with your audience. It is also important that you talk directly into the camera, not to the image on your screen. This gives a much more personal connection with your students and looks like you are talking to each one personally.

Also, it is important to dress as how you would for school. Look smart and professional, and make sure your background isn’t distracting. Don’t sit in the garage, have an area which looks nice. If you remove any possible distractions, it will be much easier to engage with your students. How often have you watched someone broadcasting from home and you’ve been distracted by a painting or ornament or something in the background?

You also need to check that lighting is good and that the acoustics are suitable. Without these, you’ll easily ‘lose the room’, as they say!

Rules

If you have a clear set of rules, it encourages your students to take your classroom lesson seriously. Your rules will help avoid interruptions and distractions. It is important to discuss online etiquette. Should your students be on ‘mute’ when listening, how should they ask you a question? Are they allowed to use the ‘chat’ functionality? There are quite a few things to consider, but with good planning, your lesson will be smooth and effective.

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Attention spans

Student’s attention spans will only last for a certain period of time, no matter how good a teacher you are. Child development experts say that attention spans vary depending on the age of students. Children aged 6 can pay attention to a subject for 12-18 minutes, whilst 12 year-olds can concentrate for 24 to 36 minutes. When you’re creating your lesson plan you need to take this into account.

To help your students stay more focused, break up your content into small focused bursts which can be consumed quickly. Think about how you can break large topics down into their smaller parts. Then consider how you plan to communicate each part.

Fun online classes require variety so it’s important to mix different types of media to make things more interesting. For instance, you might start by introducing the concept, then play a video, then solicit questions before conducting a breakout group session and finishing with a quiz. This will hardly seem like work at all for your students!

Record Your Lessons

We know, you probably hate the sound of your own voice and hate watching yourself on video – but: These recordings are useful for several reasons. For example, there will be occasions when one or more of your students are unable to attend due to technical issues or other reasons. Whilst this is not ideal, they will at least be able to catch up with the session in their own time by viewing the recording.

These recordings are also useful resources. When they need to study, your students may dip back into your lessons in order to recap certain subjects. They are also useful from a teaching perspective to see how you can improve your own performance when you are hosting online classes – after all, these things take practice and you need time to settle into the process of teaching in this situation.

Recording your lessons may also help to uncover things you’ve missed. For example, there may have been students who didn’t get their questions answered. These can be answered either in the next lesson or outside of class.

Keep in touch

You should check in with your students on a regular basis, just like you would in a normal classroom setting. Ensure that your pupils understand what’s been covered so far so that they don’t get left behind. Ask questions which challenge them, and inform students what to do if they do not fully understand any part of your lesson.

Monitor chat

If your video conferencing tool has a ‘chat’ area, you have to firstly decide if your pupils are allowed during your classes. If they are, then you also need to set some clear guidelines as to how it should be used.

In the ‘chat’ area, it is wise to ask that your students use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. It is not good for them to revert to ‘txt speak’ and other shortcuts during classes. Also, it is important to let them know that mean and disrespectful language will not be tolerated. It is important to check the ‘chat’ area on a regular basis and this can be a great way to monitor their thoughts on the classes and check their knowledge.

Interactive Activities

Pupils learn best when lessons are an interesting and interactive experience as information becomes much more memorable. So, incorporate interactive activities into your online classes as often as possible. Example of such activities include: Quizzes, puzzles, virtual field trips, ice-breaker activities and games.

Some students are less outgoing than others, so it’s important to use different types of activities to engage with everyone.  Many of these activities can be conducted through your video conferencing tool regardless of internet connection. For example, you could use the ‘Whiteboard’ functionality to aid puzzle solving.

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Assignments & Smaller Groups

Having smaller, task-oriented groups encourages participation and encourages creativity without leaving anyone out. This popular classroom approach can also be used effectively online. Zoom has a facility which enables you to host multiple sessions simultaneously.

As the host, you will be able to switch between sessions to check on their progress whenever you wish. Once the small group discussions are finished, they can return to the main classroom session again and report on their findings. This make take a little while to master, but it’s worth putting in the effort as it’s a powerful teaching aid. Just remember that you don’t need to be a tech expert, just spend time slowly going through it and use YouTube to help you.

Ask For Feedback

With all the preparation that’s required for online teaching, it’s easy to forget to ask for feedback. Ideally you should ask for feedback on a regular basis so that you can change and improve your lessons to meet the needs of your students.

For most teachers, hosting an online class will be a totally new experience and it can be a huge challenge. Feedback is invaluable as not only will it help improve your students learning, but positive changes and improvements will also help build your own confidence. Making your classes fun is a key ingredient for success, so try and be creative.

How do you get feedback? Well, you could have an anonymous survey, or ask your students at the end of class. All you need is an open mind when considering any comments. If you’re students are happy, then learning will be much easier and your classes will be the ones they look forward to!

Online classes can definitely be limited in some ways, but they also open a virtual doorway to exciting new learning experiences. But remember that you are not alone – most teachers are doing this for the first time too, and there’s no such thing as an overnight success. Your classes will improve as you find the best way of doing things, and you can always ask fellow teachers to see how they are doings.

Classes online are similar to those in the classroom in the sense that if you don’t have your online pupils’ attention, you won’t be able to deliver successful classes. And that’s one of the skills of being a teacher!

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