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12 teacher-tested ways to keep online learning interesting

As thousands of lessons are conducted ‘live’ around the world due to the COVID-19, it makes sense for teachers to take this time to reflect on what makes a good virtual lesson.


But most teaches find conducting home-based learning challenging. Why?


The primary reason stems from the two-dimensional screen that you and your normally 3D students have been reduced to. Our brains like to know where we are and where everyone else is in a certain space. It's this little sixth sense called proprioception.


Our brains cannot seem to figure out how 2-dimensions change things, and so they spin around like a confused computer program wheel and get tired out. This is the reason why many teachers find it very tiring even though they teach shorter hours compared to teaching in school.


This makes it harder for teachers to pick up normal cues that signal distraction or confusion. So there is a lot of interruption going on and that's awkward and tiring too. It turns out that we need our senses all at once to make a conversation work, and the two-dimensional screen presents challenges that we are all unaccustomed to. Fortunately by making several adaptations in our delivery we can improve our learning outcomes substantially.


Here a few teaching tips to make this difficult situation easier for all educators:



Tips for Teaching Online


  1. Use hand raising in virtual classrooms

  2. Provide an agenda before the lesson

  3. Use the right camera

  4. Begin all virtual lessons with an audio visual check

  5. Implement health checks to evaluate your students overall well-being

  6. Elect a virtual classroom facilitator

  7. Rotate duties

  8. Use games and contests

  9. Leave time for personal conversation

  10. Optimize the backdrop

  11. Find good lighting

  12. Prioritize camera-ready clothing and appearance

1. Use hand raising in virtual classrooms


The first rule of virtual lessons is an old-fashioned one. You need to create a formal but simple mechanism for asking questions. The discipline required takes a little time to learn but the results in terms of increased clarity are worth it. When conducting virtual lessons, it is very tempting for the teacher to go on teaching without getting feedback. The reason for this is that without a 3D student in place we lose our ability to feel the class as before. As a fellow teacher, I believe that we are all gifted with the ability to sense our student’s thought processes in class. This form of feedback helps teachers construct our student’s learning and bridge the learning gaps while the lesson is on-going.. As our lessons are conducted online, we do not have that perception and students might feel isolated and distant. A simple technique is to use the hand raising function in Zoom. Another technique is to get students to comment using your preferred LMS or a virtual chat bot.


2. Provide an agenda before the lesson


For successful virtual lessons you should provide some form of agenda or schedule especially if the lesson is going to last more than 30 minutes. With a schedule, students can plan their contributions which also helps to balance out participation levels. By giving students a task or something to think about, it helps with the participation or the quality of their participation. Indeed it helps to share out the responsibility for leading an entire virtual class two different students rather than just hogging the entire session for yourself.



3. Use the right camera

In order to get the best experience out of your virtual classroom, it is important that you use the right camera. Many web cameras are of poor quality and have limited viewing areas. It is good to find a meeting camera that is able to follow you as you move about and is also able to capture your audio with clarity. This function is helpful if you work in an office with limited rooms. When considering which classroom camera to use, it is best that you have a fuss-free video software that allows collaboration and sharing.


With Swivl, you never need to worry about getting new cameras. all you need is an Andriod or Apply phone and you are good to go! Simply dock your phone on our Swivl unit, attached the respective USB cable, and presto! Your phone becomes your trusted camera man!



4. Begin all video calls with an audio-visual check

Since students are often too polite to express communication problems on their end, you should begin with an audio-visual equipment check-in around your students to establish any issues that might affect the learning experience. Do note that student energy levels will be different whenever they log into the classroom. This is why it is mindful that teachers do take some time to build up the energy of a class before learning begins. This can be achieved by asking you students what they had for breakfast that morning. This way, you can also take this time to check the audio-visuals while your students are participating in the session.

5. Implement health checks to evaluate your students' overall well-being

Institute health checks to understand the emotional and the currents hidden by our virtual students during the virtual classroom session. The best method is the simplest. Have your student rate his or her emotional temperature on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 (I'm upset) and 10 (everything’s okay). It is good to do search check-ins at 20-minute intervals or after specific lesson milestones are reached. If you notice that a particular student is feeling down, it is important that teachers check-in with them after the lesson. Alternatively If the student is younger, you may also reach out to his or her parents. By implementing such health checks, it also serves as a powerful formative assessment to assess students' learning gaps.



6. Elect virtual classroom roles

In a classroom, students take on various roles to aid classroom management. This applies to virtual classrooms as well. Here are some roles that you might consider adding: Host: leads the virtual classroom based on the agenda. This role helps ensure that the lesson adheres to the agenda and that no time is wasted side tracking Timer: ensures that virtual class discussions are kept within a certain time-frame Scribe: takes notes of important points (especially examinable points *Winks) and summarises what was learnt today



7. Rotate duties

A common misconception with virtual classrooms is that teachers will need to facilitate every session. Give students an opportunity to take on leadership roles by rotating positions. Give them guidelines on how to run a virtual classroom based on the given roles above. Feel free to adapt the roles according to your class' unique requirements. This is a great way to shake things up in the virtual classroom and keep your students engaged. This is also a powerful confidence builder and helps students feel heard. As a teacher, it gives you the opportunity to witness how your students handle responsibilities and perhaps reward them with points, praises, or even a compliment note to the parents.



8. Use games and contests

It's important for students to feel happy and engaged before diving into actual learning. One way to do this is by playing games such as online bingo, Kahoot!, or even classroom discussions. Conducting class contests gets the competitive fire burning. Do offer a prize that is relevant to your students. By offering a prize you are incentivising your students to participate and getting them excited about it.


9. Leave time for personal conversation

Leave the last few minutes of your virtual classroom for non-academic related talk to help with virtual classroom engagement. This is a nice way to wind down after an intense learning session. Allow your students to talk about their pets, hobbies and about the weather. Encourage your remote students to share pictures, videos, and GIFs on your class’ messaging software. Any extra time you can provide to your virtual class to build stronger relationships with each other should be prioritized, and as a teacher, you can decide if you want to stay on or leave the team to chat.


10. Optimise the backdrop

When you're teaching remotely, you want your virtual classrooms to appear professional. However, there is more to online learning than just ensuring all your notes are together. Every detail about video calls says something about your personal image, including the backdrop. You want to keep it clean, simple, and representative of your school or personal image. Any work put into this aspect of the room’s design will only enhance your professional setting. Make sure there is nothing distracting going on in the background that could draw the person's attention away from what you are saying. Try to find a space with a blank backdrop, solid coloured wall, or part of your home without too much going on behind you. You can even try adding a custom image to your next video call.


11. Find good lighting

Everyone wants to look good on camera. Proper ambient lighting is key when presenting yourself in front of your students. Lighting should highlight your face, especially that warm amiable smile. Try to balance artificial and natural light. Improper lighting often forces cameras to depict images that are darkened with shadows. It can also lead to resolution issues and glares in the camera. Having a virtual classroom with a dark shadowy figure isn't a good experience for anyone involved. Strategically placed lighting fixtures or facing a window with natural light can create ideal lighting not only on you but on the surrounding surfaces as well.


12. Prioritize camera-ready clothing and appearance

All remote learning should reflect on your work ethics. Younger students model their teachers. Older, mature students respect teachers who are presentable. Choose simple, solid coloured tops that are visible on camera. Avoid intricate, loud designs as they are distracting on camera. Keep your hair out of your face and try to position your camera to show your face, shoulders, and a bit of your torso. Be aware of what the camera shows to avoid anything embarrassing!


The clearer the structure your remote classroom has, the better you will achieve student engagement. The better your student engagement, this has a positive relationship to student performance. In order to foster a clear structure, promote activities that create an environment that is comfortable, engaging, and inclusive for all students. With these practices in place, distance learning can be made bearable, and even fun. They're still stressful for the unconscious mind, however, and as such, they should be strictly timed, with appropriate breaks so that students and even you as a teacher have time to recover.


Want to learn how Swivl can help you achieve a successful remote learning experience for your students?



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