The outbreak of Covid-19 has made the teaching community to be more tech-savvy. Particularly developing dexterity with online teaching tools is a novel challenge faced by teachers. Today, teachers from kindergarten to higher education inevitably have to employ online teaching methods.
Until now, online classes were considered as an effective tool for working professionals to upgrade their skills through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). But today it has become mainstream teaching and learning methodology. The skills required for conducting online classes are different from that of offline classes. In order to make online classes effective, the following thumb rules or mantras would be helpful.
Acclimatise with digital tools: First and fore-most for online classes is to invest and procure the right hardware and software for taking classes. Ensure that you have a reliable computer with all the necessary software along with an uninterrupted internet connection for conducting classes.
Platform selection: Several online platforms are available for online classes, conduct a survey, and choose the one that best suits your requirements. After finalising the platform, do research and play around with the platform to understand it better. This will help you in knowing your classroom better. Practice makes a man perfect, isn’t it? Before going ‘Live’ rehearse and record to find how you actually sound in the digital platform.
Set up working environment: Set up your work environment for online classes in a way that it is free of all distractions and disturbances. Ensure the availability of proper lighting, air, and ergonomic chair for ensuring all prerequisites are in place. This will keep your mind free from possible disturbances and distractions that can occur during the session.
Punctuality: Be the first person to be in the class, by joining the class a couple of minutes before the scheduled time. This will ensure discipline among students and prompt them to join the class on time. Also, ensure to leave the class once after all the students have left the class.
Lock meeting: On the stipulated time, before you begin the class, scroll through the list of participants and if all are familiar to you then lock the meeting. With this, you can be sure that there would be no unauthorised entry during the session. Also, to accommodate latecomers, you can assign the job of admitting the latecomers to a class representative, who would carefully admit the legitimate participants to the meeting.
Disable annotations: Annotations would be helpful for the teacher to mark, highlight, or write on slides. Most of the platforms also allow participants to use annotations. This may sometimes cause a disturbance in the class and hence disable participant’s annotation. When there is a need for the participant to use annotation to mark something on the slide, only for that small duration participant annotations can be enabled during the class.
Mute participants: There would always be students who whisper or talk for some reason during the session. This would be disturbing your entire class and students might get distracted. The majority of the platforms allow the host to turn off the microphones of the participants in order to avoid distractions and background noises. The participants may be asked to use the chatbox facility to key in their doubts or concerns during the class. Also, a few platforms provide options for the participants to raise a hand during the session which can be used as an indicator to interact with the participants.
Window sharing over screen sharing: When using screen sharing, you would be typically sharing the complete screen of your system to the participants, and hence anything and everything on the screen would be seen by the participants. Be very careful not to project sensitive data like your emails, bank transactions, passwords, etc. The majority of the platforms also have options of sharing only a single window of your screen with the participants. With this, you can be sure of sharing only relevant information. Choose wisely between window sharing and screen sharing.
Multiple sessions: Holding students for a longer time in online classes is a challenging task. It would be difficult for students to gaze at electronic gadgets for longer hours. Hence it is best to deliver multiple sessions of shorter duration. For example, a typical 2-hour class can be split into three classes each of 40 minutes duration. Also, ensure that students get a break of 10 minutes before the next class. This will help them to relax and get ready for the next class.
Effective utilisation of attendance time: Students attending online classes would have joined the class with the help of proper authentication mechanisms using appropriate email id or username and password. Hence, the time required for attendance as in traditional classes may be utilised for taking class and students can be asked to enter their attendance with the help of chat.
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Animated slides: Students’ engagement and holding their concentration in the class is the biggest challenge during online classes. Hence making frequent visual changes with the help of animated slides would help to retain the concentration of students to a certain extent. Having the attention of the students for a longer duration is a hurricane task both in online or traditional classes. Let novice special effects or graphic designer germinate within every teacher!
More slides with less content: A teacher can talk on a single slide for a long time, however, if the slide is static without any animations holding the students might be difficult. Preparing slides with less content on each slide is key. Less clutter in the slides clearer it will be for the audience.
Slide designs appropriate for all gadgets: Students might be using various gadgets ranging from mobile phones, laptops to widescreen projectors. In case, if the slide contents are not visible or readable then students may lose interest in the class. Hence, ensure that slide contents are visible even on the smallest device used by the students.
Interaction: Frequent interaction with students is the key to the success of online classes. Keep the students engaged and interact with them at least once in 15 minutes with the help of chat, polling, or break out room activities. This will keep the students alert in your class and gives a kind of feedback to the teacher about how well the students have understood the topics.
Gesture and facial expressions: If you choose to use your camera along with screen sharing for teaching then learn to make appropriate gestures and facial expressions to ensure that students are with you during your class. The more energetic you are seen on the screen more enthusiastic would be your students in attending your class.
Voice modulation: If you choose not to use your camera and share only the screen for teaching then your voice is the key. Do not keep your tone plain, make appropriate voice modulation with high and low pitch voices wherever necessary. This will ensure that students do not get lost away with a single monotonous tone.
Overall, online education is all set to create opportunities for teachers to reach the number of students that could never have happened in a physical classroom. However, since it is relatively new, digitize yourself, do proper research, invest in upgrading your skills, and commit yourself for continuous improvements to be at the forefront of this new mode of teaching. A good teacher will always adapt to changing circumstances and ensure that the benefits of novel teaching aids are properly exploited to transfer those benefits to the student community.
(Mahesh G is Associate Professor, Department of CSE, BMS Institute of Technology & Management, Bengaluru and Ravichandra M is Assistant Professor, Department of ISE, Sapthagiri College of Engineering, Bengaluru)
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