When your classes move online, it's a big change—both for your students and for you. However, this change doesn't have to be negative. While there can be challenges to teaching online, the experience can still be helpful and fulfilling on both sides of the screen. Whether you're teaching in a virtual environment for the first time or looking to improve your current virtual classroom, there are ways of mixing up the experience to make sure that your students stay engaged. Here are a few of Magoosh's top tips!
Think about what it feels like when you're stuck in a long virtual meeting. What's most exhausting about it? Usually, people report feeling tired when they have to listen to a single speaker discuss the same topic at length. While this can work in a classroom, particularly with older students, the virtual environment requires more interaction and stimulation to keep students engaged. Here are a few ways to make the most of the online experience:
- Change activity types often: you may wish to go from a lecture to a video to small-group breakout discussions or individual reflection.
- Keep activities brief: video segments of two to three minutes (like the type you'll find in Magoosh's SAT and Magoosh's ACT courses) are ideal, while discussions of longer than five minutes can start to meander.
- Keep a dialogue going between you and your students: remind them that you're more than a talking head! Ask students to answer questions at their level, to explain certain concepts to the group, or to report on their recent group discussions or homework experiences.
It's important that the class doesn't start to feel like a TV show in which you talk at them for the full session. To keep things engaging, work on incorporating the following into your virtual classroom:
- Mix in some practice tests and video lessons.
- Use virtual whiteboards to show students how you're working through problems, allowing them to follow along as you work as a group or explain an answer. Chat functions in many common software programs will also help you do this.
- Consider new ways of using images in your teaching. While putting in random stock images isn't ideal, using visuals you create in advance (or screenshots from Magoosh's answers and explanation videos!) can help visual learners process the information even better.
Keep looking for opportunities to engage students in the material. The more they see the virtual learning experience as a dialogue, the better their brains will absorb the material. To do this:
- Avoid running video clips all the way through in one stretch. Instead, stop at key moments and open up discussions.
- Check in with students as you go through the material, prompting them to provide the next step of a strategy for a problem or explain how they would approach a question.
- Provide students with reflection time at the end of each session—then ask them to share their reflections, either verbally or in writing. This way, you can continually adapt to their needs and expectations for the virtual environment.
One issue many adults encounter in video conference calls is not knowing where a particular conversation is going. This can be frustrating and ultimately lead participants to tune out. Here are a few suggestions to avoid this in your virtual classroom:
- Create and share a virtual syllabus for the session. This could even be a slide you return to between lesson segments. If you're stuck in creating your syllabus, try taking a look at Magoosh's ACT or SAT study schedules!
- Anticipate student issues. If you've taught the same course in person before, you may already have a sense of where students can get stuck in the material. Know that the virtual environment may increase confusion in these areas, and plan ahead to spend a little extra time going over these parts of the lesson. Using different methods of explanation (such as verbally describing the process, then looking at a sample video from the Magoosh library) can help overcome this as well.
A Final Word: Prepare for Extra Preparation
Whether you choose to incorporate a few or all of these tips into your lessons, you can see that teaching virtually requires a different kind of prep than teaching in-person does. While in an in-person class, you'd be able to improvise based on students' reactions, this becomes a little more challenging online, making it all the more important to provide students with extra time, patience, and explanations. As you do so, you'll start to notice all the benefits of online learning—and there are many. Good luck!