If you’re like most educators, up until around March 15, 2020, your teaching style had been based on the presumption that you would be in-person and hands-on with your students. Your professional development likely did not cover online learning and how to lead a virtual classroom of socially distanced students. If your school or district has adopted a remote or hybrid learning format, you may feel out of your element when it comes to online instruction. 

PLS Classes has offered courses in an online format for over 15 years. We also offered face-to-face courses which we were able to transition to remote learning quickly once schools closed. Based on our experience with creating online courses that are engaging and relevant, we are here to help with some quick tips that might help you!  If you are worried about holding engaging lessons that reflect the type of energy and enthusiasm that you bring to in-person learning, we have six tips to help you be more engaging behind the camera.

Become Confident and Comfortable with the Technology

An essential step you can take to run engaging, fluid, and fun virtual classes is to develop a proficiency with your virtual conferencing technology. If you are uncertain how to lead your class or manage the core functions of your virtual classroom software, such as screen sharing or audio management, you will be at risk of losing your students’ engagement and interest. The more time you spend learning the nuances of the technology platforms that you will use during live sessions, the smoother you will be able to execute lectures and activities.

When it comes to live virtual events of any kind, remember that sometimes things can go wrong. For example, your computer battery might die, your software might need an upgrade, or your audio might not work. Your students might also face similar unexpected challenges. If you can quickly correct any software or hardware issues, and guide your students through the process of troubleshooting their technology roadblocks, you can keep your session moving forward, and your students focused. If you become flustered, or students begin to fear a mishap with the learning application, you might all become tense, embarrassed, or disengaged. Just as the best teachers are confident lecturers who demonstrate confident body language and know how to work the room, the best virtual teachers are knowledgeable technologists, and they know how to keep live sessions moving forward trouble-free.

Focus On Your Environment

Your students will be able to focus and remain engaged during your lectures and live sessions if your background and home environment are distraction-free. Understanding that you might not be able to renovate your home to accommodate a permanent home office set-up, do your best to situate yourself in a distraction-free part of your home. Place your desk and camera where there will be minimal distractions behind you. A plain wall as your background is ideal, as virtual backgrounds are not entirely seamless, unless you leverage green screen technology, and can cause distractions when your extremities become lost in your virtual environment as you move around.

Also, try to minimize ambient noise. Close nearby windows, put your dog or cat in another part of your home, and ask your significant other and your children to respect your time and space while you are teaching. Use a quality set of headphones and a built-in microphone but avoid headphones that offer noise-canceling capabilities. If you cannot hear yourself speak, you may risk sounding as if you are needlessly shouting.

Set up forward-facing lighting so that your students can see your face and your emotions. Situate your laptop or video camera so that you are facing it straight on. It can be distracting to watch someone lecture when you are looking up their nose or at their forehead for a prolonged period.

Finally, avoid the temptation to dress as you would on a casual Sunday afternoon at home. Wear the same clothes to your virtual classroom that you would wear in person. As is often said, when you look good, you feel good and perform well. Perhaps more importantly, your students will perceive the seriousness with which you are treating their virtual classes and will pay attention and take every lesson seriously as well.

Pretend You are In Front of a Classroom and Not a Screen

You may, at first, feel strange talking to your computer, but try your best to put any nerves aside and approach your virtual classes with the same energy and enthusiasm with which you would lead your in-person classes. Smile broadly, talk with your hands, and be expressive. It may feel forced at first, but your students will sense your genuine excitement, and it will help them remain engaged in the learning process.

Set Clear Expectations with Your Students

Ensure that your students understand that even though they are participating from home, class rules still apply. If you do not set clear expectations, you risk your students taking advantage of the distance between you. Make it known that every student must act courteously to you and toward one another, which means not interrupting their fellow students or expressing disparagements verbally or non-verbally. 

Prepare Your Content

Even though you are teaching remotely, you do not have to rely solely on lecturing. Many learning management systems (LMS) and video conferencing software tools allow teachers to assign participants to small breakout rooms. This functionality means that you can still facilitate group work, activities, question and answer sessions, and presentations. Plan accordingly, and again, test the technology to ensure you can confidently lead your students through the assigned classroom content in any format.

Expect Your Students to Follow Your Lead

Finally, and most importantly, have fun—just like you would if you were teaching in-person in your classroom. If you are relaxed, confident, and energetic, your students will mirror your enthusiasm, and they will be inherently engaged. Certainly, every teacher would prefer working with students in person. Still, until we beat COVID-19 (and we will), and we can all be together again, by learning to engage your students virtually, you can help them maintain their academic integrity while staying home and staying safe.

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