27 March, 2020 Education Judy Rose
For the last 8 years, teaching English has meant preparing my materials for students that I was going to be standing in front and interacting with, in a classroom face to face. This week for the first time ever, I’ve had to change the way I deliver classes and get behind the computer ready for online teaching.
This first week reflection
My experience with online teaching will helpful give you an insight into the mind of a TEFL teacher, as they move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, and how I’ve navigated the waters to ensure that I’ve still given engaging and effective classes. Making sure that my students are learning and benefiting from the time they spend with me is the aim of the game.
One of the main things that I’ve realised with online teaching is how much I rely on moving around the classroom and using the physical space when I’m teaching in person. When you’re on the other side of the camera and it’s just your face and upper body that the students can see, you need to project a bigger image of yourself. By this, I mean you have to keep the energy levels up and student interest and motivation high by channelling your high energy into the class through facial expressions and hand gestures and projecting your big personality.
Secondly, your material preparation differs greatly to that when you’re physically with the students. Either they have a copy of the course book that you are using or you have made photocopies or print outs. It takes only a second to press a button and get the 10 copies you need for your students but when you’re online this is not going to fly. I have been lucky enough to have access to an online PDF of the course book I’m using and one of my top tips from this week is using animated powerpoints to really help you engage the students with the material. By using the snipping tool I have simply lifted exercises from the pages and with some trusty animations provided by powerpoint, I’ve jazzed up the activities with some well-loved animations and cheesy jokes to brighten up even the driest of academic tasks.
Managing student talk time
It can be tricky when online, especially if your students are not using the camera option on the online platform you are using. I have been using zoom with my students which in itself has both benefits and drawbacks, but for a free option to connect with students all over the world it has been a great choice. With a large group it is best to keep all students on mute and then ask them to signal when they want to join in with the conversation. This helps to control annoying background noise and make learning clearer for you and your students. As in class, asking open-ended questions will lead to the more confident students answering over those who are a bit shyer so it is always a good idea to use the students’ name directly to answer any question you might have. Zoom offers the option to use breakout rooms and assign a smaller number of students to private chat rooms where they can expand on discussion topics that the teacher can monitor and join if they wish, before bringing everybody back to the main forum for full class feedback. With smaller classes we have been able to have everyone with their camera and microphone on and class discussion has resembled that of the physical classroom with no issues.
My final thoughts
I’ve learnt a lot this week but the main take away is that every day has been easier than the day before, and the classes have been smoother and smoother as the week progressed. At first I was nervous about teaching in a format that I had never experienced before but with a week of classes under my belt and a group of happy students I’m feeling confident and ready for what’s next. If you are worried about teaching online for the first time the best advice that I can give you is to stay calm and remember that at the end of the day you will be able to achieve the same learning goals that you would in the regular classroom and to go with the flow. If the internet connection fails, reboot the router. If the session signs you out earlier than you expected, open a new session. If a student can’t log in, assign a task to those in class and send a new link. Technology can fail us sometimes but if we stay calm and in control, the students will still have an enjoyable learning experience and feel that they have spent their time with you well.