4 Research-Backed Tips to Move Your Teaching Online

In theory, instructors should know just how good online teaching really is. It’s convenient, cost-effective, and engaging. Still, people are naturally reluctant to change. Instructors report resistance to moving away from a face-to-face class. Only 9% of academics prefer to teach completely online.

COVID-19 can change teaching for the better. The pandemic forced educators to discover a whole new world by moving to online teaching. A 2020 survey showed that teachers are surprisingly pleased with the levels of innovation, flexibility, and accessibility in the virtual classroom, facilitated through a wide array of tools like the online whiteboard.

“You cannot change what you are, only what you do,” author Philip Pullmann says. Here are 4 things you can do to move your teaching online.

Reinvent your presence

In the traditional classroom instructors rely on their voice, face, and gestures to run the show. Scholars at the National-Louis University in Chicago point out that the teacher’s presence is broader on the web. Students make sense of you through your visual expressions and voice, but also through subtle cues like your workspace. Make sure you have a neat place at home with an appropriate amount of decorations and proper lighting.

Moreover, more attention is paid to aspects like communication skills and class setup. In other words, your presence as an instructor is positively evaluated when you respond to emails promptly, provide feedback on time, set clear requirements, facilitate discussions, and organize the course well.

Go for “less is more”

This sounds good, but what does “less is more” mean? Let’s make it clear – it’s quality and not quantity that matters most in the virtual classroom. As Justin Reich at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology puts it, “Strategically reduce your goals.”

In this digital era, the act of paying attention is very challenging, particularly for adolescents. Reich’s colleague at MIT Sherry Turkle talks about teaching in an age of distraction. Teachers compete with social media apps and Google to win the attention of natural multitaskers. Experiments reveal that people watch educational material for 6 minutes, no matter the presentation length. Then they need something else to do.

You have a choice: to change people or to change your course. Which do you prefer? Decide on the most important information and educational goals. There is no need for you to do all the talking. Your learners are a valuable resource and your role as an online instructor is to say less to make them participate more. Ask questions, allocate tasks, and use breakout rooms to boost attention and engagement. Put students in the spotlight and invite them to co-create the learning experience.

Let learners take control

With all these changes at hand, there is a big problem with traditional tutor-centered learning. Pupils are mentally present only 40% of the time and retain only 20% of the material taught. Recently, the model of learning-centered education has been gaining international endorsement. In simple terms, it means having active students in the virtual classroom. Researchers confirm that motivation and understanding are improved and knowledge is retained for longer. Moreover, course dropout rates are minimized.

The Interactive-Constructive-Active-Passive framework explains the success of the learner-centered paradigm. When students watch a lecture or read a text, they are passively receiving information and acquire only fragmented knowledge. When their engagement is active, e.g., by creating content on the online whiteboard and collaborating with others, learners create their own body of knowledge. New knowledge fits into the already existing schema. So, active learning is more complete, coherent, and substantial.

To put this concept into play, give personal responsibility, stimulate interactions, and provide a psychologically safe learning environment. Examples of learner-centered activities involve discussions, games and quizzes, shared work on the online whiteboard, group tasks in breakout rooms, and assigning presentations. Last but not least, facilitate connections and relationships. Consider project management for beginners.

Build connections

Most teachers are tempted to transfer their traditional classroom routine to virtual settings. But to get better at online teaching, the rules of the web must be respected. Web 2.0 is dynamic, open, collaborative, and connected. The most powerful and meaningful online experiences are those embedded in personal connections. Shared tasks improve productivity, motivation, and self-confidence, while lowering anxiety. That’s because conversation makes it is easier to comprehend information. Moreover, we want to be accepted by others, be it by our tutors or peers. When we have a public for our actions, we are more motivated to perform better in class.

The power of connections is somewhat overlooked in brick-and-mortar classrooms, but it’s pivotal for an engaging and enriching online learning experience. The role of the instructor is to bring people together and infuse distance education with warmth. There are many techniques to make this happen, such as brainstorming, drawing activities on the online whiteboard, small group activities in breakout rooms, and assigning presentations to students. Gamification is perhaps the most fun. Try to divide the class into groups and run a quiz or a mystery solving game.

Change may be overwhelming. There is too much happening in 2020. So start small. With these 4 tips you will get a good grasp on what makes online teaching special. It can be just as rewarding and satisfying as teaching in a face-to-face classroom – if not more so. The virtual classroom is equipped with powerful tools for synchronous learning to provide a rich experience for all participants. Changing you mind is hard, but it only takes a little effort to master technologies related to online education and deliver great results.


Resourses used:

  1. ECAR Study of Faculty and Information Technology, 2017
  2. School Education Gateway – “Survey on online and distance learning – Results”
  3. The Indicators of Instructor Presence that are Important to Students in Online Courses
  4. How to Teach in an Age of Distraction
  5. How video production affects student engagement: an empirical study of MOOC videos
  6. Learner-Centred Teaching Contributes in Promising Results in Improving Learner
  7. Understanding and Motivation: A Case Study at Malaysia Tertiary Education

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