Post 1 – Online Synchronous Teaching

So, my dear colleagues, here we are facing a new challenge, to make teaching and learning possible and effective for all learners from our homes. Once more we are responsible for keeping ourselves alert and updated to allow schooling to happen under any condition. How are you coping with this situation? Are you being able to communicate with your learners? How are parents supporting teaching and learning? Are you being able to find a place at home where you can concentrate, relax and enjoy this new way of teaching? Are you taking care of yourselves? Is this confinement affecting you or maybe you are enjoying being at home?

From my place to your place, live.

It does not matter much if it is state or private education, or if we work with Early years, primary, secondary or even university level, we are all turning into online teaching. And what makes matters worse is that we are teaching from our home to the learners in theirs. This might mean that if you have online live lessons, parents will certainly be watching. So there you go, Open Classes for the learners and their whole family to enjoy. Of course you may be recorded by the learner, you may have your lesson played a hundred times and even shared with other learners even if a confidentiality agreement is signed. But just let me tell you that once all of us, parents, teachers and leaners get used to this new way to approach the teaching and learning process, things will flow much more stress free.

The online live lessons on the other hand can be really amazing if we develop the skills to handle them, so here go some hints to let magic happen:

Planning

Remember to schedule the online meeting in advance and communicate it to the learners as soon as possible, at least 48 hours before. Families may need to organise their schedules at home to make sure your learners will have the computers available (to used by another member of the family at the time of your online lesson), prepare a silent room for the learners to be, and any other needs the learners and their families might take care of.

Prepare and plan your lessons thoroughly. As in any class, you need to have a plan with a warm up activity, the development of the lesson and a closure. Tell you students what to expect from their next online lesson, which materials they would need. When students have time to prepare, they are often more invested in the discussion and willing to participate. And you will feel better about calling on them.

Make the session relevant, and make this relevance visible for the learners. It would be a good exercise to ask yourself: Is this topic meaningful for the learners? Will they find it interesting to learn more about the topic? Why should learners care about this topic? Keep these questions and the answers next to you during the session.

Check you timing! This is crucial. I find it really important that you take into consideration the amount of time you expect your learners to stay watching you, concentrated. My advice, for secondary school learners would be not more than 30 to 40 minutes. In the case of Upper Primary School learners, I believe it would be advisable between 20 to 30 minutes. In the case of lower primary and 4 and 5 year olds you can try between 10 to 20 minutes. And for the very little, 2 to 3 year olds I would say 5 minutes is a lot! But maybe as they get used and if your lessons are quite active, they may stay tuned for about 10 minutes. These time frames may look too short however, remember that online lessons go fast. The time will go much faster than you think. As you know, you will cover less teaching content than you would like, because part of the job will be done by the learner later, once the class has finished. Remember please as well to leave enough time for process and for questions.

It is important that you open the online meeting 15 minutes early to give your learners the chance to log-in before the class starts and check their video and audio equipment. Always start and stop the meeting on time.
Make sure your synchronous session offers original and novel content, insights, or tasks and avoid duplicating what is covered elsewhere in the course, e.g., readings, videos, discussion boards. This can be done later, during their offline time. On the other hand, synchronous sessions should, connect to the syllabus and expand their knowledge. These sessions should be motivating, inspiring and there should be added benefit to attending the synchronous session, such that students don’t like to miss class.

The Teaching Environment

Prepare the setting. Be careful the background you show. Too much information about your home is not necessary. Try to sit or stand with a wall behind you to prevent the appearance of any member of the family who may not be aware you are going live.
Check your outfit. You may be at home but please, stay professional. You might be wearing a plain T-shirt or dress, but keep a home outfit that shows a balance between comfort and purpose in equal parts. It may show you are at home, a bit more relaxed by still professional motivated and ready to tackle your day.

Please, check the light source comes from the front and is not from behind you. The light source should come from behind your webcam.
Sit in front of the camera and if possible raise your computer so the camera is at the level of your eyes. This will help avoiding showing too much of your chin and nostrils.

During the session

Invite learners to have their webcams on, as showing their faces, and seeing yours. creates a sense of connection and accountability that can help to overcome the disconnectedness that virtual meetings so easily engender.
Invite the learners to take turns to speak and allow them to turn on their microphones at the moment of speaking, not before. Please, make a speaking list to be sure everyone willing to participate, has his/her turn. Give learners enough time to speak and check everyone is listening. You will get experience in breaking out groups, differentiating tasks and many other strategies these online sessions allow you to do. Be enthusiastic, motivating and inviting.

I hope these guidelines help you make the most of your online teaching sessions and invite you to move on the 2020 syllabus. We might be in this social distancing mode for a while, so just in case, be prepared.

In my next post, I will be sharing my insights on the asynchronous online sessions and how to make the best of them. Please, stay at home and be safe!

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