Thousands of schools across the United States continue to hold classes online as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. Virtual learning environments present a unique set of challenges for teachers who are used to running classrooms in person. Keeping the attention and focus of a classroom is difficult enough in person, and much more of a challenge through the barrier of a computer screen.
In this new context, teachers have to get used to working outside of their comfort zone and find new ways to engage their students if they want to create productive learning environments. Clarity, participation, and communication are key components of strong virtual classrooms, and teachers need to find ways to make students comfortable and eager to participate in virtual classes.
Here are seven tips for teachers leading virtual classrooms:
1. Plan lessons carefully and record lessons
Put extra effort into lesson preparations, presentations, and slideshows. Ideas and concepts don’t always translate as easily through a virtual platform as they would in person, so you will want to emphasize clarity and logical organization in your lesson plans. It may be worthwhile to record your lessons and lectures, or at least part of them, so that your students can go back to them for reference. Keep in mind that some of your students may experience technological issues, so it is important to keep a detailed record of the topics you have covered so you can provide your students with any information they may have missed.
2. Set clear expectations for the course
It is crucial that teachers set guidelines for their course at the very beginning of the year. Create a syllabus that covers the curriculum and emphasizes ground rules and your expectations from students early. Schedule lessons and due dates ahead of time so that your students are prepared for the curriculum and can plan for assignments. Create a list of learning objectives and communicate them to your students, so that your students have a clear understanding of what they should be learning.
3. Emphasize participation and ask questions
It is difficult enough to communicate with 30 students in person, and any teacher who has led a classroom on an online platform knows how hard it is to encourage student participation virtually. In order to get students involved, it is important to emphasize participation heavily in lessons and in the grading structure of the course. Ask questions regularly and find ways to integrate student participation into lesson plans. Group work and student presentations are two types of assignments that encourage communication in class and allow students to participate in lessons.
4. Put extra effort into engaging with students personally
In one way or another, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a lot of strain on all of our lives. Your students are surely no exception. Without the normal social interactions that normally come from school, many of your students may be feeling lonely or isolated. Many families are also struggling financially, so some may also be experiencing turbulent home lives.
As a result, it is more important than ever that teachers reach out to their students to make sure they are doing okay during hard times. If you notice a student struggling or missing basic assignments regularly, consider asking them how they are feeling.
5. Make yourself available to your students
Make sure your students feel comfortable reaching out to you for help outside of class hours. To the best of your ability, make yourself available after class to help students work through any topics they are struggling with. Be communicative over email, and make sure you respond promptly to messages from students. Consider making designated office hours during which students can reach you.
6. Encourage student feedback and be adaptable
The best teachers self-evaluate and change their teaching methods according to the needs of their students. The best feedback a teacher can get is from their students, but few teachers actually ask their students to evaluate their teaching. Consider taking anonymous surveys and class polls about lessons and about your own teaching. Are the lessons clear enough? Do your students feel like they are following the curriculum or do they feel confused by the material? Do they feel like the pace of the course is fast or slow? Do they feel like they are learning? These can all be worthwhile questions to ask your students. Try to understand if they are following the course material.
7. Become familiar with the technology
Technical issues can quickly derail a lesson if you don’t take precautions against them. Make sure that you are familiar with the platform and technology you are using and have researched common issues in advance, so that if and when they happen, you are fully prepared. If you are working from home, you should make sure that you have a strong internet connection.
Leading a classroom online presents unique and frequently unforeseen challenges for teachers. However, teachers can create fun and productive classroom environments by following a few general principles, avoiding technical issues to the best of their ability, and emphasizing communication, preparation, and student participation in their lessons.