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Shanghai skyline: Shanghai Tower
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Leader interview

Mar 11, 2022

Making the most of your online classroom

5 tips on how to make your online classes soar, not bore, as you explore the brave new world of online teaching.

Since the tumult of early 2020, online teaching has transformed from a niche classroom to a mainstream habitat for students and teachers across China and the world. While the majority of teaching jobs start offline, these days most teachers need to dabble in remote delivery of classes some of the time.

With this in mind, here are 5 tips on how to make your online classes soar, not bore, as you explore this brave new medium.

Picture: By Asim18 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

1. Be prepared

Whether you are using ZOOM, ZHUMU, Tencent, WEBEX, TEAMS or any of the other new entrants emerging on the market, you need to know your platform well. Explore the tools, such as chat boxes, whiteboards, bulletin boards for asynchronous sharing, poll functions, and breakout rooms, to identify potential benefits. Which functions do you plan on using? When, and for how long? Like any successful class, preparation is key.

Becoming fluent in the technology well in advance of class time will instill confidence in your students and their parents (who will often be peering in from off-camera). Familiarity with the resources will also stimulate your creativity, giving you the confidence to innovate and grow.

Outside the virtual space, there are more practical facets to consider. Unless you are teaching biology, it is a good idea to put your cat in another room. You will also want to set your camera so that the inside of your nostrils are not visible to your students and make sure there are no distractions lurking in your background. 

Picture: Top online course platforms in China as of 2022

2. Be patient

There are going to be tech issues. Your facial expressions and language are magnified in an online platform, so every eye-roll and sigh is going to register much more than you intended. Patience, with yourself, with your WiFi, and with the student who doesn’t know how to turn on their microphone, is vital.

Especially in the early stages of a course, take the time to teach your students how to participate effectively in your lessons. Preparing a ‘how-to guide’ as a pre-course reading is one way to achieve this, while setting up a parallel social platform, such as a WeChat group, can ensure you can coach students back to the class if they drop out unexpectedly. 

Picture: https://www.piqsels.com/en/public-domain-photo-svgoi

3. Be friendly

It’s never been more important for teachers to be a friendly presence in the classroom. Snap quarantining and extended homeschooling paired with booming internet addiction and the general malaise of the times has been a sorry weight for our students to labor beneath for a long time now. So be nice! You can make a difference larger than the content you impart.

Rapport starts with a smile and a name. Encourage all of your students to use their cameras so that they can see each other and you. Coach your students to frame themselves in a way that they can take pride in. Is their workspace efficient? Are they getting better at using tools and transitioning between functions? Improving digital literacy creates a subtext of success that your students can take confidence in, and transfer beyond the classroom.

4. Be engaging

Even in a 40-minute class, you need to keep the changes coming. Long lectures are the villain of attention spans in any medium, but online they can be a catastrophe. Diversify tasks to keep your students engaged, and they will thank you by not scrolling across to that second window you can’t see.

Assigning reading tasks prior to class can be a good way to defray the time cost during your lesson. This also enables you to leap direct into comprehension checking tasks, as well as being able to make you aware of knowledge gaps that you need to address.

A good rule of thumb is to dedicate no more than ten minutes to any activity type, be it a mini-lecture, class discussion, or pair / small group work conducted in breakout rooms. Poll functions can also serve as a valuable segue from teacher input to student output and, used effectively, can allow students to reflect upon their own ideas compared to that of their classmates.

As in any class, planning is important to ensure efficient timing of tasks. Beware the dreaded filibuster: that student who dominates the mike and takes ages to get to the point. Time moves faster online.

Picture: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1626640

5. Be fun

Think of your class as an experience, and you are the host. Think talk radio, where the audience is the show, with attendees invested in the output of their peers. Think theme music, where the song or music sample segments the moment from the rest of the day. Think in-jokes, where a community subtly galvanises around some silly thing that happened.

Think fun, and your students will follow you there.

Explore CRS has an abundance of specialist teaching positions open for an August 2022 start. Visit our job search and explore the great jobs still available. 

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