How to ensure a successful move to online Learning

Many live online lessons fail, not because the teacher was unprepared or because the technology was inadequate, but they fail because the students were unprepared for the experience of studying in a live online classroom.

Many teachers like to think of their younger students as ‘Digital Natives’ and assume that they are confidently able to navigate the digital world with whatever apps or digital tools they encounter.

girl on phone

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that many younger students are very confident with the kinds of networking tools that they use day-to-day to navigate their virtual social lives through their phone, they may even have used Skype, Facebook or FaceTime for one-to-one calls on their phone, but when faced with an online virtual classroom on a  computer screen they are no more able to instantly navigate and understand what to do than anyone else. However, this is what is often expected of them when they experience their first live online lesson.

Especially in group classes, the result is often chaos, with a lot of people saying ‘Can you hear me?’ and a teacher that’s frantically trying to deal with tech support problems whilst getting their class started. The impression makes for both students and teachers is often that online classes are either ineffective, unprofessional or just a waste of time. So, if you really want to do live online learning with your students and make it successful it’s important that you get your ‘on-boarding’ and learner training right before students even log into their first lesson.

Here are some tips that may help get your students learning online

Preparing for the class

  • Make sure students know that they should wear headphones rather than using speakers. The speakers can cause echo and feedback for everyone else in the session, so getting this right will ensure that everyone who attends the lesson has a better experience. You might also think about telling students that anyone not wearing headphones will be shut out of the class as this will be in the interests of the rest of the students. Also, make sure that students have checked their headphones before starting the sessions and that they are properly connected. A good virtual classroom will do this every time the students access it.
  • Also ask students to access the lesson on a laptop or desktop computer. Remind them this is a formal lesson, not just a chat and that they will be expected to take notes and access other materials. At worst a tablet will be okay but advise against using phones to have their lesson. The size of the screen will make it difficult for them to participate effectively and it won’t be very comfortable for them, especially if they have to hold it in their hand for the whole lesson.
  • Set up a demo room or a trial class for new students that they can enter before the lesson. They use this to experience the interface and get used to using it and finding their way around. You could also set them some basic tasks to do in the demo room that help them get used to interacting with the interface. They should at least know how to mute and turn on their audio, adjust the sound balance, turn on and off the video and also use the chat function.
  • Online classes can be connectivity greedy, especially group classes. These classes involve data streams from each of the participant’s computers, so if students don’t have a good connection they aren’t going to have a great experience and it’s likely that they will cause lag (a short delay between the person speaking and being heard) which can make interaction and turn-taking very difficult for everyone. Tell students that they should try to have their computer close to the wifi router, or even connect by cable if possible. They will also have a better experience if there aren’t other people using their internet connection during their lesson.

Where to study

  • Many younger students are used to interacting with people on their phone whenever and where ever they happen to be at the time. This doesn’t make for a good learning experience. Make sure that students understand they need a quiet and private space for their lesson and that any background noise will be not only distracting for them but for everyone on the call. If they are going to be using video for the class it would also help them to have good lighting so that they can be seen properly too.
  • Remind students that working at a desk will be more comfortable for them and as with a normal class they are likely to need to take notes so having a notepad or exercise book at hand and space to write in it will also be helpful.

When to study

  • Punctuality may be a problem in physical classes but can be much more so in an online class. Having to give late students technical support while other students are all listening and waiting can waste a lot of time and be very distracting and tiresome for the other students, so stress to students that they need to get into the classroom on time.
  • Some platforms allow you to lock the classroom and stop late students from entering so it might be worth considering this.
  • Many platforms also enable automatic notifications that are sent to students by text or email to inform them of upcoming classes, so using a proper platform with a learning management system can be a real advantage for this.

Learner training

The most economical way to prepare students for learning online is to provide a range of learner training materials.

  • Short video clips can be really useful for introducing them to various aspects of the user-interface.
  • Try to make these as short and to the point as possible and walk them through the basics of what to click and where to find things.
  • Let the visuals do the work and keep the talk down to the minimum.
  • Don’t have too many of these, but cover the minimum basics to get them up and running.
  • The longer the videos are the less likely the students are to watch and retain information from them some keep them short.
  • Having written guides and instructions can be useful, but again make them as visual as possible and minimise the amount of text you use. The more you write, the less likely students are to read it all.
  • Add lots of screenshots that show what to do.
  • Infographics can be a nice memorable way to deliver training on some basic things and again try to keep the amount of text to the minimum and make them visible. Here’s a nice example one of how to look good on a webcam: https://lemonly.com/work/how-not-to-look-ugly-on-a-webcam-tips-infographic

Tools

Here are some tools that can help you make your onboarding materials.

Creating infographics
Both of these companies have free and premium accounts available. I mainly use Genially and it’s great for adding interactivity and animation to infographics.

Creating video tutorials
All of these video screen capture tools have free versions.

If you want something more professional that allows you to edit and add logos and animation then I would recommend:

Creating screenshots
These are both free screen capture tool that I have used a lot. Mainly now I use Skitch for the Mac.

Creating an online school
If you want to create a great online school with multiple teachers and a great virtual classroom, then I recommend iTeachWorld. It has everything you need to get your online school up and running fast and to take payments online.

The 4 Ps of delivering a webinar presentation

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With much of learning and teacher development moving online, webinars are becoming a welcome alternative to the costs and risks of travelling to conferences. Delivering an online presentation though can be a very different skill from presenting at a conference with a physical audience present. Here are a few tips and suggestions that I’ve gathered over the last 10+ years of delivering online training.

1. Place

  • The Room – Think about where you are going to deliver your session. You need a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted and where there won’t be background noise that will distract your listeners or make you more difficult to hear. Never try to give a presentation in a busy noisy office. It can be torture for the listener. 
  • The Background – You need to make sure you have a suitable background that looks professional. A plain light background is best, so that you stand out and there are no distractions in the background. Make sure that you aren’t wearing the same colour as your background. You don’t want to appear as a floating head on the screen.
  • The Light – Make sure the light is good and that you can be seen clearly. Light from behind you will make you appear like a silhouette. If possible have a light behind your computer screen, but not directly on your face. If you can deflect it off a wall to one side it will soften the light and reduce the contrast. Putting some aluminium foil on the wall to one side and deflecting the light from that can work well.
  • The Comupter – If you are doing a joint presentation be sure to use separate computers and be in separate rooms so that you don’t pick up noise from each other. Never try to share the same computer and webcam with someone else. This comes over as very confusing and unprofessional to anyone viewing.

2. Platform

  • The Software – Think about which platform you are using to deliver the presentation. Different video conferencing and webinar platforms will have different features, strengths and weaknesses.
  • The Settings – Be sure to practice with the platform, explore all the various settings and find out what they do and if possible practise with a real person at the other end and get some feedback from them. You need to feel that you are confident and in control of the platform and that you can cope if anything goes wrong. 
  • The Presentation Slides – Make sure your presentation can be uploaded in a format that the platform uses and that the uploading process doesn’t alter the look and design of your slides, especially if you are using any kind of animations or transitions with your slides.

3. Preparation

woman in video conference
  • The Sound – Think about what you need to prepare before the session. If there is any audio interaction between you and your audience make sure that both you and they are using a headset. This will reduce echo, feedback and other types of sound interference.
  • The Microphone – Use a microphone that is attached to your headset rather than one that’s built into the laptop. This will help reduce noise from the computer and keep the level of your voice constant when you move your head.
  • The WebCam – Position your laptop so that the webcam is level with the level of your eyes, this will give your viewer a stronger impression of making eye contact during the presentation. Putting the laptop on a slope or riser so that the screen is pushed back will help with this. If the level of the webcam is too low the shape of your head and body will be distorted by the lens and the audience may have to look up your nose.
  • The Space – Practice moving back from your computer webcam. Most people sit far too close and lean into the screen. To the audience this makes you look like a giant head. Moving further back from the screen will make more of your body viewable to the audience and so will enable you to use body language and hand gestures more effectively to communicate. I recommend using a standup desk for doing presentations as this enables you to move around a little more and helps you get a bit more distance from the computer.
  • The Links – Make sure you know what tools there are that you can use during your presentation and how they work for both you and the user at the other end. Have any polls prepared and any links to websites or videos prepared in a separate document so that you can copy-paste them into the chat box when you are ready to use them.
  • The Water – Have some water in a glass at the ready and some lozenges as your voice may dry up. If you do need to drink, mute the microphone and pause the camera while you do it so that people don’t have to watch and listen.

4. Presentation

woman
  • Eye Contact – Think about how you will deliver your presentation. When giving your presentation try to look at and talk to the webcam rather than the screen. This will give the audience a stronger sense of making eye contact. If you are staring at the screen, and particularly if you are reading from notes on a desk, it will seem like you are avoiding eye contact and either lack confidence or are dishonest.
  • Voice – The way you use your voice when giving a virtual conference is very different from presenting in a conference hall or meeting room. You don’t need to project, you can use your voice in a more intimate way. You need to think more about using expression rather than being heard clearly, so try to speak more naturally. To your audience sitting alone at home this is a one-to-one experience so try to think about delivering to a person rather than a conference hall. 
  • Notes – Reading notes or from a script can make you sound very monotone, so try to remember what you need to say or if you must read, use a cue-prompter and make sure it is at the level of your webcam so you still make eye contact through the camera.
  • Silence & Engagement – One of the strangest things about delivering an online webinar to a large group of people is that apart from your own voice and webcam, you hear and see nothing. This silence and lack of response can be quite unnerving, especially if you are used to seeing your audience and getting visual feedback on how engaged they are. The ‘chat’ function can really help with this. Plan a question you can ask every few minutes and get the audience to respond by typing into the chatbox This will help to make your talk more engaging for your audience and help you get a greater sense that people are there and listening. It’s also good to start by asking a few questions too, so you can find out a bit about your audience in advance.
  • Background Chat – The chat function can be problematic though. You may find there is a constant stream of chat while you are delivering your presentation. This may include questions, requests for technical support, comments on what you are saying, or even messages from people in the audience trying to promote themselves or what they do. It can be very easy to get distracted by this constant stream of ’noise’ so either ignore it or close the chat box until you are ready to use it.
  • Slide Lag – If you are going to screen-share your presentation be aware that there may be lag between you changing slides and the slides appearing on the screen of your audience, so allow a few seconds between slides and check with the audience that they are seeing the correct slide. You can ask them what the title of the slide is.
  • Links & Resources – If you are using videos or referring to websites during your presentation it may be better to share a link to the site or video through the chat window so that your audience can open the link on their own computer. If you do this, give them a task to do and ask them to feedback on the task through chat when they have finished. This will make your session more active and engaging for your audience and will take some pressure off you and give you some breathing space. By getting the audience to feedback through chat, you’ll know when they have completed the task, but do also set them a time limit and stick to it so that you know when to move on with your presentation.
  • Sharing the Presentation – Have a link prepared to an online copy of your presentation that you can share with your audience when you have finished. Someone will certainly ask for it.