As the market for online tutoring and particularly for online English lessons continues to grow at rapid pace, it seems inevitable that eventually all teachers will be expected to be able to deliver some elements of their classes online.
This can be intimidating, especially for the less tech savvy teacher, but developing this ability isn’t so difficult and if you can overcome some of the technical obstacles there are many advantages to be able to teach online, not least the fact that, in many cases, you don’t have to leave home to do it and you can have more flexibility to fit your classes around your own schedule.
So what do you need to get started?
Firstly, you’ll need a laptop with a good quality headset and a webcam. Nowadays, the kind of headset you get with the average smartphone will usually be good enough for the job. Don’t be tempted to use the speakers built in to your laptop or desktop computer, this will cause echo for your students and won’t make you a popular teacher.
The next thing you need is a good broadband internet connection. If your home connection struggles, then there are a few things you can do to help it along. Plugging in with an ethernet cable rather than wifi can help, as can rebooting your computer before you start a class and ensuring that you don’t have other browser windows or programs open which could be sucking up your connection in the background.
Once you have the equipment side of things sorted you also need to find a suitable place to do it. This needs to be quiet, well lit and have a suitable looking background. Remember, your students are going to be able to see the room you are in, so make sure you don’t have your washing hanging up in the background. It’s also best to have a light behind your computer screen rather than behind you. This will ensure that you don’t appear as a silhouette. If you have a strong light that’s directional, try to bounce the light off of a wall and onto your face so that it lights your face without dazzling you.
When you set up your webcam try to make sure it is on eye level with your face and you look directly towards it. This will help you make eye contact with your students and also ensure that they aren’t looking up your nose or just the top of your head. Ideally they should be able to see from above your head and down to your elbows. This will give you a reasonable space to work in and help them understand some of the non verbal elements of communication.
One of the hardest challenges most teachers have when moving from the physical classroom to the online classroom, is the lack of visual space. In the classroom we have lots of space to move around play with the proximity to our students, mime, make exaggerated gestures and generally move around. In the online classroom, you are ‘trapped’ within the visual space that your webcam offers. This is limiting, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still use the space. Practice in front of the camera and see what the best distance away is to give yourself a bit more space. See how you can use hand gestures within that space. Examine the impact that moving in closer to the camera can have, or putting your hands closer to the camera. In time you can develop a whole new repertoire body language and communication gestures.
The other things you need are a platform for the delivery of you courses and some content to deliver. I have been working with the iTeach.world platform for some time and I find it has lots of great features such as document sharing, so that you and students can work on things like Google docs collaboratively, in the classroom. The ability to sync video across the class so that you can watch video from YouTube during the online classes, and it also provides an LMS with content creation tools so you can build in asynchronous elements to your courses for independent study or flipping your online classroom.
The last problem is content. You can’t simply grab a copy of your course book and scan it to use online as that would be violation of copyright, so you may find you have to create your own. I’ve done this using Genially. This is a great tool for creating all kinds of dynamic web-based content. This is an example of one of the lessons I developed using it.
Well, I hope this helps you to get started on your online teaching route and that you enjoy picking up some new skills along the way.
Nik Peachey is an award winning materials writer and course developer. He has been involved in education since 1992 and delivers conference presentations and workshops for teachers all over the world. He also co-founded PeacheyPublications Ltd where he publishes and shares a range of teacher development ebooks and digital classroom materials.