Like many of my colleagues, my induction into online teaching was sudden and rather unexpected. Forced into online teaching by lockdown, I had to pick up some new skills very quickly. I was lucky to receive training from one of my employers so wasn’t completely thrown in at the deep end. Nevertheless, having to use platforms that suit my employers and my customers means that I’ve done lessons in the past six months using MS Teams, Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom. Combined with this I’ve used Google docs, Kahoot, Quizlet and a few other online apps. It’s certainly been a steep learning curve! Whilst I still prefer the social aspects of in-person teaching, I’ve come to appreciate a few of the benefits that online teaching offers.
The chat function means that I can provide feedback in an unobtrusive way. Whilst my students are speaking, I can write my feedback in the chat. This might include corrections, alternative words or expressions, further questions to think about, or praise for ideas that have been well expressed. At a suitable time in the lesson, we can discuss the feedback and it can be easily copied and saved as a Word document so that students can refer to it later.
Students using the chat
As well as providing feedback in the chat, I also encourage students to write their answers there. Chat messages on MS Teams and Skype can be edited so if a student makes a mistake I can provide feedback and ask them to edit the message. A correctly edited comment means that they have understood my feedback.
Other students in the class can also give feedback via the chat, a thumbs up 👍 to something that is correct or a confused smiley 😕 when they disagree. This can be a really effective way of discovering whether students have grasped the teaching point.
These work brilliantly on Zoom. Automatic assignment simplifies the process of setting up groups and doesn’t force the teacher to join one of the groups! Online lessons can be really intensive so having a five-minute break whilst the students discuss topics among themselves is something to be welcomed. I've just discovered today that I can 'break into' the break out rooms, so that's something to try out next week.
It's possible to set up a worksheet in Google Docs that can be shared with the class - just send the link via the chat. You can set up the document so that anyone with the link can edit it. This can be a fun way to do a quiz or practice some vocabulary.
Many of my students love the social aspect of in-person lessons. They like meeting up with the teacher and other students and value the chats before the lesson or the group trips to a café afterwards. These students will most likely return to face to face lessons as soon as it is possible.
For other students, the social side of learning might be less important or perhaps they feel they can access that social side via a computer screen. What they want, is the flexibility to have lessons that fit into their schedules. Online lessons are a great option for such people and a cost-effective solution for freelancers who don't need to hire a classroom for the lessons.
It seems clear to me that online lessons will become a permanent part of teaching. Variety is the spice of life though, so I'm looking forward to doing a combination of both in-person teaching and online lessons.
What is your experience of online teaching? Do you have any tips to share or questions to ask? If so, add them in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!