Easy Technical Teaching Tips For Excellent Results

Posted On Jun 26, 2021 |

Easy tips to implement when teaching online and working from home

I have always loved technology. That 'Lego crazy' tomboy was me, and I loved knowing how things fitted together to make something to be proud of.

Teach online
Teach online

It’s a blessing to be born in an era where we have the options of online teaching, with outstanding technology. For many of us; it has now become a norm since COVID-19 lockdown.

Online teaching is here to stay and although I don't profess to be the ultimate expert - I have a lot of experience of it.

My lockdown experience has been a few years longer than many of my colleagues because of retiring from international travel. I have loved teaching, training, combining working with technology, video, audio and public presentation professionally since 1985.

Whilst working at an international college and other venues, my colleagues often called on me to set up the technical aspects of their lectures and services and more recently, asked for my help with the technical aspect of teaching online.

However, I have learned by trial, error and seeking a lot of help.

It's good to share the things that have worked out well. I'm listing a few tips for those recently teaching online and those thinking about it.

Getting it right from the start can help a great deal. Your online teaching should be able to reflect the quality of your teaching standards and with a few tweaks you can save yourself a great deal of despair.

Let's jump right into it:

1. Video: - You don't need to have the best video camera, phone, tablet or webcam - good lighting is the biggest factor in producing a good quality image. However, always go for the best quality you can if your budget allows and remember ease of use. The current range of smartphones is excellent and the battle for the best video camera drives the competition.

2. Add light if required: the effect of poor lighting is grainy video image quality. Use lights facing you to add more, but avoid ring lights if possible as they reflect visible white circles into your eyes.

Soft diffuse light works best. Use daylight wisely, if video teaching during the day. Filming with a window behind you turns you into a silhouette. You become a faceless figure with a painful glare of light behind you. Let natural light enter by facing you for best effect. If you need to add lights, ensure the light falls evenly on both sides of your face, to prevent shadows.

If you wear glasses like me - you can invest in antiglare lens coatings which will help reduce distracting reflections.

Reflection In glasses
Anti reflective coating help

3. Good audio is key. If the sound is poor - no matter how engaging you are, or how many brilliant images and slides you show, everyone just focusses on the fact that the sound is poor. It's irritating and ignores your valuable content. If your microphone is inbuilt with your camera, phone or tablet - it might be superb and then no need to add anything extra. Check it out with a friend online. The latest in onboard microphones has improved.

Lavalier mics (lapel) and desktops mics are also worth considering if the built-in mic is poor, but your room is key to good sound production. A room with plenty of soft furnishings and without machines running in the background will dampen any hollow sounding effects. Add some cushions around you and in front of you (out of camera sight) to help if the room is bare. Professional studios are awash with sound dampening panels and flooring - but you can do a decent job with a few home furnishings, to capture the warmth in your voice.

4. Internet speed makes a wealth of difference. Most important is the upload speed. Anything less than 5Mbps upload will often result in the 'spinny buffering wheel of doom' stuttering speech and blurry images. You can test your internet speed. Just google 'test my internet speed' for options.

5. Turn off any computer or phone notifications. There's nothing worse than hearing that familiar 'bing' and all your students checking if it's them - and from the get-go tell them to turn theirs off too while you are at it.

6. Your background shouldn't be distracting. A natural background is great. I'm sure your room is great too. However, if you are in the bedroom, home office or kitchen, hide the dirty pots, laundry, bins, paper collection and unmade bed. A screen, a fake background or changing your position to having a wall behind you are great backing options.

Talking of fake backgrounds - many use them on zoom and other online platforms and some look great - until the person moves and leaves a distracting pixel trail around them. If you use them, a plain well - lit background behind you, before selecting the fake one, prevents the distraction of your students all thinking "hey that's a fake background."

You can use a green screen if you wish but the screen needs to be excellent quality, it must be extremely evenly lit, or else it is just as unforgiving as the 'pixel creep' in a fake zoom background. Just don't wear green clothes if you do, or you will look as if you are wearing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak!

7. Body positioning can make or break how professional your online class appears. Ideally you want to be central like a newsreader. Although slightly off centre is more interesting and allows for a picture, plant or logo to be added. Sitting upright is important. If you slump back - your body looks huge, your head looks tiny and frankly, you look unmotivated. Sitting upright and slightly forward is ideal. Some experts suggest an angle of 15 degrees forward is best. Trial and error are great friends to prepare with prior to teaching.

8. Camera positioning is vital and is good at approximately 2 inches above your eye-line. There may be times when showing something, you need to be to the side of the screen or there are two of you presenting to the same camera. This is where a practice run of your class will help you find the most effective position for teaching and, of course, you may need to move around as well. Record and practice your sessions and watch them back as an observer - better still - find a friend who can give you brutally honest feedback.

You might also find it difficult if using a laptop, to find the right height - but a pile of books underneath is excellent as a prop, if you don't have an adjustable stand and nobody can see them.

Look at the camera and not the computer screen. It's hard, I know, but will make such a difference and actually your students will feel you are talking directly to them. Which you are, but at least it will look as if you are too.

9. Your voice is your asset. Use it with varying emphasis, pitch, tone and pace. Remember the teacher who you never forgot for their wise advice? - that advice was most likely said slowly, calmly and with intent for impact.

Volume for your delivery should be normal and there is no need to project your voice online. It will only create a strain on your students ears, kills your microphone, distorts your voice and is unnatural. With good eye contact and a normal volume, your students will feel much more compelled to learn with you.

10. Really know your subject. You just might have an expert student in the room who knows far more than you and in one reasonable Q&A, will bring your class crashing to an embarrassing halt, with your credibility in tatters. Your students deserve to be taught by an expert and not someone with a smidgen of knowledge, attempting to copy a workshop they went to as a student. Be original - because that's the real you and your students are investing in their training because of your original experiences and extensive knowledge on the subject they wish to learn.

11. Confidentiality is paramount. Ensure you and your students know it is unacceptable that nonparticipants in the household could see or hear the class. It breaches the trust of the students who can't see them and may wish to share something personal with the group.

12. Know the class platform inside out. Zoom, Skype and even live feed classes, all have a zillion 'how to' training videos online and on YouTube and are an accessible investment to the smooth running of your class.

You can set up the best video and audio features in advance, set the rules for the class, vary the teaching aids such as whiteboards, slides, images and music. If you aren't able to do the technical side of things yourself, consider asking someone to be your technical virtual assistant. A panicking teacher, who can't understand the technology, won't teach at their finest potential and the students will sense that.

13. It's stating the obvious - but if you have no teacher training - do it before launching a class and calling yourself a teacher. There are plenty of online training courses. Understanding different learning styles, group dynamics and learning objectives is key. Just because someone has been doing something for a long time, doesn't mean they have been doing it well. Not every expert can inspire through teaching.

14. Have a 'Plan B' in case you get a power cut or technology failure and let your students know what Plan B is before the class.

15. Be user friendly if you record the session for student download - add subtitles. There are several free and paid options for creating subtitles to your videos, worth searching online for.

16. Last, as that's enough for now, look the part and look like a teacher. It's ok that nobody can see your slippers or odd coloured socks - but ensure that what they see is someone who has taken some care before showing up to teach them. It doesn't have to be formal attire - just appropriate and nothing distracting. Psychologically it shows you care, respect and value the students and the subject.

There is so much to teaching and teaching online is here to stay now. If you are thinking about it, these tips may help save you time and ensure your professionalism remains intact.

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Categories: Teaching