While your students and their families adjust to the new normal of functioning from home, you can make a huge difference by offering your programs online. Despite the potentially steep learning curve in adjusting to a remote environment, your students will be grateful for the opportunity to continue their learning as well as interact with you and other students. In grappling with physical isolation from friends, educators and caregivers, being able to engage digitally will help restore some sense of connected and bonding for your community.
Even though it may seem daunting at first, you and your students would easily adapt to the virtual exchange and might actually start looking forward to it. Having helped several program providers like you in navigating this transition to virtual engagement, our team has put together this guide book with tips, tricks and tools to help you get started in no time.
The rules that help an online session function well are pretty much the same as those that keep everyone aligned in a physical classroom.
Schedule: Set a definite date, time and duration for your online session(s) and communicate those clearly to your community.
Regularity: In your communication make it clear, if the session will occur once or if they are recurring sessions which will take place on the same day and time each week.
Videoconferencing Tools: Pick a video conferencing tool that works best for your community, schedule a virtual meeting and share that meeting url with your students well in advance. This will give them time to get set up, familiarize themselves with the videoconferencing tool and reach out to you in case they need further assistance before the session.
Punctuality: Much like an in person class, it is important that everyone shows up on time for an online session. Open your online meeting 10 mins before session start time and encourage your students to join the session a few minutes earlier too. Begin and end the session promptly as scheduled to be respectful of everyone’s time.
Preparedness: Share resources such as reading materials, worksheets, training videos etc. prior to your online session so that your students may come prepared to participate fully. Also, let them know that they would need a well lit, quite room to be able to meaningfully engage with others in the online session.
Respect: Most video conferencing tools have features that allow participants to raise their hand or post questions on chat without interrupting the instructor or other participants. Initially, it might take a little bit of getting used to, but most participants adapt to these nuances of digital interactions pretty quickly.
Zoom: One of the most popular video conferencing services, Zoom’s free Basic account can be used to run audio and video sessions for up to 100 participants. Features like screen share, manage participants, chat and record sessions make it a breeze to learn and use. There’s a 40 min time limit for meetings of 3 or more participants in Basic accounts. Paid plans lift the time limit on group meetings as well as increase the total number of participants allowed. If you’re a K-12 school affected by the novel Corona virus, COVID-19, you can apply to Zoom to temporarily lift the 40 min limit on your free account.
Skype: Skype offers free video meetings with up to 50 people with no sign ups or downloads. It has file-sharing capabilities, allows for calls to be recorded and supports captions and subtitles for accessibility. Its background blur feature subtly blurs out background to keep everyone focused on the speaker, eliminating visual distractions during your video conference.
GoToMeeting: Expect high quality audio and video conferencing services including all standard features for up to 150 participants even with their basic payment tier. One of the features that sets GoToMeeting apart is its mobile friendliness - you can set up and start a conference from your smartphone, very useful if the instructor needs to conduct sessions on the go. There are also settings to maximise call and image quality, as well as one-tap invites to join meetings as well as chats. GoToMeeting does not have any free tiers, though it offers a 14 day free trial.
As important as it is to run an productive online session, it is equally important to keep your class participants informed on how they can reinforce their learning until the next session. A message with a quick recap of the session along with a reminder for the next session is an effective way of helping your community stay engaged. BestClass Messages helps you communicate effectively with your community while doing all the heavy lifting for you
Another powerful way of strengthening your participants’ sense of involvement is to share relevant resources that they can check out in their own time. Depending on the nature of your programs, these could include practice worksheets, training videos, additional reading materials or even feedback forms. BestClass Resources helps you upload and share resources with your community and keep track of whether your students actually utilize what you share.
Finally, arrange a mock virtual session with a friend to test drive your equipment and do a practice run. Before your actual session, take a deep breath - your vibes will reach your students across cyberspace too. If you’re relaxed and comfortable in front of your screen, your students will experience a supportive environment as well!