TABLE OF CONTENTS
Many teachers have already used videoconferencing at home for distance communication with friends or family. But what about specially designed platforms for distance training? How different are the devices available on these platforms? But especially, how can I most profitably use this group communication medium for teaching at a distance?
- How do I prepare my first synchronous lesson?
- What are my teaching methods? How do I teach face to face?
- How will I construct a distance course that will be effective and motivating?
- Do I merely transmit content? How am I going to communicate with my students at a distance?
- How can I establish a teacher–student relationship at a distance?
Even though many of these factors will influence decisions, it has to be admitted that methods used in an in-classroom course will have to be analyzed and adapted to the distance context. You certainly do not want to pre-record lessons intended for invisible learners.
On the contrary, a lesson in synchronous mode should be flexible enough to enable a teacher to react to learners and to their difficulties and questions, etc.
In what has been referred to as “virtual classes,” the teacher is far from being a virtual entity. In synchronous mode, he is all there, “online in flesh and blood,” ready to communicate with real students who have real questions. Teacher–student interaction is thus essential in countering the effects of distance.
To make effective pedagogical choices when designing a videoconference course, it is preferable to have a good understanding of the needs of learners.
In the context of a course that is part of a sequence in which you know the required pre-requisites and the competency level of participants, you can more readily foresee the difficulties in order to develop the course sequence properly. The type of content planned and the type of competencies to be acquired will, of course, influence the approach to be taken.
- RESOURCE: BlendedLearningToolkit – This Blended Learning Toolkit is a free repository of information, tools, resources, models, examples, and research related to blended learning.
Some difficulties, whether technical or pedagogical and involving both teachers and students, will always arise in the context of a distance course.
These might be technical problems (Internet connection, configuring peripherals, etc.) or pedagogical problems (activities that are too lengthy, exercises that are too complex to be done online, etc.).
In a classroom-presented course, the experienced teacher will know how to deal with problems by making some spontaneous changes in the lesson of the day so as to be able to continue the course without too much difficulty.
Still, it might be more complicated to improvise online. It thus becomes necessary to plan for substitute activities and supplementary modes of communication in case of unexpected events.
Learners enrolled in distance courses must nevertheless expect some setbacks. These are part of the game, provided that such events do not interfere significantly with the delivery of the course.
It is thus important to maintain proper communication with each of the students throughout the course so as to ensure that difficulties related to distance do not take precedence over learning.
CHOICE OF MEDIUM
At first, it is not so simple to choose the proper medium or interaction tool for attaining each of the targeted objectives of the distance course.
For example, if an activity requires team work in a classroom situation, once it is online will it require the same kind of discussion forum or a sub-group chat room? Even if the principle of trial and error is often a good way of measuring the effectiveness of a tool, consulting colleagues who have already tested various options can be useful.
Finally, just because an online activity fails to work on the first attempt is no reason to abandon it. At times, it is but a simple matter of changing a medium, a tool, or support method.
Here are some mediums that can facilitate the transfer of an in-class activity to a distance activity:
- Synchronous: online survey, whiteboard, large group or sub-group chat rooms, webcam, sound files, video, etc.
- Asynchronous: document sharing, discussion forums, blogs, wikis, etc.
MANAGEMENT OF ACTIVITIES
While planning an online course, you can avoid a lot of difficulties with proper planning and organization. Avoid confusion by posting the schedule of online sessions far ahead of time. At the beginning of each course, specifically state your objectives and expectations as well as the kind of activities you have planned.
In order to respond to the needs of different learning styles and to maintain interest, you are wise to vary activities from one course to the next as well as within each lesson.
Given that online time passes quite quickly, a trainer has every interest in properly evaluating the time required for each part of the course and to allow time for questions, interactions—and the unexpected.
Once at distance, you soon realize that the course pace has changed. It is thus important to keep in mind the main objectives of the course. As is the case at times in intensive courses, dropping some of the less essential objectives to make room for meta-cognition and consideration of autonomy in distance learning may perhaps be more effective in the long term, this rather than trying to deliver all of the content. Yet it all depends on the kind of online course being offered. It is all about motivating learners who often are experiencing distance learning for the first time.
In the classroom, non-verbal communication is often a good indication of student understanding. In a distance situation, interaction tools such as personal options in VIA can meet this need in that it is a good indication of participation but also of proper understanding of concepts. Such verification should be done more often in distance learning in order to offset the effects of distance.
For example, by using the thumbs-up button on VIA, you can see in a second if students have understood your latest explanation. Of course, an integration activity appears to reinforce your perception, the same as in a classroom.
Interactive activities chosen should be inserted sparingly throughout the session in order maximize participation.
You must also adjust the number and length of activities so as to keep the attention of learners. With experience, the teacher will learn when to interact more closely with the group in question: content taught and the relationship between students and their level of competency.
Feel free to ask your students for their collaboration during the session by eliciting their comments and their suggestions for improving the course.
- RESOURCE : Hybrid | Blended courses : a new breed of learning? – Webinar by APOP.
- RESOURCE : Virtual classroom collaboration – Webinar by APOP.
By trial and error you are able to refine and enhance your online course. But why not seek input from students throughout the process, not just at the end of the course? Students can thus help you to improve your course, perhaps even to make some adjustments before the course ends.
For example, you can conduct surveys on activities that are most appreciated, or you can ask for their suggestions for improving the course.
Even if it makes course design more time consuming, you might find it useful to make collaborative sub-group assignments so that students create content collaboratively.
Depending on the kind of course, these assignments can even be used with the next cohort. In addition, the first student cohort might help to identify questions most often asked in the context of a distance course so as to create a FAQ page for subsequent groups.
It is crucial that students feel at ease in communicating on the platform, especially in the context of a second-language course. In the distance classroom, if they feel that at every moment they are at risk of being corrected or chastised in the presence of the group, they may no longer wish to participate.
On a videoconferencing platform like VIA, an option makes it possible to move your mouse over the answers given by students on a whiteboard in order to see the name of the author of each response. The teacher is thus free to use or not use this valuable information, depending on the context.
For example, weak or shy students who have written a good answer can see themselves being encouraged or congratulated. On the other hand, if an error occurs, it can be noted without naming the student so as to avoid making him or her feel ill at ease.
You can also encourage a specific student by switching on his or her microphone or webcam so as to intervene online before the whole group.
Generally, at least for French courses, students are not eager to speak via webcam in that the chat room and the whiteboard are much more popular for reasons of the presumed anonymity they provide but also due to the habit of the current generation to communicate by simultaneous messaging. It is thus necessary to exploit this ease of communicating by writing, an ease that is even more apparent in distance courses. It is thus necessary to avoid discouraging learners by placing too much emphasis on errors that are made.
In any case, asynchronous modes of communication such as blogs, email, or discussion forum are certainly more appropriate for evaluating acquired learning, given that these mediums promote thought, consultation of resources, and self-correction.
- RESOURCE: Moving forward with online evaluation – Webinar by APOP
A number of college teachers since the beginning of the 2000s have acquired a wealth of experience in distance teaching. Feel free to consult them when preparing your first online course. Ideally, work as a team so as to obtain support in your preparations. While doing your preps, consider registering one of your colleagues as a participant in your course so as to benefit from their feedback.
If you are using a videoconferencing platform such as VIA, contact their technical support service. They provide online technical guides that are essential resources throughout your course preparation. In addition, if you have a specific question, use their chat service. It is rapid and efficient. An online technician answers your questions in minutes. And the service is free!