This post has been updated on March 4, 2020.
Some of us can distinctly recall a charismatic, persuasive or empathetic teacher - someone who cut through our teenage turmoil and managed to teach us something. There is no doubt that teaching online requires greater attention to the tools and the data in order to find students that are struggling, and connect with them.
However the hope is that even future generations, who have been taught using a blend of face-to-face and online education, will nonetheless still recall the teachers (rather than the software) that made a difference.
Another 3 habits of effective e-teachers
There are a few habits that great online instructors (I prefer e-teachers) employ to find that tricky balance between mapping out yards of content, and adding a pace, personality and enjoyment to their subjects. Last time we explored three of them. It’s time we dive into another three:
The most successful teachers invariably have an enormous passion for their subject, and furthermore manage to imbue their lessons with the same joy. Asking teachers to capture that same enthusiasm online can be a tricky, but not impossible challenge.
When I was growing up there was a math teacher, Mr. Smith, who had a TV program every afternoon to review the grade 12 maths syllabus. His only tool was an overhead projector and a range of nature backdrops. However, I can literally still hear his impassioned voice and quirky jokes in my mind.
Mr Smith was determined to broadcast his love of Maths, and he used the tools at his disposal to magnify that passion. The point here is that digital tools from YouTube videos, PowerPoint voice overs or Podcasts can not only help the gifted teacher to reach more students, but can in fact package and encapsulate that passion.
Digital tools needn’t curb the enthusiasm of the impassioned teacher.
This is arguably even more important in the online classroom than face-to-face. E-learning can sometimes take on a free-form style, and that’s one of its advantages: students can explore as much as they want in their own time. However, a solid set of expectations at the beginning of the course and module is essential to keep all students on track.
You will have students that want to work through the checklist of expectations, and be done with it, and you will have students that are engaged and seek to immerse themselves in the subject beyond the listed requirements. It is nonetheless essential that you make clear what the assessment criteria will be, what coursework and homework is required, as well as what students can expect from you in terms of availability, support and communication.
Additionally, parents will more than likely feel unmoored by the new technologies their children are using to study, and will also want guidelines that help them to support their children on that journey. A list of expectations for parents would also be a good idea, as well as dedicated parent-teacher online channels.
Good online teachers understand that the Internet provides far more content and information than a single teacher could ever hope to create. Some pedagogues go so far as to question the entire concept of teacher-created content, with the view that with the Internet providing nearly everything, why bother creating more content, when what teachers should actually be doing is simply mapping the content that already exists. I personally feel this is not only pragmatic, but also necessary.
As curators — rather than creators — of information, teachers are able to focus their students’ attention on quality, in-depth learning content while freeing up time to engage, debate and discuss the content with students.
This habit ties in with the one above, the online world is necessarily freewheeling and vast, setting the right expectations, concrete guidelines students use to navigate the Internet, sets the tone for what will often become a vibrant, surprising and rich learning environment for both teacher and student.
The characteristics that define a great online instructor are in fact not that different from those that define great face-to-face teachers. It’s really important, I feel, that teachers not allow their natural methodologies, learned skills and abilities to be masked or muted by technology. Making a conscious decision to see technology as a lens, platform or toolkit will help translate your lessons, rather than transform them.
On the other hand, as I mentioned in our initial discussion, this is also an opportunity for teachers to refresh and re-engineer what may be weak lesson plans, that are simply relying on the teacher’s personal power of persuasion.
As always I’m keen to hear your opinions and about your experiences of moving your teaching online. Catch me in the comments.