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Teaching online: options, advice and practical tips

In these unprecedented times, it’s never been more important to keep connected and to offer help and support to others. The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting every individual, family, company and industry across the world.

With businesses and schools having to temporarily close their doors, it’s the internet that has emerged as a true hero. Allowing a huge number of people to work and teach from home, and thereby rescuing people’s jobs from the threat of redundancy.

With most language lessons moving online, we want to help not only our teachers but all language teachers out there to make the most of your online lessons and to ensure that your quality of teaching doesn’t suffer. This article will give you some practical tips and advice on how to make the transition from face-to-face to online with as little disruption as possible.

First things first, what are your options?

Most teachers agree that the following are the best communication platforms for online lessons (click on the link to download each platform):

Having recently surveyed a cohort of around 100 of our teachers, we found that most people prefer Skype and Zoom, so that’s where our focus will be today.

Advantages and disadvantages

Zoom:

+ Has video, built-in chat and whiteboard features, designed for use as an online classroom

+ Lessons can be recorded for student revision and to help teachers plan consolidation/revision lessons

+ Audio can be played (click the link to find out how)

+ There is a breakout room feature so that if you’re teaching groups, they can work in pairs (click link for further info)

+ Free for one-to-one and easy to use

-  There is a fee for group lessons of over 40 minutes

Skype:

+ You’re probably already familiar with its functions

+ Free and easy to use

+ Has video, built-in chat and screen-sharing features

+ Lessons can be recorded for student revision and to help teachers plan consolidation/revision lessons

+ Free for one-to-one and group calls of up to 25 people

-  It has limited features for language lessons e.g. the lack of whiteboard. To counter this, you could sign up to Twiddla, an online whiteboard, which you can use in tandem with Skype (sadly, there is a fee).

 

Check your internet speed

Ideally, you should have high-speed broadband. If you have 4G (or 5G?), you should be able to get speeds between 10 and 20Mbps or more.

You can test your internet connection here:  www.speedtest.net/

For a reliable connection you will need a minimum of 2 Mbps download speed and 500 kbps (0.5Mbps) upload speed. (And much more if you plan to use a high- definition camera.) It may be possible to use Skype with less bandwidth, but this is not advisable for a stable connection or for long-term courses.

 

Ensure you have the equipment:

  • Camera

Without a webcam, it’s just a phone call!  Built-in cameras on laptops and PCs are usually fine these days. If you go for an external high-definition webcam it will provide a better-quality image. But be sure you have the necessary bandwidth for this as it will require approx. 2Mbps.

A handy tip is to put a sticker next to your camera to remind yourself to look at the camera. Sometimes, this makes all the difference!

  • Microphone

You are advised to invest in a USB all-in-one microphone-headset, like the ones they use in call centres, which will keep your hands free. It’s worth investing in a good-quality headset to ensure it is reliable and comfortable. However, the standard microphone on your laptop or PC will be fine in the interim.

  • Ethernet cable

Even if your Wi-Fi at home is usually reliable, it’s always advisable to have an ethernet cable at hand that you can plug in directly to your router and laptop/PC. You never know when your Wi-Fi might dip! You can buy one online here.

 

Lesson planning

As with anything in life, the more prepared you are, the less stressful your experience will be. With online teaching, the added technological complications can add to a feeling of anxiety, avoid this by planning ahead.

The main difference in the planning of a face-to-face lesson and an online lesson is material. Ahead of the lesson you need to share all the materials and worksheets that you’ll be using in your lesson with your students, as well as anything they will need for homework or self-study. Here are your options (click on the links for instructions):

  1. Share documents using Google Docs
  2. Scan documents/pages and send via email
  3. Send files via Skype
  4. Send files via Zoom

The rest is just the same as usual, create a sound and sensible lesson plan, share you objectives at the start of the lesson, keep it communicative and student-centred, use a variety of material and activity types, keep TTT to a minimum and re-visit your objectives at the end of the lesson to see what’s been covered and what hasn’t.

 

Teaching a lesson

  • Encourage your students to familiarize themselves with the platform you are using and your ways of working. Over time, they should learn to take control of the technology (e.g. the online whiteboard tools) ensuring that your lessons as student-centred as possible.

 

  • Always set learning objectives (‘by the end of the lesson you will be able to…’) with your student at the start of the lesson and review these objectives at the end of each lesson. It is even more important that you make learning goals and achievements visible and concrete with students you are teaching remotely.

 

  • Share your screen with your students – find out how here: SKype, Zoom

 

  • Playing audio may be challenging due to time-delay interference. We’d recommend handing over control of playing the audio to your student. Turn down your microphone so they do not get a back-channel of noise interference.

 

  • Try to make classes as interactive as possible, using a range of activities and tasks. It is generally better to use shorter activities in shorter bursts of time as it can more difficult to remain focused.

 

  • Stay in touch. Teaching online can be an isolating experience if you do not reach out. You are advised to tap into online teaching forums and develop your own personal learning network of others who are teaching online. Just do a search on google for ‘advice for teaching foreign languages online’ and you will find lots of useful further information.

 

Final checks

  • Carry out a connection and system test before each lesson to ensure that all audio, video and browser tools are working properly.

 

  • Set up a workspace. You should ensure you appear in front of a neutral background in a quiet and undisturbed atmosphere. Your head and shoulders should appear in the centre of the camera frame.

 

  • Make sure the lighting is good. Your students will find it distracting if they can’t see your face properly – eye contact is essential, it’s not much fun talking to a shadow!

 

And there you have it! We truly hope our tips and advice will provide some of you with a little help along the way during these troubling times. If you have any other tips you’d like to share with the language teaching community, please get in touch – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Stay safe!

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