In the days of in-person classes, teaching was more about classroom and behavioral management while making sure students were learning, right? You didn’t have to consider where you were standing, if your microphone was working, if your internet connection dropped you from the class, or if the students could see the board.
Now, all these factors and more are playing into the success of your connected classroom.
To succeed in managing a virtual classroom and providing a valuable learning experience for your students, you must ask yourself these four questions before you begin:
1. Where do I see my students?
When you were standing in front of a classroom teaching, you never had to ask yourself this. The answer was obvious. But now, you need to consider where you’re seeing your students during your lessons.
While we may not be learning face-to-face like we’re used to, this new model doesn’t negate the necessity of eye contact to create connection. The students need to feel as if you’re speaking to them, not your computer screen. That interpersonal connection is what is going to fuel educational success in this new virtually connected model.
This necessity gets even more complex when you’re teaching in a connected classroom, with students in the classroom as well as students virtually.
So, before your lesson, ask yourself, “Where am I seeing my students and where are those students at home seeing their peers?”. If possible, configure your classroom in a way that you can engage everyone, maximize critical eye contact, while still allowing all students to see the screen or laptop with content. It’s no small feat, but it can be done (hint: we cover this in our Teaching with Tech courses)!
2. Where do my students see me?
Perhaps more important to the overall virtual learning experience is where students are seeing you as the teacher. To encourage engagement from students logging in remotely, you want to ensure they can see you straight on, not just your profile. Again, eye contact is critical for engagement!
Setting up your camera in a way that students can see you, and you can speak directly to them is one major way you’re going to keep students active in a connected class.
3. Where do I hear my students?
Hearing the students participate in class is very important if you’re going to cultivate an engaging connected learning experience.
Depending on the technology you have at your disposal, there are a few different learning outcomes here:
First scenario is if you’re using a laptop speaker or external speaker. If you’re using this technology, you want to use it to create an interactive environment where students at home can speak and be heard clearly by not only you, but their peers in the classroom as well. Similarly, those students in the classroom need to be able to speak from the back of the classroom with the ability to be heard by the students at home. To put it simply, everyone needs to be able to hear each other, no matter where they are! This is the most engaging option if set up correctly.
Another scenario would be if the classroom is run concurrently in-person as well as online via the teacher as the moderator using a Bluetooth headset to interact with those students leaning virtually. If this is the case, you’ll want to be explicit with feedback from both groups of students to create an interactive environment as a moderator to share ideas between students in different places.
The last scenario is if the students logging in online are fully muted. There may not be an option for engagement via speakers, so instruct students logging in at home that they can interact by adding comments in the chat box that will be answered at a specific time during the class, so they are aware and have set expectations. You can also allow them to raise their hand and you can unmute, however, this makes being able to see the students even more critical.
Regardless of which method you have at your disposal, you will be successful if executed effectively with these tips in mind!
4. Where do my online students hear me?
This is probably the most important of all connected teaching questions. Poor sound and audio can have a very detrimental effect on virtual classrooms.
If students can’t hear the teacher or their classmates, this results in a lack of engagement, disinterest, shortened attention spans, and an overall sense of frustration because they are not getting the same experience as their peers.
While seeing students and that eye connection is key, audio is even more critical, because without sound, there is no instruction, no learning.
So how can we ensure that online students can always hear us clearly?
One solution is good tech, specifically powerful microphones used for conferences and the likes that are placed in the middle or front half of the classroom, so that the teacher and classmates can both be heard clearly. These microphones are easily up to $1,000, but the value is much higher as it facilitates an effective and engaging learning experience.
Another solution is an external webcam. Most webcams today have built-in microphones that are surprisingly powerful.
At the end of the day the best way to determine what may work best for your specific situation is testing. You never know if the webcam is going to pick up classroom chatter and take away for the lesson, or if it will pick up so little that those students at home can’t hear the teacher’s instruction.
Start with simple solutions like webcams and see how it goes. If students aren’t following, go for a more complex solution. Teaching with Tech has done extensive studies on microphones and effective technology options. What we have found is that every classroom is different and all relatively affordable microphone solutions will have some limitations, but you won’t know until you try what will work for your classroom.
The world of connected learning is constantly evolving as we learn together. Figuring out what works for your class and your students is up to you. In some ways trial and error is the only way to truly discover the solutions but Teaching with Tech is here to guide you through that process. Figuring out how your students can hear and see you, and how you and in-class peers can see and hear your at-home students is the key foundation to an engaging connected learning experience.
Let’s learn together, chat with our team about Teaching with Tech training solutions that will help you craft an engaging connected learning experience for your classroom.