Conducting lessons through the Internet becomes more and more popular due to constantly evolving cameras and microphones, increasing quality of the bandwidth and growing popularity of mobile devices. If you can’t catch a student on the spot or you prefer remote learning, you should remember about few things in order to avoid the following situations…
Check the devices
Each pilot looks at their control panel at first. Though languages learning isn’t as complicated as aircraft take-off, it demands respect of a similar rule: before starting the lesson, make sure that you have provided proper conditions for it. That’s the field where many teachers are making their mistakes.
Shortly after greetings make sure that both you and the teacher can hear each other well. If you use video streaming, try to wave your hand – it will show you not only if the screen is refreshing, it will be also a speed test. Quick movement, especially in the background increases the system loading in the transmission of the image. If in this situation everything works snappily, it will work as well during peaceful conversation.
In case of the sound outage (for example, when you suspect that the student has muted speakers) a simple and effective solution is to write a message on the paper and slide it in front of the camera. It works better than built-in chat, because it’s hard to miss a message on the whole screen instead of the face of the speaker.
Although you don’t have an influence on the pupil’s computer, make sure that you:
- Turn off all programs that are heavily loaded (such as file downloads)
- Turn off notifications (e.g. from Facebook) so that no sudden „ping” will distract you
- Have enough battery charge in your laptop. Many models by default aggressively cut off the power of the wireless signal on battery saving mode and sometimes even the microphone. As a rule, you are safe when the laptop is connected to the plug.
Always have with you a headset with a microphone, even the simplest one. The one built in your laptop will capture the sound of computer speakers, effectively doubling the noise and distortion. The microphone can’t be located next to anything generating noise, for example on a rustling shirt. The best way is to mount it rigidly outside the body.
Many teachers choose to buy these designed for beginning artists – Chinese studio microphones, such as the BM-500: they offer excellent sound quality and convenience for a small amount of money.
Conducting the classes
If you send any materials to the student, make sure that they received and opened them. You also need to keep in mind that the human eye sees and reads text on paper and on the screen differently – small fonts are better interpreted in printed form, so if the scans or images you use contain small elements, the student needs a little more time for interpretation. It’s a good idea to help the student, saying how they can zoom in the screen slightly (usually Ctrl and mouse roll).
A common alternative is sharing the screen. You always have to keep in mind that the other person sees the screen changes and the cursor movement with a slight delay. Do everything 20-30% slower than usual, because although it seems unnatural for us, the student will see the screen in a more convenient way.
A big problem with an online learning is making notes. Mostly the student or even the teacher feels stupid, suddenly hanging his head down and tapping on the keyboard. Needlessly – although it looks weird on the camera, it really doesn’t bother anyone, and notes are often priceless.
The Internet is specific in that it can sometimes slow down or the connection can break. Therefore, in the remote learning scenario, lessons in which just the teacher speaks and the learner only listens doesn’t work out. You can find yourself in a situation where there has been, for example, no sound for the last 10 minutes and the teacher has to remind himself what he was saying and then repeat it. We recommend engaging the student at regular intervals for both methodical and technical reasons.
The more users you connect with, the more potential problems arise. In classes with whole groups (where a group is understood as more than 2 students), we encourage using tools that allow adjusting the students’ volume, including the ability to mute them temporarily. Even better if this can be done not just by the students, but also by the teacher.
There’s nothing worse than a single student with an oversensitive microphone, broadcasting the noise from a street junction way outside his or her window at full volume. As soon as a police car or ambulance goes by, everyone’s deafened and unable to continue the lesson. A good practice is to make students mute themselves automatically, unmuting as soon as they want to say something. This grants them more privacy and control, while vastly improving everyone else’s sound quality. If you’re interested in this, the military and police in particular have a well-documented radio frequency hygiene, as they can’t talk over each other while being effective.
If a single student’s connection blocks the whole lesson (for instance, the student is constantly kicked out and re-joins, essentially not being able to participate), a trusted last ditch solution is to clearly communicate to the student that we will do the lesson without him or her, and that the student will catch up with you on a given date. This can be done *only* if there is no other way around the problem and you have exhausted all troubleshooting mentioned above. If proceeding, make absolutely sure the student somehow acknowledges and confirms such an arrangement (for instance, via phone).
Teaching online requires minor technical preparations and an ability to quickly analyse and troubleshoot a set of common students’ issues. If that’s covered, one also needs to take into account the specifics of an online medium and incorporate it into materials and lesson plans. The student must be regularly engaged, discussion should be moderated (at least in regards to the technical layer), and the fear of taking notes on camera should be addressed. With all of these, you will easily avoid 99% of the most common online teaching problems. Good luck!
About the author
| Mateusz Jagiełło
Marketing Manager at Tutlo, a platform to online English learning with the native speakers on demand.
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