Feb 08, 2021

How to Master Online Teaching Before the Real Teaching Begins 

How to Become the Best Online Teacher Before Starting Your Classes  2020 has disrupted the ways in which we live, work, and study. Classrooms have been emptied by the pandemic and students. From grade school to university level, students have pivoted to online and distance learning. This sudden shift to online education presents teachers, as well as newcomers to the teaching profession, with both an opportunity and a challenge. Many teachers may have never done online tutoring and some private tutors may not have the means to successfully teach students in virtual settings.

How to Become the Best Online Teacher Before Starting Your Classes 

There are many ways that online teaching differs from in-person instruction. Private tutors should become familiar with these differences, as well as the right teaching techniques to successfully engage their students online. They can then make themselves more marketable and increase the number of students wanting to work with them. 

Why Teach Online? 

Whether you are an experienced, in-person teacher who must now pivot to an online setting, or are interested in being a private tutor to make extra money, online teaching is an excellent way to meet the needs of motivated students as well as earn more income. 

Other reasons people want to teach online include: 

  • Expanding your skills across a wide variety of topics and disciplines 
  • Making use of previously untapped online and digital resources 
  • Engaging new students who are eager to learn and may not actively participate in regular classroom settings 
  • Removing the stresses of daily, time-consuming commutes and having the flexibility to set your own hours 

While the advantages of being an online tutor are many, the practice is not as simple as it looks. Even experienced, in-classroom teachers might need a refresher regarding what goes into transitioning to a virtual classroom or working as an individual online tutor. 

Before Getting Started 

Four things that all online teachers need to operate successfully include: 

  • A reliable, up-to-date PC or laptop 
  • A high-speed, broadband Internet connection 
  • A dedicated, distraction-free workspace 
  • A solid pair of headphones/mic to ensure clear conversations 

Apart from the technical requirements of online tutoring, prospective tutors must also learn and retain a variety of teaching methods to ensure not only their success but that of their students. There are also non-teaching-related elements that are key to becoming an effective online tutor, which will be discussed further in the article. 

You should, for example, familiarize yourself with different payment methods, as well as how to best use the various online platforms and applications to ensure your online teaching career flourishes. 

Make Sure You Have What It Takes 

Being an online tutor is not for everyone. Becoming a tutor in any subject requires a person to have the requisite training or education in that field. Many tutoring agencies will test and perform background checks on anyone who applies to be a tutor with them.

A private student’s parents or guardians will always ask a prospective tutor about their educational background, specializations, and degrees obtained before agreeing to hire a tutor. Before you apply to any tutoring agency or make a posting for freelance online tutoring services, be confident in your experience, and have the documentation to back it up. 

Building Courses 

One word to remember at all times in online teaching is “build”. Whether you have the support of a public/private institution or are striking out on your own, the onus falls on you to build your courses from the ground-up. 

An institution may provide you with material support, but in the realm of online teaching, the responsibility of whether students feel engaged, listened to, and supported is yours and yours alone. This means conceptualizing your course by asking and answering questions like:

  • What is the ultimate objective of the course? 
  • How will students interact with you, with the material, with each other (if teaching a group)? 
  • What path are students expected to follow in terms of learned concepts and achievements? 
  • How do you assess their progress?

Laying down these foundational stepping stones can provide clarity throughout the course. They can also act as a point of reference in case you run into trouble during the term. When these objectives are set firmly in place, you can then start laying down the specifics of your course design, which we’ll look at further in the following sections. 

Online Teaching Techniques to Master

When you have a clear objective in sight for your online courses, you can begin to familiarize yourself with the following online teaching methods to build an effective online course for your student(s). Online teachers can use the following best practices as is, or adapt them to their specific circumstances. 

#1 - Choosing The Right Tools 

While online teaching is nothing new, it has grown, thanks mostly to technological advances, to become more than just glorified correspondence courses. Unlike correspondence courses of the past, video-communication platforms (Skype), online messaging apps (Slack), digital documentation software, and services (Google Docs, Lumin PDF) have all made online learning much more interactive. 

These digital tools make it easier for online teachers to be just as present (or even more so) than if they were in the classroom. These and other tools are indispensable to an online teacher. Their use and mastery are key components of a successful online learning course. The most popular tool for online teaching is Skype, at least for one-on-one interactions with individual students. 

Google Hangouts is another online conferencing tool that can support a group discussion or lesson. Online teachers should also take advantage of mediums like PowerPoint, as well as video lectures to stimulate online learning. However, teachers should not solely rely on technology to do the teaching, which leads us to the next point. 

#2 - Be The Guide Your Students Need You To Be 

No self-respecting teacher would create a lesson, show up in class, and leave the lesson materials there for the students to make sense of on their own. As in the world of in-class teaching, online tutoring requires the ever-present hand of the teacher to guide students through the prepared lesson. 

While there is nothing wrong with utilizing digital handouts, PowerPoint presentations, and video lectures, make sure not to leave your students on their own to interact with these materials. As a teacher, your presence means you can interact in real-time with students, answer questions or clarify any points that need further explanation. 

You can stop on a particular slide or time point in a video to expand on the presented concept as well. If you simply upload a video lecture (not of you), students will feel like you are not putting in the effort and will most likely disengage. Being present when using interactive tools enhances their efficacy and elevates student engagement. 

#3 - Encourage Communication 

Having a free-flow of ideas, questions, concerns, feedback and casual conversations between you and your students is essential during an online course. In a normal classroom setting, teachers are always available to talk and listen to their students. There is no reason why that interaction should not continue in a virtual setting. 

Teachers can foster communication over several routes — teacher-student, student-student, student-material and more. They can create an online forum for students to speak to each other for help on difficult subjects as well as to provide support in all matters. Teachers can also set aside certain hours during the week, much like a university professor would, to meet with students individually, at designated times. 

When it comes to expanding on assigned learning resources, teachers can attach links to online resources (news stories, social media posts, viral videos) related to the material. This linking can enliven the assigned material and make it more interesting for students who normally rely on online sources to stay informed on certain topics. 

#4 - Ask For and Act-On Feedback 

Student reviews of teachers are common. While in-classroom reviews are often done anonymously, online teaching lets teachers ask students directly, and without judgment, for feedback on how they feel the course is going. The feedback does not have to be about the instructor personally, it can be geared more toward the content, dissemination, and difficulty of the course. 

Feedback not only lets you adjust your course based on students’ assessments, but it also allows students to feel they are integral to the course design, which gives them a sense of empowerment and agency over their education. This is also unique to online teaching, as such opportunities are not as prevalent in a classroom setting, where the structure is more rigid and defined. 

#5 - Make Yourself Available 

Students can feel lost in the crowd in a classroom setting. This isolation can occur more often, and more easily, in a virtual setting where they are physically isolated. A teacher attuned to the needs of their students will counter these feelings by making themselves open and available to talk about educational or personal matters. 

Not only can an online teacher be a sounding board for student’s academic problems, but they can also provide students with an outlet for their other issues, especially during a time as difficult as this one. Teachers can start the course in a personal way. They can record a fun, introductory video where they tell students about themselves, as well as relay some of the goals for the upcoming course. 

Teachers can also help alleviate feelings of isolation by setting up a discussion board and responding to questions in a timely fashion. While you don’t have to answer or comment on every post, try to summarize a response so that students see you are looking over all their comments and addressing them. 

#6 - Personalize Lessons In Advance 

Whether you are teaching to individual, medium or large sized groups, make sure to connect the subject matter to your students' interests and disciplines. Class material or assignments that students can link to their own experiences and interests can heighten their commitment to the course. 

This kind of personalized learning requires research to find out what interests students have beyond the virtual classroom. Creating a small questionnaire or asking students directly about their extra-curricular activities can shed light on their life outside of the class. That kind of interaction can also give you insight into what elements to include when you are designing your classes or assignments. 

Many of these personalized classes will have to be prepared in advance, as with all of your lessons. Make sure that there is an obvious connection to the overall objectives of your course, the student’s interests, and the assignment. Springing surprises on your students is never a good idea - especially in online teaching - as they can become confused or frustrated that they have spent time studying one thing only to have the course suddenly change direction. 

#7 - Learn the Tools of the Trade 

If you are teaching as a private tutor, there are many online teaching platforms that can help you design and present your classes, as well as find new clients. Sites like Tutor.com and Tutorme.com can offer you a way to connect with students online and in your particular field. 

But there are several more that are specific to different subjects like maths and sciences or language teaching. It is also important to know which tools or software can best help you and your students interact. Google Docs, Hangouts, and PowerPoint were all mentioned, but a service like Lumin PDF is also useful when working with PDF files. 

With Lumin you and your students can access PDF files remotely, without using Adobe. Lumin also allows users to mark, comment, and highlight text, which can be handy when giving back assignments to students. Lumin PDF integrates easily with Gmail and Google Docs, which gives you and your students even easier access to important PDF files. 

Closing Thoughts 

If you are a teacher with years of experience or someone who has a lot of knowledge to share, online teaching can offer you a way to apply your skills, as well as the opportunity to learn new ones. Setting up a virtual classroom and planning an online course does not differ that much from doing one in-person. There are only slight modifications that come from using different resources, new communication methods, and varied tools to establish rapport remotely. 

Online teaching is by no means easier than in-person instruction. Online teachers must put even more effort into the design of the courses so that students remain engaged and interested. Relying solely on the technological aspect of online tutoring is not recommended as teachers must be present to instruct their students and guide their learning, just as they would in a regular classroom. 

The teaching methods outlined here can help you prepare an online course that resonates with your student or students. They follow basic tenets of teaching like engaging with students, keeping them interested, and effective communication, but during this time of lockdowns and remote learning, they have been slightly altered so online teaching does not become repetitive or boring. 

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