Tips for Better Online Teaching

Tips for Better Online Teaching

classroom of the future

As I write this, colleges in Taiwan are switching to online learning for the first time since the pandemic started. This is because, for most of the past year, Taiwan was able to contain the pandemic at the border. This past week, however, marks the first time ever that there has been sustained local transmission and it is currently unclear whether or not the government can get things back under control.

I actually started teaching online for the first time back in February. That’s because I’m officially on a one year leave from my university in Taiwan, while I serve as the “Chair of Taiwan Studies” at Leiden University. Starting so late in the game meant that I was able to ask my friends (most of whom already had one or two semesters of experience teaching online) for advice. Now, as my Taiwanese colleagues start teaching online for the first time, I shared what I had learned on social media. Seeing how popular my post was, I thought I’d clean it up a bit and share it here on the blog as well. Probably most readers have already been doing this for a while, and many may be getting ready to return to in-person classes in the fall, but hopefully this list (and the subsequent comments) will serve as a useful reference guide for anyone who needs it.

1. Do a survey at the start of the semester.

Ask students about their learning situation. Don’t be intrusive, but ask if they want to share anything about their setup or home life that might impact online learning. For instance, do they have a slow wifi? An old computer? A bad camera? Family or pets that might interfere? Etc. This should be an optional question on the survey, but it gives them a chance to tell you early on, so you know what to expect and can help them if you need to. For students who have been doing online classes for a while, you can also ask them what they like or don’t like about online learning. What has worked for them in other classes? What has driven them crazy?

2. Set up a chat room for the class, one that actually works.

The chat features in most video conferencing software as well as those in most “learning management systems” (LMS) are very poorly designed. It helps a lot to use something that is set up from the beginning just for chat. If your students already use something, like WhatsApp, you could go with that, but I used Discord which students liked. Keep it open during class, and set it up to send notifications when you are logged off.

3. Share a document.

There are a number of apps now, such as Google Docs, or Dropbox Paper, Notion, etc. that allow multiple people to edit a document at the same time. Open one up and share it with the class for each lesson. I recommend throwing your lecture notes in there and then having the students comment on that or add their own notes as you go. You can do this in addition to a powerpoint presentation, or instead of one (as I did).

4. Use breakout rooms.

In my own survey I asked students what they hated most about online learning and they said it was the lack of interaction with other students. After each lecture I used breakout rooms and had them discuss amongst each other, writing their thoughts and comments either in the shared document or in the chat room for the class.

5. Make time for one-on-one meetings with students.

Or, in a large class, with small groups. This allows you to get to know students better, despite everything being online. (This was something I hadn’t planned initially, but the students asked for it in the survey.)

6. Have students keep an online journal.

Encourage students to read and comment on each other’s journals. This helps to create a sense of shared experience that is often missing in online learning.

7. Stick around at the end of each class.

This gives people a chance to have a quick meeting with you without having to sign up for office hours.Don’t log out till the last student has logged out.

8. Start each class with a music video.

Play something nice while you are waiting for everyone to login. If you play good music, students will want to log in early so as not to miss it.

Other suggestions? Share in the comments.