5 Tips for First-Time Online Instructors

By Nicole Horn posted 01-28-2014 07:35 AM


The following is a blog post from Shawn Devine, a curriculum consultant with JMH Consulting. Please feel free to post other tips and instructions you give to instructors who teach online.

Let me begin by saying that I am a hardcore fan of traditional classroom style teaching. As a facilitator I get energy from the exchange that happens when I interact in-person with the students.

I’m also a realist and changing expectations have led me to transition many of my professional development programs from the physical classroom to the virtual classroom. Along the way I've learned what contributes to the success of an online class and here’s a short summary of some of the basic, but critical things, we need to remember:

Make Your Students Interact

Unless you are a skilled spoken-word performer, people do not want to sit through a session where you read PowerPoint slides to them. This is as true in the virtual classroom as it is in the traditional classroom. Write interaction and engagement into your design. Start a friendly competition. Play a game. Use technology features like polling, chat and breakout sessions. Ask your participants to explore a topic on their own and report back using screen sharing. I found that – depending on the topic and audience – I need some type of engagement activity every 5 to 7 minutes.

Create Interesting Slides (that doesn't mean interesting bullet points)

The content you put on the students’ screens can be a powerful way to communicate with your class. Use your slides to visually express important points or complex concepts. Do not simply put words on the screen. Move your massive text blocks off the screen and use pictures, diagrams, videos and other visuals to support your points. And you get bonus points for using your webcam and letting your students see that you are a living, breathing human being.

Prepare for the technology and the topic

You need to master both the content and its delivery via the technology. Rehearse your delivery so you are prepared to use the software and hardware to its full advantage.  Each delivery platform has its own unique features and quirks – learn them all.

Your voice is really important.

You sound different (and better) to yourself than you do to others. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-does-my-voice-sound-different). Listen to an extended recording of yourself to learn where you can add energy and variety to your vocal delivery. You don’t need to be a DJ, but you should sound interested and enthusiastic about your topic. If you sound bored you can be sure your class will be snoozing.

Technical challenges will happen.

It is simply the nature of the environment.  If you facilitate online sessions often enough you will eventually encounter a loss of power, lack of audio or video, a fire alarm, background noise, and a host of other inconveniences.  Prepare for the worst and have back up plans. I even keep an old-school “technical difficulties” slide ready to pop onto the screen in case something happens. At least that way my class knows there’s a problem and I’m aware of it.

Have a sense of humor (it’s a bonus point!)

Above all, have a sense of humor and enjoy the new way to connect with your students. Just like the traditional classroom, if you are having a good time your students will, too.