Updated: Sep 20
I've always loved technology (when it goes my way of course). I was that lego crazy tomboy and loved knowing how things worked and fitted together. I feel blessed to have be born in an era where we have the options of online working and with outstanding technology. I know for many of us teaching, it has now become a norm, but it is here to stay and although I don't profess to be the ultimate expert - I do have a lot of experience, as my lockdown experience has been a few years longer than many of my colleagues, plus I have loved teaching, training, combining working with technology, video, audio and public presentation professionally since 1985. Whilst working at the Arthur Findlay College and other venues, my colleagues often called on me to set up the technical aspects of their lectures and services and more recently, asked for my help with the technical aspect of teaching online.
It's good to share the things that have worked out well. I'm listing a few tips for those recently teaching online and those thinking about it. Getting it right from the start can help a great deal. Your online teaching should be able to reflect the quality of your general teaching and with a few tweaks you can save yourself a great deal of despair.
Let's jump right into it:
1. Video: - You don't need to have the best video camera, phone, tablet or webcam - good lighting is the biggest factor to producing a good quality image.
2. Add light if required (it almost always is needed): the effect of poor lighting is grainy video image quality. Use lights facing you to add more, but by all means avoid ring lights if possible. I know they are cheap and portable but.....
Ring lights have this weird effect that makes you look weird - it gives you alien eyes.
Soft diffuse light works best, but also use daylight wisely, if video teaching during the day. Filming with a window behind you turns you into a silhouette - a faceless figure with a piercing glare behind you. Let natural light enter by facing you for best effect. If you need to add lights ensure the light falls evenly on both sides your face, to prevent shadows.
If you wear glasses like me - you can invest in anti glare lens coatings which will help reduce distracting reflections.
3. Good audio is key. If the sound is poor - no matter how engaging you are, or how many great images and slides you show, everyone just focusses on the fact that the sound is poor, gets irritated and ignores your valuable content. If your microphone is built in to your computer, phone, tablet - it might be really good and no need to add anything extra. Check it out with a friend online.
Lavalier mics (lapel) and desktops mics are also worth considering if the built in mic happens to be poor, but your room is key to good sound production. A room with plenty of soft furnishings and without machines running in the background will dampen any hollow sounding effects. Add some cushions around you and in front of you (out of camera sight) to help if the room is bare of soft furnishings. Professional studios are awash with sound dampening panels and flooring - but you can do a decent job with a few home furnishings, to capture the warmth in your voice.
4. Internet speed makes a wealth of difference. Most important is the upload speed. Anything less than 5 Mbps upload, will often result in the 'spinny buffering wheel of doom' stuttering speech and blurry pixelations. You can test your internet speed here at speeedtest.net
5. Turn off any computer or phone notifications. There's nothing worse than hearing that familiar 'bing' and all your students checking if it's them - and from the get-go tell them to turn theirs off too while you are at it.
6. Your background shouldn't be distracting. A natural background is great. I'm sure your room is great too. However, if you are in the bedroom, home office or kitchen, hide the dirty pots, laundry, bins, paper collection and unmade bed with either a screen, a fake background or changing your position to having a wall behind you.
Talking fake backgrounds - we see many using them on zoom and other online platforms and some look great - until the person moves and leaves a distracting pixel trail around them. If you use them, a plain background behind you before selecting the fake one, is kindest and prevents the distraction of your students all thinking "hey thats a fake background - I wonder what the room really looks like and what did they just say?"
You can use a green screen if you wish but the screen needs to be very good quality, it must be extremely evenly lit, or else it is just as unforgiving as the 'pixel creep' in a fake zoom background. Just don't wear green clothes if you do, or you will look as if you are wearing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak!
Here's a mini tip if you want to use a background and you are seated - sit on a chair with no arms and the back height lower than your shoulders - it really helps prevent the dreaded pixel creep, as the sensor calibrates around you when you are sitting still. The moment you move, a new colour and texture makes it throw a pixel wobbly and spoils the overall effect.
7. Body positioning can make or break how professional your online class appears. Ideally you want to be central like a newsreader. Sitting upright is important. If you slump back - your body looks huge, your head looks tiny and frankly, you look unmotivated. Sitting upright and slightly forward is ideal. some experts say angle of 15 degrees forward is best, but I've not worked out how to effectively measure my body angle yet! Trial and error are great friends to prepare with prior to teaching.
8. Camera positioning is vital so you can be central and is good at approximately 2 inches above your eye-line. Too high looks just weird....
Too low and we are distracted by your nostrils!
Yes I know she looks great in this photo, but the first thing I see are her nostrils!
Yet on camera positioning, there may be times when demonstrating something, you need to be to the side of the screen or there are two of you presenting to the same camera. This is where a practice run of your class, will help you find the most effective position for teaching and of course, you may need to move around as well. Record and practice your sessions and watch them back as an observer - better still - find a friend who can give you brutally honest feedback.
You might also find it difficult if using a laptop, to find the right height - but a pile of books underneath is excellent as a prop, if you don't have an adjustable stand and nobody can see them.
Look at the camera and not the computer screen. It's hard, I know but will make such a difference and actually your students will feel you are talking directly to them. Which you are, but at least it will look as if you are too.
9. Your voice is your asset. Use it with varying emphasis, pitch, tone
and pace. Remember the teacher who you never forgot for their wise advice? - that advice was most likely said slowly, calmly and with intent for impact.
Volume for your delivery should be normal and there is no need to project your voice online. It will only create a strain on your students ears, kills your microphone, distorts your voice and is unnatural. With good eye contact and a normal volume, your students will feel much more compelled to learn with you.
10. Really know your subject. You just might have an expert student in the room who knows far more than you and in one reasonable Q&A, will bring your class crashing to an embarrassing halt, with your credibility in tatters. Your students deserve to be taught by an expert and not someone with a smidgen of knowledge, attempting to copy a workshop they went to as a student. Be original - because thats the real you and your students are investing in their training because of your original experiences and extensive knowledge on the subject they wish to learn.
11. Confidentiality is paramount. Ensure you and your students know that it is unacceptable that non participants in the household could see or hear the class and that it breaches the trust of the students who cant see them and may wish to share something personal with the group.
12. Know the class platform inside out. Zoom, Skype and even live feed classes, all have a zillion 'how to' training videos online and on YouTube and are a great investment to the smooth running of your class.
You can set up the best video and audio features in advance, set the rules for the class, vary the teaching aids such as whiteboards, slides, images, music etc. making the whole experience run as smoothly as possible. If you aren't able to do the technical side of things yourself, consider asking someone to be your technical virtual assistant. A panicking teacher, who cant understand the technology is not going to be able to teach at their finest potential and the students will sense that.
13. It's stating the obvious - but if you have no teacher training - do it before launching a class and calling yourself a teacher. There are plenty of online training courses, if you cant go in person. Understanding different learning styles, group dynamics and learning objectives is key. Just because someone has been doing something a long time, doesn't mean they have been doing it well.
14. Have a 'plan B' in case you get a powercut or technology failure and let your students know what plan B is in advance of the class.
15. Be user friendly - if you record the session for student download - add subtitles. Here is some great software I use for all my videos called Otter. It's very accurate and you can find it here
16. Lastly - as thats enough for now, look like a teacher. It's ok that nobody can see your slippers or odd coloured socks - but ensure that what they do see is someone who has taken some care before showing up to teach. It doesn't have to be formal attire - just appropriate and nothing distracting. Psychologically it shows you care and take the students and subject seriously.
There is so much to teaching and teaching online is here to stay now. If you are thinking about it, these tips may help save you time and ensure your professionalism remains intact.