Make Space: When you turn on your camera, you are turning the lights on in your classroom; think about the tone you want to set. Stage a background that can support your lesson and focus or stimulate your students (depending on their needs). A plain wall with a motivational message or daily mantra written on paper and taped up, a simple bookshelf that keeps students grounded in the learning environment, or a Zoom background of a science laboratory are all examples of how you can design the space around you to reflect your intentions and lessons. You can also place things like plants/pictures on the wall or in the background to create a more dynamic look. Try not to over clutter the shot or make it too busy. Avoid walls with patterns, unnecessary furniture, or clutter in the room. A calming background with a neutral color, medium contrast, and soft texture will often make the best background. Ensure you have enough space to be a comfortable distance from the camera.
Demonstrate to your students that you are dedicated to giving your class the same focus and commitment that you are asking of them. Minimize distractions by setting up your workspace in a low-traffic area of your home and put away cell phones or other distractions just as you would in the physical classroom — even if they are off screen.
Be Seen: Communication and learning takes place in many ways; just because you are not in the same physical space as your class does not mean that you are not physically communicating with your students. You will want to be clearly visible so you both can benefit from the full spectrum of communicative expression to support learning and engagement, from oral movements in language lessons to a smile of excitement and pride at a student accomplishment. Set yourself square in front of the camera, making sure that your eye line is directed at it as much as possible. When setting up your device to record make sure you leave room at the top, so your head is not right at the top of the screen. Follow the rule of thirds to compose a well-balanced shot. Avoid shirts and dresses with stripes, small dots, or black and white lines as these will not look good on video. Natural light is always preferred when filming and taking pictures. If your light source is behind you or above you, you are under a downlight, and it will give you dark circles under your eyes which will make you look untrustworthy. Here are some other helpful tricks:
- You should face the light, but the light should not be so bright that you squinting.
- The light source should come from behind the camera.
- If natural light is not available, and you are reliant on ceiling lights, they will do a good job at lighting up a room but make sure you are not standing directly under the light as this will cast shadows.
- Use a desk lamp or soft spotlight shining toward you to balance the light. The further away the lamp is, the softer the light will be on your face.
- Both the soft face lighting and camera should be at eye level toward you.
Be Heard: Reliable, strong audio is essential in keeping students’ attention and optimizing their learning. Online learning relies on instruction where the educator may be off screen or not visible. This is especially true when sharing screens or materials. During these times, a positive and energetic tone of voice becomes more important. Vocal cues can communicate what you previously may have, in more traditional environments, relying primarily on body language or other non-verbal communication methods to convey. Remember to audibly affirm students, as they may not be able to see you nodding your head or smiling as encouragement.
Teach Your Students the Tech: Remember that, just like you, your students might be new to online learning, too. After you’ve had a chance to determine and learn your virtual teaching best practices, make sure to pass that on to your students as your first online lesson. Whether this is an informational session or during your first class together, make sure your students know how to navigate all the tricks and tools, where to find resources, and understand your expectations for their attendance and participation. Make sure that parents/guardians/caretakers are invited to learn the technology and know the expectations as well.
Your Equipment Checklist: Just because you aren’t commuting does not mean you aren’t going to work. Gather the supplies you need for the day and bring them to your workspace. This includes functional tools and resources — such as chargers, pencils, papers, and workbooks — as well as creature comforts like water, snacks, and tissues.
Similarly, write a list for your students of what supplies will be helpful and/or essential for them to have nearby, and provide it in advance. This will ensure that all of your students are able to obtain any supplies that are required to successfully participate in lessons, have ample time to communicate if they will not be able to get them so other plans can be made, and that once the class has begun, time is not spent waiting for students to run to another room to grab a notebook.
Do a Mic Check: Facilitating a live or pre-recorded lesson is best done with a good headset and in a quiet environment. If you have the space to or like to move around, consider using a wireless headset so that your audio remains consistent even if you are standing up to demonstrate a part of the lesson. Before starting the class or beginning to record, test the equipment in the location you will use to ensure learners will be able to hear you in real-time, that there are not unexpected echoes or interferences, and that your recording is crisp and easy to understand.
Practice Your Platform: Make time to “rehearse” on your virtual learning platform and to make any necessary adjustments. Make sure the height of your camera/computer allows a clear view of your face and that your microphone is positioned to optimize your sound. Take time to develop your comfort level with speaking to the camera, navigating the presentation system, and switching between the live screen and slides, video, and other tools. You might even record your sessions (even if teaching live) for later review to identify areas for improvement with content and facilitation.
Check Before You Start: If you are making a recording, make sure you have enough space on your phone/laptop to save the file. Backup your photos and videos to make space, if needed. If you are doing a live broadcast, then doing a speed test for your internet is highly recommended. Ensure you have a power outlet close by to plug into.
Eliminate Accessibility Barriers: Many video conferencing and learning platforms have settings for closed captioning, text to voice, or other built-in tools that can support learners with different accessibility needs. Explore what options are available on your platform so that you can support your students in activating them.
Prepare for Technology Issues: Should you or your students experience a connectivity issue, it is a good idea to have a bank of pre-recorded, or asynchronous, lessons and independent activities prepared that can easily be used in case of connectivity or technology issues. Pre-recorded vignettes, quick learning experiences or exercises linked to the lesson, or other resources for students to turn to in case an issue arises will ensure that no precious class time is wasted waiting for a fix and that students remain focused on the lesson. Consider creating a body of simple “off-line” activities that students can engage with if you are unable to engage online. Create simple instructions that can easily be followed by students, such as a 20-minute reading exercise or household item scavenger hunt.
Ensure that students have access to these in advance of any issue occurring; for example, by sharing them in advance via email along with the daily or weekly lesson plan and other resources. In your initial technology lesson, train your students on what to do if they lose some or all connection, and reiterate this protocol regularly so that they are prepared, and you are not trying to figure out how to give them instructions while troubleshooting.