One of the perks of teaching online is that there are so many great tools that make facilitating an online course easier. For example, not having to manually grade and enter grades for online exams since most learning management systems can automatically evaluate student responses and submit scores to a gradebook without the instructor needing to do a thing.
With the ability to automate so much of an online course, along with the physical separation from your students, it can be challenging to find ways to let your personality, teaching style, and personal touches shine through in the online environment.
Here are three easy strategies that you can begin trying and implementing in your teaching today to bring a bit more of your personality to your online courses.
1. You don’t have to be a superstar to make great videos
You are an expert in your field, and you probably have years of experience and knowledge that make you an outstanding instructor. Do not deprive your online students the opportunity to learn from YOU!
I recently spoke with a group of instructors about their successes and struggles with having to make the abrupt transition online this past spring. One thing I heard from every instructor was the pleasant surprise of the effectiveness of instructor-created videos in their courses.
Two common themes came from this conversation about instructor-created videos. One was that instructors found it easy and time-saving to create just-the-right video for their students. For example, one instructor mentioned that he had been spending hours online looking for a video that conveyed the information his students needed with no luck. He then recorded his own video in a matter of 20 minutes and was able to provide his students with relevant and current information to help them achieve their learning activities and assessments.
The second comment theme revolved around the feedback students gave about these instructor-created videos. To the instructors’ surprise, they received positive feedback from students regarding the instructor-created video content. One instructor shared that after transitioning to fully-online, she had posted her lecture slide as a PowerPoint file for students to review, and her student engagement was depressingly low. She then created a video lecture on her lecture slides using a screen recording software that allowed her to narrate her slides while having a small video of herself in the corner. She reported that her student engagement almost instantly increased! Her students provided feedback saying they got the most from the online course when they could see and hear her lecturing on course materials.
Tips if you don’t want to record yourself
- Get outside! Try recording a video while sitting in your backyard, or while you are out for your evening walk.
- Create and narrate an animated explainer video.
- Record your screen while you lecture, and be sure to have a visual to lecture with so your students have something to focus on.
- Use an avatar or animated character instead of your face; some smartphones have this feature built-in!
- Just try; it may not be as bad as you think it is!
Tips for making a good video
- Have clear sound/audio. Students need to be able to hear and understand you.
- The clearer the picture, the better.
- Keep it short and sweet. Keeping your videos under 10-minutes is a good rule of thumb to keep your students engaged.
- Caption your video for accessibility.
- It is all in the angles! Be sure to put your best side forward by paying attention to your camera angle.
Students don’t care that your cat walked across your keyboard (they will probably chuckle). They don’t care that the UPS driver delivered your package and dinged the doorbell three times. It makes you human; it makes you interesting; it makes the information real. So start recording!
2. Increase interest by adding humor
Take a stroll down any social media feed right now and you are sure to find a funny meme, gif, or quote that stops and grabs your attention for a moment, and probably resonates with you in some capacity.
The same effect can happen for your students in your online course when you do something to grab their attention and make them laugh for a second, think about something from a different angle, or give them a quote that will be stuck in their head for the day.
Tips for adding interest and humor
- Memes and GIFs
- Funny personal story – record it!
- Memorable quote
- Catchy song or rhyme
- Interesting video
Think of the elements listed above as tools to aid you in creating memorable learning moments in your online course. That said, be sure not to go overboard! Adding interest and humor to your course is meant to boost engagement and learning—not distract from it.
3. Touch base often with your students
Remote learning and distance education are new buzz words in education at the moment. To any teacher or instructor, the thought of being separated from their students’ learning can be a very concerning thing. But, just because we are all socially distant at the moment does not mean you have to lose touch with your students. There are numerous excellent tools and techniques right now that will allow you to stay connected to your learners.
Tools and tricks to stay connected
- Send out surveys to gauge how students are doing academically and emotionally, and follow up on responses!
- Create an online community using collaboration tools to give everyone a voice.
- Hold small group meetings using a video conferencing tool.
- Have an “Ask the Instructor” discussion board where students can post questions to you.
- Find ways to make the learning experience personal for your students (using simple codes can personalize your LMS and emails).
Check out Touch Base with Your Online Students Using Formative Assessment by Digital Learning Academy to learn about more techniques and tools on this topic.
Socially distant teaching does not mean you need to lose the personal touch with your students and your teaching style. Try one or two of the strategies above to bring a bit more of you into your online courses.
Jessica Evans is an instructional designer for Colorado Mesa University and creator of DigitalLearningAcademy.org. She strives to provide support, encouragement, and useful real-world advice to online instructors. Evans has a background in course design, eportfolio assessments, faculty support, continuing education, elementary education, and special education.