Top Five Tips for Teaching Virtually
Erika Concetta Pagano, Guest Professor at IE Law School, is recognized by students and colleagues for her virtual teaching skills and making online classes invigorating. In this article she shares five insightful tips to spark creativity and create meaningful engagement with students.
Over the past 8 years, I’ve taught hundreds of students virtually around the world and teaching at IE is a dream come true, as faculty and students both wholeheartedly embrace virtual education.
I’m proud to be a part of the IE family, and grateful to my colleagues and students who have helped shape my virtual teaching skills.
Now, we have a chance to set a shining example for others who are trying virtual teaching for the first time. It’s important to share what we know, and what’s made us a success.
For my friends, colleagues, and former professors now embarking on this journey, here are my top 5 tips.
1. Set yourself up for success
Even the most cleverly-crafted lectures can go awry when you don’t take your environment into account. Consider:
Location, location, location: Are you logged in from a quiet place with a good internet connection? Sure, the occasional dog bark or siren might happen, but have you negotiated with others in your home to ensure you have uninterrupted silence for your class time? Remember that even if you have headphones in, your microphone will likely pick up on ambient noise. (Be sure to silence your phones and tablets, too!)
Looks are everything: How are you positioned on camera? Facial reactions are key in how we communicate. Be sure you’re not too far away, and mind your body language. Get close and comfortable so the camera frames your whole face–stay animated, use big gestures, and be a leader in showing your students how you expect them to interact with you.
“I’m proud to be a part of the IE family, and grateful to my colleagues and students who have helped shape my virtual teaching skills.”
2. Engage your audience
Chances are, you’re teaching Millennials or Generation Z. I’m a Millennial myself, and we love texts. We love memes. We love chat. We love a hashtag. We are so good at thriving in the virtual world. Capitalize on our style and what we’re good at to boost our engagement–and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Yes, it may be a challenge, but consider it a new skill to speak our language. A few quick tips here:
Make cameras mandatory: Think of how easy it is to zone out on conference calls. Now, imagine a classroom full of people with that option. Video means accountability, presence, and interaction. You’ve got to start with setting the example yourself!
Use the chat: I like to pose questions to the students and have them answer in the chat; for example, “Type +1 if you agree with the author; +2 if you didn’t!” Cue the stream of student participation…and an easy ability for you to gauge both their opinions and engagement in the room.
Think creatively: How about throwing a meme contest based of the week’s materials? How about asking your students to present virtually (and give them a new skillset, too)?
Play music: I’m a big fan of starting class off with music. (It’s a tip I learned from a great mentor and one of the pioneers of virtual education in law, Michele DeStefano.) Set the tone of the day, and see if you can link the song to the theme of the lecture itself. Once the music stops, class starts!
3. Reframe your content
The same stuff can’t be taught in the same way. That is, your slides may show up in a different resolution. Videos embedded in slides may not work. Worse yet, they might not be compatible in your teaching platform. There are lots of potential pitfalls here, but there’s an easier place to start: engagement. If you’re planning to just lecture with no engagement, students may find it easier to shut down–both literally and figuratively. Ask yourself:
How can I make this more interactive?
Where might I find space for more questions, polls, open discussions, and student presentations?
Might I consider asking my students to get involved?
How might I ask my fellow community of educators what’s working for them?
4. Create a community.
Now, more than ever, it’s important that we fulfil our obligations as leaders to create a classroom community. Chances are, your school has tools for you to do this, like Blackboard and Teams.
I’m a big fan of Slack, because it’s free, easy to use, quick to customize, and facilitates really fantastic engagement amongst a class. (Plus, like Teams, it’s available on desktop, mobile, and tablet, leaving little excuse not to stay connected.) If your students need to work in groups, no problem–Slack allows you to create different types of “channels” (think: different group chat/workspace hybrids, almost like a virtual mini-war room) for different groups. They can also direct message (and call!) you with questions. A few more pointers:
Emojis and gifs are key: Tone often gets lost in typing. How can you enrich the conversation with a smiley face, wink, cool sunglasses face, or more? Positive reinforcement through gifs (think keywords like: “awesome”, “cool,” “thumbs up”) can help set the tone and show your students that you care–and you’re in this with them, too.
Create a collaborative playlist: I love this feature on Spotify! I create a collaborative playlist for each class I teach (and my team at work). This enables participants to share their favorite songs, show different sides of themselves in a new format, and it provides you for some material in the music point mentioned above. You might even pick up a few new jams for your workout along the way.
5. Be yourself
Authenticity is key. You’ve got your style as a teacher, and it’s served you well so far–think of this shift into virtual education as a small modulation, not a radical change. Keep what works: your sense of humor, your tone, your cadence, whatever. You may need to adjust certain things, and it may be uncomfortable at times. That said, in these times of uncertainty, it is our duty as educators to continue to serve as reliable cornerstones of our community.
Overall, flexibility, experimentation, and enthusiasm are key. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or for the tech to fail. Together, we can only do our best, share learnings, and support each other’s success. Remember: You can do this!
Erika Concetta Pagano is Head of Legal Innovation and Design at Simmons Wavelength. She is also Guest Faculty at IE University and a former Lecturer in Law at the University of Miami School of Law. Erika was Director at LawWithoutWalls, a groundbreaking in-person and virtual experiential education program for more than 30 law and business schools across 6 continents. Erika holds a B.S.F.S. from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law.