5 video conferencing tips

Classrooms are going to look a little different this term.

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Classrooms are going to look a little different this term. Instead of being in our classrooms to teach our students, we’ll be sitting in front of our laptops delivering lessons via video conference. 

The idea of online learning can be quite daunting, especially when you haven’t had a lot of time to prepare. But once you have the right tools and processes, you can run your class via video conference effectively.

To help you get started, we’ve put together our top five tips for video conferencing with your class.

Familiarise yourself with the platform

The first step on the road to effective video conferencing is to get to know your platform. Some schools will already have a program implemented, while others might leave it to the teacher to decide. There are plenty of options out there — Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype — but whichever you choose, make sure you spend some time understanding the platform before you run your first class. 

Often, we think of these platforms as in terms of their most basic functionality — to connect you via video link to your students. But many of them have a lot of great features that can really support delivery. We’ll cover some below, but spend some time on Youtube or the platform’s website so you can learn how to make the program really work for you and your practice. 

Establish the ground rules

Just like a face-to-face class, your online class needs to have routines and behavioral expectations established from the outset. Video classes are new to you, but remember they’re also new for your students and many will need to know the correct way to go about things. 

In your first class, outline the structure you’ll follow and the ‘rules’ of your online class. You’ll need to cover things like class times and breaks, how students are expected to complete individual and group work and how to ask questions.

Asking questions can be a big one challenge in this new environment. Some platforms will have in-built features like the Google Hangouts ‘raise your hand’ tool, that allows students to alert you when they want to ask a question. They can then answer their questions in a chat box and you can answer using your microphone.

Another way to support students with their questions, is to set up your online meeting room for a set period each day. Students can then come into the meeting to ask you questions via chat. Making yourself available in this way, ensures students feel supported even while they’re working from home.

Prevent interruptions

Disruptions are one of the biggest challenges teachers face in video conferencing. Students can talk over each other, and you. They can share screens, they can make noise. And because you’re not in the room with them, your usual toolkit might not cut it for this type of disruptive behaviour. Luckily, there are some really practical things you can do to keep things running smoothly.

The first is to prevent noise and talking. Many platforms, like Zoom, have a ‘mute all’ setting that allows you to mute all participants as they enter the call. This setting will remain in place until you enable the microphone of the individual student. 

Background noise can be another distraction. With more and more of us working from home, our own spaces can be a little noisy. To prevent your microphone from picking up noises within your house, you can install a noise cancelling app to block background sound. Also encourage your students to set up their work space in a quiet area of the house so they avoid noise and distractions too.

Another disruption that could occur during class is a random screen share. You’ll want to be able to share your screen, but you might not want your students to do the same thing. Zoom allows you to prevent anyone but the host from sharing their screen, you can learn more about it here.

Private chat features are also really helpful for teachers during video conferences. You can use this to pull up individual students, should you need it during class.

Keep it secure

There’s been a few stories in the media recently about the growing ‘zoombomb’ trend. Zoom is one of the most popular video conferencing tools on the market. One of the great things about Zoom is that you don’t need an account to join a video conference, you just need the meeting link. Unfortunately, when links are posted on unsecure platforms, trolls can gain access and join the meeting.

To prevent this from happening to you, make sure you publish links via your school’s learning management system, or email it to students directly. Include a password with the meeting link to add another layer of security. You can also set up a ‘waiting room’ that allows you to admit participants into your class. This prevents unwanted guests from joining in. 

Once your full class is present, you can also ‘lock’ the classroom so no one else can join. 

Engage your students

Sitting behind a computer screen is a little different to speaking at the front of the classroom. You’ll need to use different techniques to keep your students engaged.

But before working on engagement, make sure you’ve got your presentation basics right. Set up your computer somewhere with good lighting, you want your students to be able to see you clearly. Remember to make eye contact with students. This is trickier via video but it can be done!

Once the basics are set, brainstorm other ways you can keep your video conference interesting. You can use polling tools, like this one, to encourage students to participate and answer questions. You can also try Zoom Breakout Rooms for small group work, so students still have the opportunity to work together.

Also spend some time thinking about how you will present on-screen. Will you use screen share to show the task and resource, or will you send links to these documents out before the class?

You might also want to check-in with your students to see how they’re finding online classes. You could email out a google form at the end of the week to get a better understanding of what is working, what isn’t working and anything that students aren’t clear on. Doing this early on can prevent students from getting stuck in bad habits and routines.

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