Virtual Classroom Skills
If All the World’s a Stage, Can the Virtual Classroom Be a More Engaging One?
By Merilee Ford, Senior Education Specialist, Cisco Systems
Most classroom instructors feel like “fish out of water” when they teach a virtual class. Worse, many report feeling drained after teaching online and find the experience largely unsatisfying compared to teaching in person. And if that’s the case, the student is likely feeling the same or worse! Why is this? Is this simply an occupational hazard we must accept in an increasingly digital world?
I think most new virtual classroom instructors make two mistakes:
- They conduct the virtual class in nearly the same way as the in-person class: same materials and same instructor-centered teaching style.
- They underestimate the degree of skill and practice necessary for success.
It’s not enough to simply know the subject matter and be experienced in the classroom to be effective in the virtual world. Practically no new skills are necessary to merely talk through PowerPoint slides that have been loaded into a collaboration platform like Cisco WebEx. The problem is most learners and instructors find this “death by PowerPoint” approach very unsatisfying, leaving them feeling disconnected and isolated from one another.
In my experience, the most successful virtual instructors develop and practice specific new skills:
- They have solid (if not expert) knowledge of the virtual platform
Skilled instructors develop a thorough understanding of the features and capabilities of the virtual classroom platform and practice using them so that they are able to confidently use those features and help students use them...while presenting.
- They deliver a highly interactive session
Skilled instructors incorporate the human touch into their virtual classrooms so the experience is engaging and fun for both the learner and instructor. Interacting with learners in a meaningful way requires instructors to spend time learning and practicing how to use content sharing, communication, and collaboration tools to:
- Engage learners with the content
- Establish rapport
- Pose engaging questions
- Create an effective audio environment
- Manage participation
- Check comprehension
- Gauge the level of agreement
- Understand learner’s experience and attitude
In short, successful virtual instructors replace the non-verbal cues and learner feedback of in-person classrooms with meaningful interactions designed to meet the same goal. They interact with their learners at least every 3-5 minutes, in a variety of ways, both planned (designed into course materials enhanced for virtual delivery), and spontaneously (ad hoc at the instructor’s discretion).
- They improve their skills through practice
Successful instructors practice using their virtual classroom skills until they are natural parts of their instructional approach. They observe experienced online instructors, watching for tips and best practices that they can incorporate into their instruction and they ask experienced instructors for feedback. Finally, skillful instructors continually self-evaluate, because they realize that every virtual classroom experience offers an opportunity for instant feedback and skill development.
I believe there is a structured and proven way for committed instructors to become expertly skilled in the virtual classroom. Armed with a solid understanding of the platform capabilities, effective online delivery skills, interactive session materials, and a commitment to practice, the virtual classroom stage can be equally—if not more--engaging, energizing, and satisfying as a real classroom for both instructors and learners.
What’s your best tip for teaching in a virtual classroom environment or your most pressing question about teaching in a virtual classroom environment?
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