This spring, teachers around the world completed a crash course in using videoconferencing as part of their shift to online learning. As more school districts continue online learning into the fall, educators and administrators are realizing that videoconferencing will likely be a part of their teacher toolbox for the foreseeable future.
Here are five ways for teachers to go beyond the standard lecture session and think creatively about how to use videoconferencing technology.
1. Maintain a Two-Way Street
Videoconferencing is a remarkably powerful tool, but it doesn’t suit all situations. There may be times when synchronous communication is not necessary, such as when you simply need to share information or provide directions on how to complete an assignment.
If your message doesn’t require two-way communication, don’t use videoconferencing. Instead, create a recorded presentation that can be shared with students and viewed at their convenience.
Because videoconferencing is designed for two-way communication, be intentional about using it when you are truly seeking synchronous communication, such as during discussions or to answer questions. If you over-rely on or misuse the technology, you risk frustrating students and increasing the potential for burnout and disengagement.
2. Set Up Work for Small Groups
Try to find opportunities for smaller group calls of four to eight students for breakout sessions or projects. Smaller settings encourage more conversation (and less lecturing). They’re also easier to manage and are small enough for everyone to be off mute and exchange ideas without being disruptive. Additionally, these small group sessions often facilitate opportunities for the smaller group to report out to the whole class, which further develops students’ public speaking skills.
This approach also can fuel participation from students who might have reservations about raising their hands in front of the whole class.
3. Create Opportunities for Students to Teach
Improve students’ presentation skills, along with their information retention, by creating opportunities for students to present class content. Studies show that enabling students to teach their peers, whether by just reading a passage or explaining a concept to the group, fuels memory retrieval and facilitates more enduring understanding.
This format also allows teachers to turn the typical student-teacher power dynamic on its head—and helps both teachers and students to build trust in one another. And even when presentations are in person again, many of the communication skills built through remote presentations will be transferable.
4. Connect With Other Classes Across Town—or the World
Find opportunities to connect with other students in nearby communities, other states, or even other countries. You’re already set up for a virtual classroom, so you might as well connect virtually with people your students might not otherwise meet to learn about their unique perspectives. Sharing a lesson or project with another school teaches students about the world’s interconnectivity—while improving interpersonal communication and building cross-cultural understanding.
To do this, you might coordinate a lesson and learn the material together. International connections might also focus on sharing and learning about each other through discussions about culture, history, government, or language. For example, you might ask all the students to share their favorite holiday ritual or tradition; following the exchange, you might ask them to write a compare-and-contrast essay denoting the commonalities and differences they heard.
Factor in time zone differences, especially for global connections, and ensure that the language barrier won’t be insurmountable (either by selecting schools or countries where students speak the language of your students or where the foreign language is taught at your school).
5. Facilitate Deeper Family Involvement
During virtual learning, try to find ways to connect with families even more than you did before the pandemic. Try conducting parent-teacher conferences online to ensure that families understand that their kids’ education is a partnership between students, educators, and families. Deepening the sense of collaboration between teachers and parents can help ease the stress for both while enhancing the learning experience for students.
Teachers might take parent involvement a step further by inviting families to a town hall meeting where they provide an overview of the topics they’ll be covering in the coming year and allow parents to ask questions. This event could take the shape of a virtual back-to-school night, allowing families to have social interactions with each other that previously might have happened during pickup or drop-off times.