Supporting online learning through video conferencing

One aspect of teaching online is engaging with your students synchronously, which allows you to connect with each other in real time. As many teachers recently discovered, using video conferencing can help support effective online learning.

New Zealand teachers are using a variety of different platforms to engage online with their students, with the most common being Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Even though you may now be back at school, you may still want to use a live video format as a practical way to reach your students at any time and in any place. All of the platforms allow you to record your meeting, but each has its own settings and administration requirements for doing this. Recording meetings is extremely helpful for students, as it allows them to review sessions or catch up if they missed a session.

Meeting digitally

When a class meets in person for the first time, a crucial part of that meeting is the impression you create. Students’ body language sends signals to you about how your messages are being received. So, what happens when you connect in an environment where you can’t see students’ reactions, or have to make assumptions based on the (few) reactions you see on a screen?

Science tells us that when we replace in-person communication with a digital alternative, our ability to persuade or influence people suffers. According to Stanford psychologist Jeremy Bailenson, who has spent the last 20 years studying virtual communications between humans, ‘When we’re face to face we don’t stare at each other’s eyes for long. But the default setting on a lot of video conferencing technologies is a grid where everybody is staring at you right in the face. It’s exhausting and it’s super weird.’ A mere second delay in an answer in a video chat that would be treated as normal in a face-to-face situation can be perceived as a slight or a sign of a lack of mental engagement. To make it appear as though you are looking at someone in the eyes, you have to stare relentlessly at a tiny dot that is the camera. When we’re on camera, we’re very aware of being watched, which for many people is stressful and nerve wracking. We have to work hard to process non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language. This extra effort inhibits the emotional connection of trust. So, your role as the teacher is to:

  • build trust
  • create confidence
  • generate action.

Video conferencing changes the way we communicate

Norm Freisen, a professor of educational technology, suggests that four things occur when you engage in a video conference:

  1. Eye contact is lacking.
  2. People look awry (away from the camera).
  3. People feel like they’re being watched.
  4. People have ‘squelching’ voices.

These may resonate with you from your own experiences. Read Freisen’s recent article 4 strange ways that videoconferencing changes how we communicate with each other and think about how you behave and respond when leading or participating in a video conference. Then think about how your students are behaving and responding, and what would help all participants have more effective online learning experiences.

Effective video conferencing for online learning

Preparation

Feedback from secondary students and their whānau in various surveys during the Covid-19 lockdown has identified a number of ways that teachers can improve their preparation for video conferencing.

Have you:

  • coordinated the session with other teachers so that there are no timetable clashes?
  • given your students plenty of notice of when the session will be, including start and finish times? (Remember, some students are sharing devices with other whānau.)
  • advised your students what the session will be about and what they need to bring or what they might need to access to prepare?
  • explained your expectations for the students’ participation and engagement? Is everybody to mute when not speaking? Is everybody to have their camera on? (Think about this carefully, as there have been accounts of students unwilling to use their cameras because of their home environment. Some platforms, such as Zoom, enable you to have a virtual background.)
  • planned the session so there are opportunities for students to talk to each other, to check they’ve understood what their tasks are?
  • thought about your how you will greet your students and check on their wellbeing?
  • arranged to record the session and make the recording available for students to access?

Tips for new (and not so new) users

Teaching via video conferencing is a new experience for most teachers and there is a lot of advice on how to do this. The MOE TKI website enabling e-Learning has a section dedicated to practical tips for teachers using video conferencing platforms for online classrooms.

Google support offers tutorials on using Google Meet.

Microsoft provides support through Microsoft Teams help & learning.

Lynne Silcock, a facilitator with CORE Education, has put together the PowerPoint presentation Zoom Video Conferencing Tips to guide teachers using Zoom.

Feedback from students has suggested that often they were given insufficient forward notice of their webinars, there too much teacher talk (so they turned off their video and did other things!), and they didn’t have enough time to ask questions and clarify instructions for tasks and activities. On the positive side, many whānau have seen what their children are learning and assisted with webinars.

Using video conferencing to support iQualify

Students may now be accessing their iQualify for Schools courses from home as well as at school. You can use the LTI tools in iQualify to embed tools such as Zoom and Google Meet for synchronous online learning. You can even do this while your course is live. This enables you to communicate synchronously with your students while also engaging with the content in iQualify.

You could also use this as an opportunity to run a video conference where you set up a fun live quiz such as Kahoot!, which allows you to check on students’ learning and progress during the course.

Video conferencing is a great way to check in on how your students are going when you are teaching online. When you are making the shift to blended and online learning, using some of the tips here will help you make sure you and your students all have a positive experience.

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