How faculty and students can make the most of online learning

a person taking notes during an online learning session
  • Published Date: 25 March 2020

Education providers around the globe are responding to COVID-19 and the closure of campuses by offering students and faculty alternative approaches to teaching and learning.

Seminars, workshops and lectures are shifting from face-to-face deliveries to online spaces, which creates new challenges for even the most tech-savvy educators and students.

The accessibility of technology greatly enables this transition, with online applications such as Zoom and Canvas letting students and faculty deliver content that is content is quick, structured and interactive.

However, it’s important to be mindful that managing this transition can be tricky and that there are stark differences to how we deliver and digest information when we pivot from the classroom to the webcam.

We’ve compiled several best practice tips for faculty and students to optimise their online teaching and learning experiences.

Faculty

Find the right livestreaming technology: There are plenty of tools and apps designed to maximise your online deliveries. First, think about your audience, its size and structure. Some webinar/livestream apps are more suited to intimate seminar-sized classrooms, while others are optimised as lecture theatres. Do a bit of research before investing.

Outline your housekeeping: Remember to outline your class/workshop expectations at the beginning of every seminar/lecture. Will the audience be able to ask questions? How? Set the rules early but be flexible enough that if things aren’t working out, it’s fine to change them as you go.

Keep IT close: For your first few webinars or livestreams, make sure you have IT support ready to jump in and save the day. Delivering online content might be new to some faculty and the learning curve is steep. Have a backup plan.

Think about visuals: Instead of long and verbose text use graphs, charts, pictures and diagrams to illustrate your point. Use colour, audio, make it memorable. Using titles, subtitles and keywords will help add structure to your delivery.

Think about audio: It might be time to invest in a new microphone. Nothing can disrupt teaching and cause disengagement like tinny or patchy audio. Think about what tends to turn you off even the most interesting podcasts or videos.

Think about voice: The electricity in delivering a workshop in front of a packed room is lost when we shift online. The aim is to recapture that chemistry, only virtually. Avoid monotone. Speak enthusiastically but clearly. Slow down on important points. Repeat. Pause.

Storytelling: It’s not just an over-used buzzword. Don’t let the content dry up! Use humour, anecdotes and real-life stories to enrich your teachings. Remember: you’re now just one screen competing for the attention of many, many more.

Choose the right technology to connect: Your webinar or livestream will eventually wrap up but that shouldn’t halt discussion. Let your audience know where they can keep the conversation flowing. Perhaps a discussion board on Canvas, a Twitter hashtag or a WhatsApp group. Find your virtual watercooler – a digital proxy for face-to-face networking and community building.

Manage your time: Everything – presentation, discussion, preparation – takes a lot longer in this space. Make sure to manage your time well, and the expectations of your audience.

Students

Be patient and resilient: In order to deliver resources and content that is fresh and fast, education providers have made a speedy pivot into largely uncharted territory. Developing online content usually saps a lot of time and energy, so remember to be patient in the upcoming weeks as faculty and teachers learn from any and all mistakes.

Expect mistakes: Murphy’s law mandates that there will always be mistakes, technical difficulties, broken links. Be proactive. Make sure all your video and audio capabilities are working ahead of time and click through any links integral for your learning. Buddy up with someone in the classroom to workshop any looming difficulties when the presenter is lost for a time.

Expect delays: Add extra bloat time to either side of the scheduled event in the (often very likely) case that the presentation and discussion run overtime. Everything seems to take longer in digital time.

Communicate strategically: Different communication channels have different etiquettes attached. Remember to conduct yourself online just as you would in the workplace or the classroom.

Manage your time: We tend to think of digital spaces as supplementary to the “physical” world. This means we also tend to mismanage the time we allocate to these spaces. Make sure to carve out space in the calendar, set deadlines, make checklists and document notes just as you would at your normal working environment.

Manage your space: Find somewhere quiet and peaceful to connect with your virtual workshop or lecture. It might be seductive to stay in bed, but creating a barrier between your downtime and your learning time is something you’ll definitely appreciate in the long-term.

Turn notifications on and off: Make sure your event, calendar and online learning platform notifications are turned on. Make sure your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter notifications are turned off.

Stay connected: Ask the speaker and faculty how to best stay connected after the webinar or workshop is finished. They’ll be able to provide additional resource packs or online communities (for example, discussion boards to Twitter tags) that will help you stay engaged and ask those burning questions.

Remain positive: Remember that this process might be new for a lot of people but it’s also a fantastic way of sharpening new skill sets in communication, documentation, project management and IT. Be patient with the classroom, and be patient with yourself.

Additional resources

Have any additional tips or resources? Let us know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.