3 Myths Debunked About Teaching Online
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
When three years ago I first mentioned to friends and colleagues that I was thinking of teaching online, I met with some resistance. And if I’d paid a bit more attention to some of the doubters, I wouldn’t be on one of my most exciting professional journeys yet…
Despite my growing excitement about teaching online (the flexibility it offered in terms of location and workIoad, teaching according to my principles and being creative, the possibility to be my own boss), I had to be realistic. I realised that this was something that wasn’t going to happen overnight as I didn’t have much money or time to invest. The little money that I did have was the money which came from my day job, teaching in a school, which also had to put the food on the table – and still does.
Obviously, it’s a good idea to weigh up the pros and cons and there’s always a risk things might not turn out the way you expected. However, my philosophy is, if you find something that ignites your passion, why not give it a go? That said, the seed had been planted, the passion ignited and there was no stopping me.
It’s been three whole years since the seed was planted and I’ve only just started teaching online, so I am still finding my feet and have got lots to learn. What I have discovered over these past three years, however, is that there are many myths floating around about teaching online which almost stopped me from fueling my passion…
Myth #1: You need to be an expert at using technology.
The naysayers said I didn’t know enough… perhaps they were right? I’m far too old to be a digital native, I’d never done any courses related to technology, all I knew was what I’d taught myself…
Fortunately, they weren’t right! Lots of online tools available these days are designed for people like me (not super tech savvy) – and if in doubt, you should never underestimate the power of YouTube! There are thousands of videos out there which can help you learn to do absolutely anything. With a little patience and perseverance, you can soon get up and running with little technical knowledge.
I’m a self-confessed Google fanatic and a super easy way to manage online students is Google Classroom, which integrates seamlessly with other Google products and third party apps. If you want your own website, you can use New Google Sites to create your own web page in minutes – it really is that easy! Weebly is another good option to create a website quickly in a simple drag-and-drop way. If you’re looking for something a bit more flexible, I recommend WordPress. It might take a bit more time and patience but there are lots of tutorials and Wordpress experts out there to help you.
For video-conferencing software, there are many options to choose from depending on the features you’re looking for. I chose Zoom as it works well with low band-width, which is beneficial for attracting more students as low bandwidth is less of an obstacle and in some cases the only option for both students and the teacher. Zoom is relatively cheap (there’s also a free plan) and has an interactive whiteboard and breakout rooms (rooms within the main room.)
If you want to use a learning management system (LMS) to organise and store your materials/resources so your students can easily access them, again, there are so many to choose from. I opted for Moodle Cloud, which is probably not the easiest to get your head around at first, but it has a lot of inbuilt features I was looking for, such as digital badges, quizzes, forums etc. If you only need something simple to organise and upload resources, I highly recommend Google Classroom.
Myth #2: Online teaching is colder and more distant and it’s difficult to build rapport with students.
Yes, physically you are more distant but that doesn’t mean your classes will be “colder.” The first time I taught on camera, it did feel a little strange. I wasn’t used to using the webcam and not having all my students in the same room. However, the more you do it, the more natural it feels and you’ll transmit this to your students. Using the same techniques you use in a face-to-face class (listen, show respect and interest, personalise, use humour, interact, share, show your enthusiasm and passion, humanize your classroom), you can build rapport with online students and create a positive “virtual classroom” atmosphere.
Online classes can be just as engaging and dynamic as face-to-face classes. There are various features in video-conferencing platforms that you can use to encourage student participation. For example, students can interact using the whiteboard or a microphone, and the chat box feature can actually help shy students engage more by allowing them to participate in the chat box only, until they feel more confident. Breakout rooms are great, too, as they allow students to work in pairs or small groups, where they can maximise interaction with their teacher and classmates and build positive relationships.
Myth #3: It’s a lonely life teaching online.
“You’ll spend all day alone stuck in the house, nobody to bemoan your misfortunes to or share your joys with…,” said friends and colleagues who worried for my well-being.
I can safely say this is not true. Since I started delving more into teaching online by joining groups, engaging on social media and doing courses, I have met so many like-minded, wonderful people who have supported and encouraged me along the way. In fact, one such person I met on an iTDi course, and although she lives on the other side of the world, we’ve kept in touch and she recently loaned me her class to practice on!
As for being stuck in the house all day – not at all! Everyday I “travel” all over the world and interact with so many amazing people.
When it comes to teaching online, I’m no expert. I am definitely a newbie, and despite the naysayers, a passionate one. Who knows what my online teaching future holds? Maybe it will live up to expectations, maybe not. At the moment, however, I am definitely enjoying the ride…
“I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday.”
Jose N Harris