Teaching Online: Can It Work?

Theodora PapapanagiotouTeaching Online: Can It Work?

Theodora Papapanagitou


Some people believe it is extremely difficult to teach online as it creates a distance between students and the teacher. Students’ parents are skeptical (can it actually work?…) and teachers who are not so familiar with technology do not support this way of teaching either. Once there is this distance, there is no real interaction and, consequently, there is never going to be a successful lesson if the teacher is not actually close to the learner. That is a myth. Learning can happen in all sorts of environments as long as we are all willing to work towards the goal. 

Personally, I have never seen distance or technology as a barrier to my teaching. On the contrary, I view them as an opportunity to learn new things and experiment on what I can and can’t do. And here’s how it all started for me. 

Some of my students were going away during the summer for three whole months, but they also had an important exam coming in the beginning of the school year, so they had to study hard and work with a teacher during their stay abroad. As it was impossible to find a teacher over there, I decided to create an online learning page where they could find texts to read, revise their grammar, and learn new vocabulary. Since I had been working as a content creator for an English language-learning platform at the time, I didn’t find it too hard to look for new resources and create a page on a free website using Moodle and Edmodo in order to help my students. However, with that set-up there was always a problem of how to give feedback and work on the speaking skills. At first, we thought we could call each other – but this would take too long and would also be very expensive. So, why not use Skype? Now we could talk and see each other, and we could use Google documents as a whiteboard. Distance was not a barrier anymore. The whole project went really well, the students worked with great enthusiasm and passed their exam with flying colors. 

Although it was a lot of hard work on my part, I enjoyed creating materials for my own and my students’ use in the process. That experience also gave me a chance to see that teaching at a distance was not that challenging, no matter if you use your own materials or not. 

From then on, whenever my students (mostly university students) had to go to their hometowns to visit their parents or study abroad for a semester, there was no reason for us to cut lessons and lose time: instead, we continued our classes using video call (Skype, Facebook, What’s up – whatever communication app was available). 

That’s how my online teaching journey began…  It is not my main job and I don’t always have online students, and I usually find online students by word of mouth. I have tried to find a job through online schools several times; I sent applications and had interviews. My first application and interview were successful, but the student I was offered to teach lived on the other side of the globe and this, unfortunately, meant a bigger time difference than I could handle. 

Overall, my experience with a lot of online school recruiters so far has been negative. Some of the companies preferred native speakers (with sometimes minimum teaching experience). Others were trying to sell their own online TEFL certificate courses, which was a requirement to have before you’d start your training – with no guarantee that they were going to hire you in the end.  

As a freelancer, you have the freedom to choose your own clients, materials, and working hours, although it can sometimes be a challenge to find students. You might have to spend money to advertise yourself on social media (Facebook or Instagram), maybe create a page with articles and ideas in order to build your audience.   

Technology should not be a barrier though. There are a lot of free and paid programs you can use and a lot of free tutorials on how to use them, for example MoodleEdmodoGoogle DriveWiziqAdobeSkype, and so many others. You can always experiment with different software, ask friends and colleagues to be your guinea pigs in the beginning. In fact, using a variety of online teaching platforms is not as hard as you might think at first. If you work for an online school, they will have their own platforms ready and they will train you before you actually get to teach students. They will also provide you with ready-made materials with instructions, which means you don’t have to prepare much. That said, I would advise to be aware of the time zones and the money, so you don’t end up staying up all night for a minimum wage. 

Teaching online has many other advantages. A big one is that you don’t have to commute to work. When you teach offline, sometimes the school may be far away, or if you are a private tutor like me, you have to go around the city all day, which costs both time and money. If you teach using a computer, however, you can manage your time more efficiently and save money on transport as well. You can work with students from all over the world, nothing limits you anymore. 

So, if you want to try teaching online, why not try it? There are so many online schools you can apply to and learn the ropes. You can also try teaching a lesson online to the students you already have in order to experiment. And then… Who knows what comes next!  

3 Myths Debunked About Teaching Online

3 Myths Debunked About Teaching Online

Lisa Wood


“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 oneWho 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 


Advice on Teaching (Teachers) Online

Michael GriffinAdvice on Teaching
(Teachers) Online

Michael Griffin


To be honest, I haven’t done much actual teaching of English online. I have, however, done a lot of teacher education/training online and in blended courses. It was just about 10 years ago I began doing teacher education work online. I was sometimes a bit out of my depth and could have used some advice and help on that course and in the following years. With that in mind, and at the risk of disrupting the space-time continuum, below I will share the advice I’d give to a young(er) Mike of 10 years ago who’d just started teaching online.  


Dear 2009 Mike,  

Greetings from your future self! In this fictional world where letters can be sent back in time you will have already received a letter from me, so this letter will not be as much of a surprise as the previous one, perhaps. It’s September 2009 and you are soon to be finishing up your MA TESOL at the New School. As you are aware, the majority of your classes were online. You’ve seen some great role models and models for teaching online. I’m writing to you about teaching teachers online. You might be surprised to hear that this will be a big part of your life in the future. In fact, now in September 2019 the bulk of your work is related to online teacher education. I have some hard-earned advice and key points that I’d like you to remember as you embark on this journey.  

You have been teaching face-to-face for 10 years already so you know a fair bit about how it goes. Of course, you still have a lot to learn about that, too. The good news is that much of what you know and believe about teaching English can also be applied to teaching teachers online. Just like in teaching face-to-face, scaffolding and modeling are two big things to keep in mind at all times. That’s the first piece of advice: Remember that it’s still teaching.  

As in teaching English, affect is incredibly important when teaching online. The catch is that you will not be able to “read the room” like you normally would in person. You need to hone your intuition and, more importantly, find ways to collect feedback and data on how participants are feeling. You have to try to pick up on hints of how people are feeling based on what they write and how they interact with you and others. Journals can be a good way to see this.  

The biggest difference I notice between teaching and training online versus offline is that it’s much harder and takes much longer to repair confusing instructions. In class you can easily see what’s wrong and then step in. This process might take much longer online, so be sure to have everything in order and try to be as clear as possible about assignments and steps. Of course, the use of models and rubrics can be very helpful in this regard.  

Try to see things from a student’s perspective. Revisit assignments and units with fresh eyes and do the activities yourself. Some learning management systems have a “student view” option so you can see things as your students would. Use this idea of student view both literally and figuratively when you can. Another way to see things from a student’s perspective is to take as many online courses as you can. You can kill two birds with one stone by experiencing online classes as a participant and learning the content. 

I mentioned affect above and something else I’d like you to keep in mind related to affect is how studying online can be a scary thing for some folks. What might seem normal and easy to you could be tricky and thus time-consuming and frustrating for others. It’s hard enough to contend with the content so you want to remember to make things as easy as possible for course participants. Don’t waste their time! Don’t make them learn a great new tool that will only be beneficial for one activity. Remember that your class is just one of the many things they have going on. Make sure that all the important information can be found easily. When considering how to make the online component easier for participants, screenshots and patience are your friends. 

Speaking of patience, we both know that this is not always your strong suit. A great part about teaching online (especially asynchronously, as you will do for the most part) is that you’ll almost always have a chance to put some distance between yourself and the course. If a participant says something that strikes you as rude, you can sleep on it before responding. Also, please remember that tone can be confusing when things are in writing (especially for those not so accustomed to such communication), so do try to give people the benefit of the doubt. That is, try to consider seemingly rude responses in the most positive light possible.  

An important piece of advice (and another tightrope to walk) is related to the idea of being present. You will want to make sure that participants know you are active and involved but you will also want to leave room and oxygen for conversations to develop without you. A neat trick is to acknowledge a question and share a quick response while leaving room for the group to jump in. You can come back to it later as needed. Writing up summaries of discussions is a great way to make your presence felt. Through these you can highlight learning and shed light on confusions while making connections between what participants said and the course material.  

A final piece of advice is to feel free to make personal connections with participants and let your personality show. Don’t be afraid to make corny jokes. Be yourself and don’t feel constricted by the medium. If you get sick of typing, you can make a recording or even set up a synchronous meeting.  

I am not sure if everything here will make sense to you as you read it now in 2010, but hopefully it will give you some things to think about and keep in mind. Best of luck in the journey! I am cheering for you.  


Mike in 2019  

PS – Find out what a PLN is and get one of them as soon as possible. You will hear about iTDi soon. Be sure to check out what they are up to.  

PPS – I know you are not on Twitter yet, so I am not sure if you are familiar with the term humblebrag. I’d like to share something a participant wrote about you in 2018. She wrote, “I used to think that the role of the teacher in online learning is less significant than in the traditional classroom. Not only did Mike manage to make me change this idea but also convinced me into thinking that only the teacher can make online learning effective. It was his insightful guidance, patience and positive way of thinking that made me understand many things about teaching.” Can you believe it was written about you/me/us?