Teaching in front of a classroom of kids is a skill that many (including myself) don’t have. As many schools have transitioned from in-classroom learning (what we all did in school) to remote learning there are going to be a few differences that at teachers you are going to notice as you do these remote teaching sessions.
I’ve been teaching classes remotely to IT Professionals for years now, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned over time to explain some things, and hopefully make you realize that others are totally normal.
1. Talking to your monitor
Unless you’ve got a professional setup for recording in your house you will probably find yourself doing what most of us to, talking to your computer screen with some sort of microphone and webcam pointed at yourself. What you normally get from your audience is feedback, even if you don’t realize it. People sigh and fidget if they aren’t getting what you are trying to explain. You won’t get those little queues when you are presenting online. That means that you’ll need to explain things in more detail and ask questions, more than normal, to make sure the students get the topic. What this boils down to is that teaching remote classes just sucks because you don’t get that level of interaction from the students. But right now, it’s what we need to do.
2. People don’t ask questions
One thing that I’ve noticed after doing hundreds of hours of professional training for people, is that remote audiences don’t ask questions. I really hope that this is different for kids than the IT Professionals that I give classes to, but I get far fewer questions when I present a session remotely than I do when I present the same session in person to people. Part of it is because it’s remote people don’t think that they can ask questions, so if you’ve got an interactive way of talking to the students, ask if there questions. Ask that a lot. If they send if their questions via text (they have to type in the question) take a few minutes to let them type in their question before you move on. It’ll break your flow a little bit, but it will give those that aren’t great typers a chance to finish their question before you start talking about the subject again.
3. Order a decent Microphone and Camera
With the assumption that this remote learning approach is going to be happening for a while now (some schools like the ones here in San Diego, CA are going to be closed the rest of the school year) you’ll want to invest in a decent microphone and camera. The ones that are built into your laptop probably aren’t going to cut it long term. Personally I use this microphone from Rode which you can get on Amazon (only get the one that is fulfilled by Amazon, otherwise you risk getting a fake). The Rode that I linked to has a breath shield so that it’ll pick up your breathing while you talk less. A good microphone will pick up your breathing really well, and it’ll be really distracting to the people watching.
When it comes to the microphone play a little with the gain knob on the microphone. You want it to be fairly high, without picking up to much background noise. Keep in mind that if you turn up the gain on the microphone really high, it’ll pick up cars driving by, even if they a couple of streets away. When I first got my Rode microphone it could pick up cars driving by that I couldn’t hear.
For a camera, I use the Microsoft LifeCam Studio which is also available on Amazon. The camera I have is a few years old so I’ve got an older model, but even the older model has pretty good video quality. The microphone in it isn’t great, which is why I have the Rode.
4. Don’t put your microphone on your desk
Putting your microphone on your desk is a horrible plan. The microphone will pick up every tap of the desk that you make. Every time you tap the keyboard keys or click the mouse the microphone will pick up the vibration and it will be incredibly loud for the people that are watching. I use a swing arm that is similar to this one by Innogear (I can’t find the exact one that I have, but I bought it years ago). Mine is mounted clamped to a monitor arm, which is bolted to the wall. So unless I kick the wall by accident (and I’d have to kick right under the monitor) the microphone doesn’t pick up any tapping on the desk or the keyboard. If you think you can tap quietly enough on the mouse that a microphone on the desk won’t pick it up, you can’t. The microphone is picking up the touch to the desk and converting that into sound. If you don’t want to mount a microphone in the wall (which I totally get) look into a microphone stand like this one from Pyle. That way it can sit on the floor and it will come to you instead of you having to do to the microphone.
5. Speak Slowly
You’re a teacher so you probably know this one, but it’s worth saying. When doing remote teaching speak slowly. Slower than normal, painfully slow. What the watchers hear, will sound a lot faster then you think it does. Personally, this screws me up all the time, as I’m a fast talker naturally, so speaking slowly just feels so weird to me. But that’s how I know that I’m speaking slowly enough. Do a quick recording of you talking at your normal speed and see how it sounds. Odds are that you’ll want to slow down your sleep.
This whole working and teaching from home thing is going to be very weird, but this is going to be the new normal for a while. Hopefully, the pain that I went through when I started holding remote classes will help others so they don’t have to go through the same pain.