Distinguishing yourself as an online teacher - Part 2

Keeping yourself up to date

This is perhaps the easiest section to implement. Generally teachers love learning and research and know how to do it well. So, a simple search will throw up many resources. A word of warning though, a lot of them are designed for English teachers (EFL/ELT) and you may have to adapt them for your needs.

Online forums are also very useful although again weighted towards English teachers. A search will reveal many. It is best to trawl through everything to find what’s good for you. I really mean this. Don’t just sign up for the first ones you see. Use the ones that really best suit your specific needs. If you are teaching gardening, then link with others who are doing the same. And if you cannot find a suitable forum, what about creating one? The adobe mud builders forum, anyone?

Blogs like this one can also help. There is a growing new world out there which will help you find your way. There is also a world of frustration out there as online learning, while growing, is having a lot of teething problems. Internet speeds, getting people to pay, tech difficulties, time zones, online management, etc., are all areas which can be improved. Learn how others deal with such things, and be prepared for creative solutions which can be offered to you. Do not believe for one second that you will not have problems, you will, and many of them. It is a brave new world full of challenges. Knowledge is your only defence.

From kids to postgrad

Universities are at the forefront of online teaching and even big name ones offer free courses. Kids and schoolchildren can also be taught but usually in a different way. Free courses have a tendency to be passive, that is, you work your way through the material without much interaction with an instructor.
This is not so useful for kids, particularly young ones. Here I have concentrated on courses were there is a teacher and direct interaction with students as passive courses are really something different. There are also blended courses where it is a mixture of passive and active teaching. The big difference is in the amount of people you can teach at one time. Direct live teaching probably works best with no more than around 12 students whereas passive learning can have any amount. Blended instruction can allow more students to participate but you have to have limits.

Potentially, you can teach almost anything online. You could supervise a PHD or teach kids probably from as young as 6 or 7. There may well be people in the future who have only ever had online teaching right through to postgrad.
Yet, English teaching is the most popular use at the moment particularly for direct live teaching. It is particularly suited to it as you can arrange almost any length of class (even 5 minutes), go from one to maybe 12 students, and teach any level or any one of the myriad of different exam based courses such as IELTs or CAE. They are typically structured into reading, writing, listening and speaking modules, which slots perfectly into online live training.

You can thus set up your own business, perhaps renting a system such as Vedamo or just using instant messenger. If you are teaching something esoteric, perhaps that is the way to go. Set up on your own and create a distinct personality and brand which means people will associate the teaching of x with you. You could be known as the thatched cottage guru if that is what you are an expert on. (here I would include a picture of a thatched roof)

Teach to the students individual needs and characteristics

One of the beauties of teaching online is that the students are far more likely to be focused on the learning than in a traditional classroom. Why? Because there are less distractions, they can’t easily chat to someone else or a fellow student (although some systems like Vedamo do have an IM service built in)

Use that to get to know them. Body language is very important in the classroom as every good teacher knows, even if only to spot who is daydreaming or sleeping. With only 12 or so head shots to watch, you can see which ones are attentive, what fires them up, in short, what works and for whom. Do seriously consider using the Howard Gardner test , which I spoke about in the first part of this series, at the start as a quick method to get to know how your students like to learn. I always do no matter what I teach.
Don’t be afraid to split them into groups of likeminded students. Using the Multiple Intelligences method mentioned previously, those that are linguistic minded or maths minded, for example, can work together and you can tailor some exercises to suit.

Certainly, if you are teaching one to one you should take this factor into consideration. You yourself will probably have a bias towards one of the seven intelligences but try to pull away from this and embrace all types. You may never have thought too much about teaching using a lot of spatial/visual methods but with some, it is their most comfortable way to learn. If you can master teaching through all the different ways that people learn, you will truly be among the best.

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Gus Worth is a highly experienced writer and educator having worked in universities for nearly 20 years and being first published at the age of six. Currently in the English department of the American University in Bulgaria, he also writes extensively for the web and in print for many companies. He has a particular love of online teaching and enjoys helping teachers take their first steps in the exciting world of the future where you can connect with, and help students develop, all over the planet.
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