Online teaching for the technophobe – Part 2

In one of our previous articles – Online teaching for the technophobe – Part 1 we discussed the first 3 tips provided by Gus Worth for technophobes and how they can get over their fears. 

One step at a time

Realistically the technophobe shouldn’t expect to be able to work long hours straightaway, you are putting yourself under too much pressure. Typically, classes in a course are 2-4 hours per week and private tuition the same. If your school are happy with that, and they should be, start with one group or individual and make sure it is a quiet time when you are less likely to get stressed. Don’t let your anxiety to earn money push you to do more than you can handle. Competency will come if you give yourself time.

Now, I want to talk about the good schools that care about developing their teachers. They will have online support staff in a little corner of your screen. You can type a simple “Hi” and they will respond. Your students cannot see this interaction. What you should do, and I really think you must do, is always have on hand some tests or pieces of writing that you can give to your students whilst talking to the support team if you have forgotten how to do something. While the students are occupied with the test, you can be reminded of what to do. Even if you have asked the same questions more than once in the past, they should be patient with you. In my experience of teaching technophobes, and I have done it a lot, is that they forget the same things over and over. You always say “OMG, I have forgotten how to do X again”. Believe me, good support staff know this and will work with you. Don’t blunder on trying to remember, ask, it is easier and safer. Remember the Golden Rule, they need the technophobes more than the technophiles.

They should also, in the training, have got you to do dummy classes, and they should be a great help in giving you confidence, but they are usually done with the school’s staff members. Ask if you can also do dummy classes with friends or family once you have finished the training. Flying solo is always better if you have supportive people around.

Replicate the classroom that you are used to at the start

In a typical physical classroom you have a whiteboard, you hand out text based exercises, or students have a textbook, or maybe you do a listening exercise or watch a video. The good news is that with a good teaching system such as Vedamo, you can do exactly the same. The support staff should show you how to upload a pdf or word doc which the students can work on in class. Or you could explain something using the whiteboard the same as you would in the old classroom you are familiar with. You can upload pictures and discuss them.

Ok, now I have mentioned some technical things, but please don’t be daunted. If you have uploaded files via email, then this is similar. You upload the files into the correct folder and then access them whenever you need them. Vedamo, for example, puts text based files in one part and video or listening files in a different position as you need to open the embedded player to see and hear them. This will have been explained on the training. However, do not be afraid to stick with just text and listenings at the start as even in the modern era, a lot of physical classrooms do not have video capacity. Like I say, try and stay within your comfort zone and do things, at the start, which are similar to what you are used to. You could even just use the whiteboard and your voice to teach if that is what you are comfortable with. And lest you are worried, the whiteboard should be easy to use, as simple as typing in Word and as easy to erase when it gets full up with your wisdom.

Once you get over your initial skittishness, you can start to think about all the wonderful things you can do with a good online system, all the things the school told you can do in your training. But don’t think about them at the start, concentrate on doing what you know you can, which is walking into a class and teaching your subject the way you have always done.

Get yourself as good a computer as you need

This aspect is also important. If you are going to teach a fairly big classroom, say 8-12 people, a sizable screen is better. 15 inches or more is comfortable. A tablet or a phone is not so good. It is best to have a dedicated headphone/mic set so sounds don’t drift in from outside. You certainly don’t need top of the range but you need a good camera and a processor that can handle the system with ease. Here you need to talk to the school, get them to check if what you have is good enough. If it isn’t, you should seriously think about upgrading. 500 euros or less should get you a capable computer and headset so it is not a huge investment. If your computer is going to give you problems, then that adds to the stress. If you do decide to upgrade, then try to keep the new one for work and the old one for everything else. Try to keep it nice and fast and not overloaded with stuff.

At this point, I also want to talk about the internet. You will need fast and more crucially, reliable internet speed to be able to teach and again you need to check with your school. I have been teaching online for more than ten years and I have found mobile internet to be a great boon as a backup. If your main internet disappears you can switch to your phone’s hotspot and continue. Believe me, I have done it many times. A backup system eases your stress. What speed do you need? It depends on the system used but probably at least 5 or 6 Mbps is minimal.

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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