Running an online school – Part 1

I will change direction slightly now and concentrate on how to run an online school as I feel I may have exhausted all avenues in setup. I will talk about getting and retaining clients.

Getting and retaining clients

Now, at this stage, I feel this series needs to move on to running an online school as, if you have got this far, I have pretty much covered any aspects of setup that I can. If anyone wishes me to talk about an aspect not covered please say so and I will do it. Or if I think of another aspect I will return to it.
So, you have started or are just about to, and you want to know what to focus on. First off, quality is maybe the biggest consideration, those that offer quality rarely go out of business unless what they offer has become irrelevant, like roll film cameras for example, which are now only for the experts. So you need to spend time figuring out what it is you are offering, and how to make sure you stick to it and any staff also adhere to it. This requires setting up a teaching quality template that everyone can follow.

Your teaching quality template

This should be comprehensive and updateable, covering everything that happens in and out of the classroom.

This should cover:

  1. class sizes
  2. class times
  3. course lengths
  4. what materials may be used
  5. how to grade consistently across all teachers
  6. recruitment of teachers
  7. payment of staff
  8. how to train everyone so they can use whatever software you are using to its maximum potential
  9. how to deal with problems online both technical and with students
  10. how to support each other
  11. what happens when someone can’t make their allotted time
  12. team meetings to discuss improvements and dealing with problems
  13. a clear division of decision making
  14. how to deal with corporate clients
  15. an update section to cover new issues

Class sizes

I will cover each of these in turn. The simplest to work on is class sizes, as online in a fully live class with interaction, I would say something like 12 is the maximum. Of course, in a lecture style situation you can have as many as you like as they will be passive or you could have a running comment board moderated. This series has concentrated on the former so I will talk about that mostly. I feel you need to work with your teachers and decide your maximum. Too many and teaching quality becomes affected. Somewhere between 8 and 12 will most likely be your final figure. Work with your teachers on this aspect, some may be able to handle more and others not. It’s important to emphasise that with dedicated teaching software such as Vedamo control is exemplary, students can raise their hands to speak, you can subdivide students into sections, you can show videos, etc., and so for certain subjects and at certain times you may be able to raise limits. Always be open to the possibilities the software offers as, of course, the more you can have in a class, the more competitive your pricing can be. You just need to oversee quality at all times and this is the beauty of Vedamo. You can always monitor by sitting in on classes invisibly and also watching recordings of the sessions. Whatever figure can be comfortably handled with excellence should be your maximum.

Class times

Class times can, of course, be whatever you like. An academic hour usually varies between 40 to 45 minutes and you can have double sessions, whole day training broken down into sections, or even devise your own times. Offering an astromonical hour, for instance, might give you a competitive advantage. Offering anything from 5 minutes, 10 minutes to whatever you like may also give you an edge over the rest. You don’t have to travel to work, and neither does the student. They may want a session while on a train or bus, during their lunchbreak, or any time. They may want several in a day.

This is the real area that online teaching has a huge advantage over traditional. Because there is no need to travel you can offer what you like. Please benefit from this plus. I have said before that giving customers what they want is the essence of business and giving online students freedom to learn whenever they like will be what many want. And, you may say that that will only work with one to one lessons and I say no, you can schedule sessions for morning rush hour, lunchtimes and evening rush hour and let students join in. I hope they are not driving vehicles, though. In the big cities huge numbers use public transport and they are perfect for such offers.

Of course, technically, such sessions need to be organized differently as, for Vedamo at least, the bigger the screen the better, and a small phone may not be great if videos need to be watched or you need to do much writing. Also on a small screen class sizes may need to be smaller, but you can set a different maximum for such classes, say even 4 or 5. Probably conversational classes will best suit this format but always push the boundaries. Try to figure how best to use the potential of short classes and you could be on a winner.
And in that vein, figuring out how best to teach large classes online would also put you on the champions podium.

I will continue going through the various aspects mentioned above over the coming weeks.

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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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