Dr. Tina L. Callaway is the Program Chair of Undergraduate Business and General Education studies as well as the Resource Coordinator at New England College of Business at Cambridge College. She is most recently affiliated with Concordia University – Portland’s Kappa Delta Pi chapter, which has sadly closed its doors after 115 years as an institution.
COVID-19 has unexpectedly opened the door to online education, sending our faces across the web thanks to programs like Zoom. Video conferencing has given our students a view into our lives outside the classroom. As teachers learn how to juggle working from home, teaching a virtual classroom, and reminding the family you’re at work, here are a few pointers from my 17 years of online teaching.
- Dress for success (from the waist up). Ladies, that really cute skirt or leggings looks great with a solid cotton t-shirt when you’re in front of a live class. In front of the camera, students see a plain old t-shirt. Get dressed in a shirt with a collar or at least be sure to doll up your t-shirt with a nice necklace or scarf. Male teachers, always wear a collared shirt, whether a button-up or polo. (I was in a pinch once to attend an evening Zoom meeting and had already changed into my fortunately nice pajamas. I threw on a strand of pearls, put on dangle earrings, and finished with a swipe of lipstick. Worked one time; doubtful it would work again. Do not try this at home!)
- Put on shoes. Why not just my fuzzy pink slippers? There’s a psychological switch when you put on shoes. Shoes indicate going somewhere and doing something other than sitting on the couch watching Netflix and eating bonbons. The simple act of putting them on will give you an “it’s time to work” mindset. Socks get you bonus points.
- You have now entered the Teacher Zone. If possible, dedicate a space or set up a boundary where your family knows that, once you’re there, you are in the Teacher Zone: Do not disturb. There are two benefits to having a dedicated space, whether it’s a desk in a corner or the luxury of your own home office. The first is that this, like shoes, puts you in a work mindset. This is your time for your students, not grabbing snacks for the kiddos, taking Poopsie puppy for a walk, or finding your spouse’s keys. Some people use masking tape on the floor for a boundary. Remember using tape to divide your bedroom with your sibling? The second is, this is your safe place to work and not feel guilty for not giving snacks, walks, or finding keys. You are at work.
- What is that?! Have you stopped to look at what’s behind you when you’re on-camera? For those fortunate enough to own a green screen and then apply a background, great. The rest of us are not so well equipped and have to rely on what’s in our home. Turn on your camera and really look at what students can see. I’ve seen a dresser mirror positioned so the unmade bed was visible. Dirty dishes and cluttered counters are distracting. Does your camera pick up the bathroom? Shut the door. Make sure your background is as clean and neat as your classroom at school.
- The disappearing head. If you use graphic backgrounds without a green screen, unless you’re able to stay perfectly motionless, parts of your head will disappear as you move, such as an ear or the left quarter of your brain. These backgrounds can be fun, but they’re more of a distraction as students watch to see what’ll vaporize next.
- Check me out! Do a test run on camera. Most programs will let you record, so do a quick session and see what your students will see. Do you wear glasses? Are you shooting laser eyes at your students? Do you have a flattop haircut or is your camera too low, cutting off the top of your head? Check your makeup, ladies: too bold makes you look clownish, not enough makes you look washed-out.
- Look deep into my eyes…. It’s natural to talk to the screen image of the student, but when you do this, you are not making eye contact with them. Looking into the camera (with the occasional glance to see if they are engaged) will show you are speaking directly to them. Think about watching the news. When they look into the camera, it’s like they’re talking to you. It provides that sense of connection.
- Who’s that girl? By now we’ve all seen the funny clips of reporters having their small children bursting into their home office. In your online classroom, these visits are distracting. Make sure your family respects your camera time. Your son may be cute in his Batman undies with his He-Man sword. Your spouse may think he can casually stroll behind you with only his shoulders and knees visible. The pets you love should also be kept away from the camera. Online time means work time. (True story: I was on-camera with a student and his teenage brother came sauntering through in only his whitey-tighties.)
I hope these tips made you smile but also made you think about what you can do to be successful as you navigate the new waters of teaching remotely.
Resources for further information:
4 Tips for Teachers Shifting to Teaching Online
7 Tips on How to Prepare for Teaching Online
Zoom Tips for Teachers: Learn and Grow Together Online
(Don’t miss 10 tips for running a virtual lesson on Zoom – halfway through the article)