By Sean Mortell
If you’re currently studying, you might have already experienced a swift move to online learning. Programs like Zoom, Collaborate, Google Hangouts and Skype have certainly made things easier, but there are still plenty of pitfalls that university students and teachers alike can run into.
Considering students make up majority of the class, it’s key to be across the etiquette to helping create a harmonious online classroom. It all boils down to effort and respect. Participation, general awareness and empathy will help make online classrooms as beneficial for everyone as possible.
Show your face
Liam Cochrane, a tutor of ‘Reporting Sound and Image’ at Melbourne’s RMIT University, says participation and effort are essential to making online lessons work. Liam believes that starting off with some type of video check-up is the best way to set the tone for classes. It allows him to see who is there and gives him the opportunity to field any queries or issues relating the course.
“It’s really important to switch to video at [the start], so we all see each other and get motivated by the fact everyone else has dragged themselves out of their pyjamas to do a class,” Liam says, “and it helps to motivate me too”.
Clearly, motivation is key when it comes to keeping students engaged. Liam runs a four-hour class, so breaking up the lesson and maintaining student focus is difficult.
The best thing students can do from this is to be passionate and understanding of their tutors. Simple actions while on video calls can include muting your microphone if you aren’t speaking and leaving your camera on so that your teacher can see you are listening and staying involved. Remember, this is just as tough on teachers as it is students, so give something back to let them know you are following them.
Make use of online forums
An effective interface for classes is Slack. Liam uses Slack for his class, and uses it to “maintain some structure throughout the week”. By combining this with Skype’s Meet Now video function, Liam can set up weekly routines that involve face-to-face meetings and constant channels for queries and feedback. In a course that often relies on hands-on work with technical equipment and exploring the world for interviews, Slack and Skype have worked together to replicate the core aspects of the subject as well as possible.
Sometimes online forums have their problems. No matter how hard one tries, internet connection is notoriously fickle. There will always be times when documents won’t load, or work won’t upload in the correct way. Try to be empathetic and to go with the flow.
“I think it’s important to be transparent with students and say, ‘Hey we’re all working this out as we go, so let’s roll with it and laugh at the absurdities and stuff ups’”, Liam says. He continues this approach when running online lectures, creating teaching tools that are made on the fly.
Things may not be perfect, but experimenting and trusting your teachers may be the best way to navigate the difficulties of online learning.