I’ve taught full time online since 2012, but I officially got started back in 2010. Depending on my schedule, I teach 3 to 5 hours online per day. Most of what I do is one-to-one tutoring, but I do also teach groups.
Now that my team of online teachers at English Success Academy has expanded considerably, I’m seeing over and over what the core skills are for teaching online. When teachers have these skills, the technology facilitates learning instead of creating obstacles. With that confidence, teachers can relax and focus on helping the student. Eventually, this translates into more valuable lessons.
The following is a list of skills that I make sure my teachers know. If you master these as well, you’ll have a really strong foundation for teaching online.
Skill 1: Searching YouTube
For everything that I’m going to explain to you below, there are already a dozen video tutorials that have already been created, edited and uploaded by the good citizens of YouTube. If at any point you need a visual demonstration, just head over to YouTube and type in some keywords for that idea. The chances are very, very high that you’ll have a few tutorial videos within seconds.
Skills 2 through 5: Jing (or an alternative)
A picture truly is worth 1000 words. Especially for non-native speakers. I use this every, single day.
- Use your keyboard’s “print screen” key to snap a picture.
- Download Jing and create an account. (Basically, it is a computer program that lets you clip a more selective portion of your screen than what you can do with your keyboard’s “print screen” option.)
- Use Jing to grab a static image and…
- Upload an image and get a URL where anyone can visit the image
- Copy/paste the image so it is embeded in an email.
- Use Jing to grab a video. This way, you can do little tutorials on the fly for students who are struggling with some aspect of technology. To make it unbelievably accessible for any student in the world…
- Upload the video and get a URL where anyone can visit the image
Skills 6 through 8: Hyperlinks
With each passing day, more and more materials that your students may access are likely to actually be hosted online. Sure, you can copy/paste long URL (addresses for a webpage) into a document or email, but they also look confusing and can distract from your message.
This is where hyperlinks come in handy. They allow you to create links that lead to a specific address, but they have a nice message like “Click here to read more details” or “To do this part of your homework, click here.”
You want to be confident creating hyperlinks in a variety of programs. I suggest starting with these…
- In your email (probably only works on a desktop computer so don’t get frustrated on your smart phone!)
- In a Microsoft Word Doc
- In a Google Doc
Skill 9: Identifying Different File Types
When someone sends you a file and you cannot open it, or it doesn’t display properly, the biggest reason is that the file type isn’t supported by your device. Before your eyes glaze over and your brain clicks into auto pilot, stay with me for one more sentence. You probably already know that audio files have different “extensions” than word documents. The extension is the very last part of the file name with a full stop and then a few letters. Each extension has a different purpose. Here are some of the most common ones.
Still breathing? Awesome!
Skills 10 through 12: Converting File Types
There are ways that we can perform digital alchemy and turn one kind of file type into another one. It is very handy to know how to do this because you can quickly solve lots of problems that come up in online learning.
Example 1: Sometimes I’ve assigned speaking homework and asked a student to record their voice and share the audio file with me. What arrives is some random file type that is only supported by their smart phone and doesn’t play on my computer. (Thanks Samsung!) While I could ask my student to download another app that creates the universal audio file, .mp3, it is faster for me to just convert it — and we don’t lose their homework.
Example 2: You create some fantastic-looking activity on your computer in Microsoft Word (or PowerPoint).
So, here are the skills I recommend you master:
- Create a Microsoft Word Doc. Save it as a PDF.
- Create a PowerPoint slide deck. Save it as JPG or PNG image files.
- Upload and convert an .mp3 audio file into another type with this website Media.io
Aaaand because you may be glazing over and in need of extra oxygen…
Skills 13 through 18: Creating & Sharing Audio Files
The number of ways you can create audio files is mind boggling. There are endless apps and the chances are good that your computer already has some program that will allow you to record your voice.
- Create an audio file on your computer. (If you’re on a PC, search the programs menu for Sound Recorder.)
- Upload that audio file to Google Drive or DropBox. (Hint: Click and drag, click and drag!)
- Share that audio file with your student.
… and because that whole process is just a liiiiiiitle bit different on a smart phone or tablet…
- Create an audio file on your smart phone.
- Get that audio into the Google Drive or DropBox (or email).
- Share that audio file with your student. Depending on how you have your folders and the viewing permissions set up, your student may or may not already be able to see the file that you uploaded at this point. Double-check the settings in the platform to make sure they can see them. You could go the old-fashioned route and ask them if they can see the file, but again, for the sake of speed and efficiency, and to increase your own value as an online teacher, figure out how to use the program well enough that you can be sure for your student.
Skill 19 and 20: Looking Professional on Camera
It’s not just vanity, people. Your professionalism is either enhanced or limited by how students see you. Fret not! If you’ve ever had a job anywhere before, you can do this.
- Set up your background and adjust the height of your webcam so you look professional. Not sure how to? Click here to watch my video presentation.
- Lots of laptops and netbooks today have built-in webcams. Mine makes me look like a zombie and that is why I plug in this Logitech webcam. Sometimes my computer gets confused and displays Zombie Cam instead of Friendly Cam. When you have multiple cameras like this, you also should practice switching between the different camera options in Skype or Zoom.
Skill 21: Activating the Right Microphone
Sure your computer probably already has a built-in microphone. If you’re planning on making your living from communicating online, your voice needs to sound crisp and clear — not tinny or buzzy. It is especially unwise to charge for pronunciation lessons if you have a low-quality microphone that distorts your voice.
Here is the skill to practice with your microphone:
- Adjust your microphone and headphone settings. If you’re using a video conferencing platform like Zoom or Skype, you just need to explore the settings for audio devices. There is a dropdown menu that shows you the different microphone(s) that could be used. If you’re like me, you have about 3 options at any one time.
Skills 22 through 23: Simplifying Homework
There was a time in my life when I collected homework via email. It lasted for far too many months. I would send homework in an email, or attached as a document to an email. But then I would think of something else I wanted to add just moments after I hit send (you know how that is), so then I would try to add a little message (which students wouldn’t see) or send another updated document (which students also wouldn’t see). And then students would send back zillions of files for homework. And right after they sent it to me, they would want to add something else, so then I had multiple versions that were almost identical, except for some tiny little difference. It was sort of alright when I had just one or two students, but with a full schedule?
My mind wanted to explode. It was at that point that I started using DropBox to synchronize and send files for me. There are only skills here, but they are life changing.
- Create folders to organize each student’s lesson material and homework.
- Share the folder with your student.
- Create folders on your computer where you can find your master copies of files and documents.
Skills 24 through 30: Using Zoom
I used to use Skype. It worked really well for a long time. Now, I use Zoom, and with my teaching schedule, I practically live in there.
- Lock your Zoom room so no one else can beam in.
- Allow your student to record the session.
- Share your screen with viewers.
- Play an audio file on your computer
- Use annotation tools to draw on the screen
- Present a grammar point
- Trouble-shoot a student’s problem…
- Make him or her share his or her screen.
- Use the annotation tools to draw circles or arrows on the screen to direct him or her where to click.
- Use the eraser to erase the circles or arrows that you just drew.
If you read this far, you are amazing! Less dedicated teachers gave up paragraphs ago. Here’s another amusing animal GIF for you (which you now know is that special type of image file).
Obviously, you might feel a bit uncomfortable and clunky with all the technology in the beginning. One of the reasons it took me 5 months to get my first online student was that I had to get online!
Just like anything you now easily do in the classroom, there was a time when it was tough. I know you say it all the time to your students, but sometimes we need to hear it ourselves, as teachers: “The more you do it, the smoother and more confident you’ll get.”
Bookmark this blog post. Come back to it occasionally over time. There’s no need to absorb all of these ideas instantly. You’ll need the skills when you need them.