Aug 20 2020

How to Set Up a Virtual Classroom

Moving a classroom online is no easy task, especially for those who are new to teaching remotely for an extended period of time.

Setting up a classroom looks vastly different for many educators this fall with continued remote learning in place. Instead of decorating bulletin boards and planning seating arrangements, most are figuring out how to provide engaging, meaningful learning experiences for their students online.

The unexpected shift to remote learning in the spring revealed that many educators are not prepared to teach online. More than half of teachers shared that they don’t feel prepared to facilitate learning remotely, according to Class Tag’s report on how teachers are turning to technology amid coronavirus school closings.

Now, many teachers are stepping out of their comfort zones to learn new tools and online teaching strategies. That includes knowing how to create an environment that enriches student learning and contributes to effective instruction, even if it takes place over the internet. Here are four tips educators can use to get started with setting up their virtual classroom.

1. Get Your At-Home Workspace Ready

Creating a designated space for work and online teaching is crucial for educators working from home. Doing so can help them stay productive and focused throughout the day and minimize distractions that may disrupt student learning.

Teachers don’t necessarily need to have a home office or retrofit an existing room into one. Some have invested in new equipment such as professional cameras, headsets and whiteboards to provide higher-quality synchronous and asynchronous instruction. However, making small adjustments — from moving to a well-lit, clutter-free room to live stream or record a lesson to using a stack of books to raise a webcam up to eye level when videoconferencing — can make a huge difference in how well they teach online.

2. Test Your Tech Before the Start of Class

Educators should also be aware of common technical issues that they or their students may encounter during online learning, such as microphones not working properly or embedded videos not playing in presentations. This is especially important, as many IT departments are swamped with tackling more urgent requests and bigger challenges now that schools are largely distributed.

It’s a good idea for teachers to conduct a video and audio test on any devices or platforms they’ll be using. They should also consider doing a run-through of their lessons before livestreaming or recording them. Taking these steps can help minimize the amount of troubleshooting they have to do throughout the day and can make them feel more prepared and confident with online teaching.

READ MORE: Learn how to use audiovisual equipment for effective remote or blended learning.

3. Set Classroom Expectations, Goals and Routines

Even if students aren’t physically in a classroom, educators will still need to set clear expectations for their classes. Emily Kirsch, instructional technology coach at Educate, tells EdTech that establishing class norms and goals with students encourages them to take ownership of their learning and fosters productive learning environments.

Many schools have set expectations and guidelines for students when using school-issued devices, videoconferencing platforms and other digital tools. Teachers have also created posters and presentations to share on Google ClassroomMicrosoft Teams or the learning management system of their choice to help students navigate their new classroom setting.

4. Make Communication and Survey Tools Available

Open lines of communication are key to a virtual classroom, especially now that face-to-face conversations are limited. By providing accessible and consistent communication, teachers can keep parents and guardians informed on the latest school news or their student’s progress. This also lets educators check in on their students and ensure their social and emotional needs are met.

Besides the standard phone calls, emails and text messages, educators can post class updates and schedule one-on-one meetings using their LMS to streamline all communications and reduce the need for any additional IT support.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Adopt these best practices to improve parent communications.

It’s also important to gather feedback from students and their families to identify areas of improvement. With online surveys such as Google Forms and apps like Seesaw, Kahoot and Microsoft’s Flipgrid, educators can ask questions about students’ online classroom experiences. They can also collect valuable data, such as what time students are doing their online schoolwork and how long it takes them to complete it, and use that data to adjust how they prepare and deliver their lessons.

Setting up a fully virtual classroom is no easy task, especially for educators who are unfamiliar with online tools. But being open to new ways of using technology for learning can bring teachers one step closer to making online learning more accessible, engaging and effective for all students.

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