Best Practices in Communication in the Online Classroom

Even the most experienced instructors and skilled communicators may find themselves fumbling to adjust to the online classroom. The COVID-19 pandemic gave the educational world a crash course in using video conferencing tools, but many educators are still in the process of figuring out the best way to engage students in a digital environment. Below we explore some best practices for communication in a synchronous online classroom:

Familiarize Yourself with the Tech.

An instructor may have a well-structured lecture, but if they are unprepared to navigate video conferencing technology, students may never get to hear it or may get distracted by the problems and interruptions. Instructors can prepare by being aware of what could go awry and having a backup plan in place. Examples include:

  • Poor internet connection. Make sure you’re in a location with reliable internet. Consider setting up a hotspot on your smartphone as a backup plan. 
  • Difficulty connecting to audio or video. Keep a smartphone or other device on hand in case you need another option for video or audio.
  • Audio feedback. This can often be fixed by muting all but one of your devices—you can also set up your meeting so that your students are muted by default. 
  • Difficulty presenting slideshow or elements within slideshow. Test all audio and visual elements before class and save links to any videos or resources that can be found online in case students need to review them on their own. 
  • “Zoom bombing.” Use a meeting password or the “waiting room” feature offered by many tools to prevent unwanted visitors from gaining access to your class. 

Use the Built-In Engagement Features.

Use polling features to break up lectures by pausing to ask students a question. This can either be a test of their retention by asking them to recall a fact or an opinion poll to get students thinking critically about the content. You can even add in a splash of humor by including one ridiculous answer choice—something for students to look forward to (or groan at). Many platforms also have a whiteboard feature that allows both instructors and students to make drawings, create graphs, and otherwise collaborate virtually. 

Take Screen Breaks.

Screen fatigue is a constant challenge in an online learning environment. Build breaks into your class session and encourage students to do anything except look at a screen during that time (that includes their phones). You might encourage brief stretch breaks and guided exercises that help everyone rest their eyes and return to class ready to focus. 

Ask Questions Often.

As you plan your lesson, consider where you can integrate questions and encourage critical thinking. You might do this by having students predict the answer on a topic they have not yet studied, apply new concepts to a real-life problem, or make connections and correlations between topics. Instructors can also add in fun icebreaker questions unrelated to the course content to give students a mental break from the material. 

Apply General Communication Best Practices.

Many of the same techniques used in the classroom can be applied in a virtual environment, such as varying your speaking style, practicing active listening, and continuously providing clarity around key topics and learning goals. To learn more about these basics, check out our recent blog on “Best Practices in Communication in the In-Person Classroom.”

Online education comes with unique challenges, but with the right technology tools and training in place, both educators and students can begin to reap the benefits. Leo, the educational software platform, provides educators with advanced calendaring, curriculum mapping, data visualization, and evaluation tools. To explore how Leo can support your institution, reach out today