The COVID-19 panedmic has radically changed the way we live and the way we learn. It has distrupted the entire education industry and by necessity, teachers and students of all ages have had to adapt. Many teachers have never taught in an online environment, and yet almost overnight, were expected to become experts in the virtual classroom. Instructors managing large, live classrooms of 50+ students during this time are facing particularly unique challenges as they balance student engagement with classroom size and organization.
For the last seven years, I’ve been instructing online classrooms of over 150 students. As Lambda’s Head of Instruction, I also help other instructors and program leads implement and ensure high-quality instruction in their classrooms. Every teacher has their own teaching style and strategy, but I wanted to share my take on the best tech tools for managing your classroom.
Students are feeling uncertain right now. To help optimise their success, it’s important to acknowledge that uncertainty and bring as much clarity as you can into your classroom. That starts with providing clear directions and guidelines around what tools and communication channels you’ll use during the lesson. At Lambda, we use a communication stack of Zoom, Slido, and Slack to interact with our students, and each tool serves a specific function. You can use whatever tool you prefer, but having a medium where students can easily communicate with you, as well as each other, is a necessity.
A lot of people think Zoom is only a video chat tool, but Zoom actually has many amazing features for teaching, such as a whiteboard function, polls, and breakout rooms. The whiteboard function allows you to write and draw diagrams during your presentation and polls can be useful for gathering immediate responses from attendees. A tool we use a lot at Lambda are “breakout rooms,” which allow you to split your Zoom meeting in up to 50 separate sessions and create the opportunity for smaller, more targeted discussion between students.
Slido allows students to ask questions throughout the lecture in one clear deck for the instructor, without creating constant interruptions within Zoom. Other students are able to upvote questions, signalling to the instructor the ones most relevant to the largest group, so they can be addressed first. Additionally, the anonymity of Slido means that students aren’t nervous or afraid about asking questions, creating higher levels of engagement from all students.
It’s important to create the highest level of community engagement in your online learning environment. Slack provides the opportunity for students to chat with each other about the class, in real time, but it isn’t distracting to the instructor (because you’ve already set up a social contract to only pay attention to Slido). Occasionally, you may want live feedback during a class and the best tool for this is threaded discussions. Creating a thread allows for all responses on the same topic to be collected under one stream, making it easier for you to follow students’ comments and react accordingly.
If you’re interested in hearing more about online tools or ideas for engaging learners, check out my webinar on managing large online classrooms.
Josh Knell is the Head of Learning at Lambda School, the live, skills-based online school that removes barriers typically in the way of pursuing higher education and a better career. In this role, Josh leads live lectures with 150+ students. He also works with instructors and program leads to build, implement, and ensure high-quality teaching and curriculum across all of Lambda School’s remote course offerings. Josh is also an Adjunct Instructor at Utah Valley University, teaching web tools and frameworks, web essentials, and introduction to web languages. Josh holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Utah Valley University and Master’s Degree in Educational/Instructional Technology from University of Utah.