Teaching from home presents unique challenges to teachers used to standing up in front of a class. What is becoming clear is that teaching from home is part of the future of education. Whether through synchronous or asynchronous learning, remote teaching and learning are part of the evolving landscape of education. With tools that can help with the lesson planning, class delivery, and storing or distribution of resources, there are more ways than ever to connect teachers to students online. With everything from free readily available software services to huge institutional learning management systems, there are modern solutions to new problems.
Keep reading to get detailed breakdowns of choosing the right tool for the job in each step of teaching from home!
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Lessons
Teaching remotely means making the decision about how – and when – students access the lesson. Though there are a number of different types of distance learning, one of the main choices you’ll need to make when teaching from home is synchronous teaching versus asynchronous teaching.
Synchronous teaching at its core is when teaching and learning happen at the same time. Live classrooms are a perfect example of synchronous learning. The teacher delivers material in real-time to learners who are physically present. On the flip side, asynchronous teaching happens when the teacher delivers a lesson, and students receive the lesson at different times. The style of e-learning that relies on recorded video, static text, self-directed review, and automated assessment is a good example of asynchronous education.
So, which is better? It really depends on the lesson or material being taught. As a general rule, however, it’s good to include a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous learning. The exact ratio is very much a matter of preference and varies wildly, but making sure to include both real-time and easily reviewed elements has a better chance of connecting with students in a meaningful way. With the ability now of screen recording, live lessons can become also part of the asynchronous learning resources.
Determining your mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching is also important in terms of which tools you choose and how you employ them.
How to Setup a Teaching Station
To effectively teach from home, it’s important to have the right equipment available. At a minimum, you’re going to want the following:
- A computer
- A reliable Internet connection
- A second display (preferably a touchscreen monitor)
- A microphone and camera for live teaching and/or recording
These tools represent the minimum for effective teaching from home. A drawing pad might replace a touchscreen, or a tablet could also do the trick; your laptop’s built-in camera and mic might be sufficient. Some teachers opt for an analog whiteboard in the frame and teach the lesson much like normal, while others may switch to just a slide deck and therefore don’t need a camera at all. What’s most important is he audio and video plus enough screen real estate to manage your digital tools.
Why Dual Displays for Teaching at Home?
Many of the tools we’ll be discussing below will require quite a lot of screen space to properly organize communications. They will include both a presentation space and a student-teacher interaction space (at least for synchronous learning components). It’s a huge waste of time constantly switching between the two on a single screen and because of the availability of digital whiteboarding software, we recommend that one of those screens be a full-sized touch monitor. This way, you can make a more natural transition from the large classroom display to teaching online.
It’s worth noting, however, that the two screens don’t need to be the same size, so a monitor along with an existing laptop is plenty to make full use of modern tools. Even a single ultra-wide monitor could do the trick. It’s more about having the extra space and not flipping between different views.
Again Why a Touch Screen?
Some version of a front-of-class display has been in place for centuries from blackboards and whiteboards to projectors and interactive flat-panel displays. It’s undeniably helpful to have a large, central display that the teacher can interact with directly.
However, few people have the space in their homes to devote to a full-sized display – analog or digital – and the portable versions of touch screen like smartphones, tablets, or even portable monitors aren’t big enough to properly annotate or write notes. A touchscreen monitor acts as an excellent middle ground for teachers wanting to teach from home without breaking their flow.
How to Plan Digital Lessons
Planning digital lessons isn’t all that different from planning for regular lessons. You still need to plan out your specific learning outcomes, arrange materials, and allow for reinforcement or review. What will differ is your delivery of content and how you interact with students.
Depending on your regular workflow, it is possible that you won’t have to change lesson planning very much. This is especially true if you already integrate an interactive whiteboard into your lessons or use rich media as teaching aids. Lessons will likely stay very similar for you, even if the medium through which you teach has changed.
Here’s a pro tip for teachers sticking to their tried-and-true methods: have a little extra planned. Without the natural transitions of switching activities, student-to-student chats, or interruptions, many online teachers feel like they fly through their planned lessons much faster than expected. It’s also harder to be spontaneous online than it is in person, so having some extra activities or assignments will make sure neither you nor your students are just lingering in dead air. You may not need the extra teaching content, but it’s better to have a plan.
For tech-savvy teachers, there’s a lot of value to using online lesson planning systems. This is doubly true for educators who teach from home. A good online lesson planning service would include as many of these features as possible:
- Easy organization of notes and content to make teaching easier
- Sharable plans for between colleagues
- Standard sets either built-in or customizable
- Reusability for future classes (either live or online)
Ideally, your planning software would also have a mobile version so that you can teach off a mobile device or add to the lesson whenever the inspiration strikes. You would also want to make sure that the lesson planner integrates with your existing tools well, especially cloud storage.
If your school isn’t already using a cloud-based lesson planning system, you could check out popular options like Planboard or Planbook. Both offer robust systems that can help busy teachers stay organized and both have free versions for individual teachers. Or you can check out some great offerings from fellow educators on Teachers Pay Teachers that mostly use familiar online tools like Google Calendar or Excel.
As you’re planning a remote lesson, it’s a good idea to have all your supplementary teaching resources in order as well. You’re probably going to want a few different resources. This can include self-directed learning like games and online activities, it could be video-assisted learning tools that students can use for review or clarification, or you can get creative with using widely available resources like Wikipedia, YouTube, Stitcher, or other online reference content platforms.
You can also add some creativity to your online lessons with free online art tools to let students produce and share their own digital media.
- Pixel Art Maker
- Song Maker – Chrome Music Lab
How to Actually Teach From Home
When the time comes to actually teach the lesson, there are a vast number of different tools from purpose-built online ecosystems to hodge-podge networks of complimentary services. Whatever services you look at, you’re probably going to need a few basic features.
Digital whiteboards are software packages that emulate and expand upon the function of physical whiteboards. The familiar functionality is important for continuity with live classes and to give teachers a hands-on interactive tool. It also helps reduce prep time to transition from in-class teaching to digital teaching. Even if you haven’t already added an interactive whiteboard into your classroom, the whiteboarding function of an online suite will be similar enough to the analog version to still be very useful.
A good digital whiteboarding software has a few baseline features.
- The ability to draw, write, and annotate
- A screen and voice recording function
- Functions to allow the import and export of media
- Integrations with common applications
A virtual classroom is another step towards truly harnessing the power of distance learning. A virtual classroom more closely resembles a traditional classroom than most online options. These online spaces allow for real-time interactions between teachers and students (and even among students themselves).
Here are a few things to look for in an effective virtual classroom environment:
- Chat and streaming
- Screen sharing
- File sharing
- Participation management
Video communication is an important part of any remote teaching, especially for live teacher-to-student interaction, as it maintains the human connection. Of course, you have to decide between video conferencing and live streaming, but each works to improve the direct connection between instructors and learners.
These days, most messaging services support video chat; many even support group video chats. For an integrated solution to digital whiteboarding, virtual classrooms, and video communication we recommend myViewBoard.
Distributing and Collecting Assignments
A large part of teaching is providing guided reinforcement to improve students’ understanding and retention. In a classroom environment, these assignments can be physically handed out as worksheets, realia, books, or educational toys. Of course, there is also the option of digital delivery of teaching aids and online submission of completed work.
Teaching online is very different. It’s tempting to think that remote teaching has more limitations, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While there aren’t physical teaching aids available, there are an equal or greater number of digital tools available. For creative educators with just a little tech-savvy, a whole new world of teaching aids opens up.
Everyone who has access to the Internet also has access to free cloud storage. Most paid providers have free accounts that include anywhere from 5 GB to 15 GB of free storage space. Saving class files to the cloud is a great way to both backup and share and share reference materials and assignments.
Since these are general-purpose products, however, it puts organizing the resources fully on the teacher. The tools are all there, but they need to be applied ad hoc.
Social Media and Messaging Apps
Often overlooked as a means of distributing and collecting school work, social media can be quite useful keeping all the participants in a class connected. Granted, this is mostly true of the first wave of social media – especially Facebook with its private groups and file-sharing capabilities. However, many social media channels can be re-purposed as a communication tool, especially those with advanced messaging functions. Learn a little more about social media in distance learning here.
Even more specifically, you can look at the messaging apps built into popular social platforms. Forming groups on Messenger, WhatsApp, or your local equivalent are great ways to stay in touch and many allow attaching files and even live voice or video chat. Services like this start to get a little unwieldy as larger class sizes, but they are free and familiar to teachers and students alike.
To facilitate the sharing of both ideas and resources, education can re-purpose business tools (and improve students’ tech literacy at the same time). Many productivity apps are excellent solutions with built-in sharing, storage, and communication channels, and they’re either free or so inexpensive that they are within reach of most online users.
For example, take the communication giant Slack. It is ideally set up for teacher-moderated group discussions, student workgroups, and easily searched file sharing. It integrates well with many calendar and task-tracking apps for assessment dates, assignments, deadlines, and self-study tasks. Some even see Slack as an alternative to an LMS, though there are some functions that a custom learning platform will likely do better. If Slack doesn’t work for you and your lessons, there are many other ways to improve communication and collaboration in your online class. Check out this list for some inspiration.
A Learning Management System (LMS) is software used to handle a lot of the administrative functions of teaching and learning. Though it is more common in professional settings, an LMS can also work in traditional education. An effective LMS has the ability to deliver course materials – either live or recorded depending on the system. It can also act as both a communication and distribution channel, allowing two-way communication and file sharing.
Depending on the system used, an LMS can be cloud-based, installed on a local network, a desktop application, a mobile application, or some combination of those options. So if you’re looking to formalize distance teaching, you may want to look into either setting up an LMS for you and your students or working with your institution to implement the system.
If you’re looking into an LMS, here are a few things to look for:
- All the Data: To help students get the most out of their remote learning, it’s important to show their progress with data. An unbiased look at the data will not only show where students can improve but also where the teacher can better deliver their lessons.
- Responsive: In modern education, it’s not a great idea to limit an LMS to just one type of device. It should work – and work well – on multiple devices. Make sure your students can learn anywhere and anytime with a responsive LMS that adapts to their device of choice.
- User Friendly: Though there’s a good chance your learners are digital natives, this doesn’t mean that they will have any more patience for bad user experience or a poorly designed interface. The LMS should be easy to use for everyone involved.
- Tech Support: Even the best systems have their own unique challenges. And it’s probably not reasonable for the teacher to also act as IT for the LMS. A good LMS will have at least good training for institutions and simple documentation for individual teachers.
- Assessment: Tests shouldn’t be the end goal of education, but assessments are still important. An LMS should have at least the ability to assess students’ understanding and provide educators with important feedback on learning outcomes.
- Gamification: There should be an element of fun in any learning system. Anything from actual games integrated into the system to badges and awards can give students some intrinsic motivation to learn and progress.
- Collaboration: To make the most of an LMS, it should be a one-stop learning center where learners can participate in lessons and peer-to-peer interactions. There has to be a strong social learning component to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction.
Want to learn more about picking the perfect LMS? Here’s a great guide.
Wrapping Up: Teaching from Home
Teaching from home is very different from teaching live in a classroom. While remote teaching is not likely to ever completely replace face-to-face instruction, modern technology is making online teaching much more effective and accessible with a wide range of tools available. We are on the edge of a new paradigm of education that more heavily features remote learning (or at least more blended learning).
A broader definition of teaching is on the horizon, so stay ahead of the change with a strong understanding of the tools available for remote teaching!