More Community-Contributed Tips for Teaching Online

This post is the second in our round of invaluable community-contributed tips for teaching online.

We recently published a first round on community-contributed tips for teaching online. Today, we are publishing the second and final round of tips from our community members.

As communicated by Omar Khan on TopicBox on 26 March, The Carpentries has now set up a COVID-19 Response Task Force, and a more elaborate set of recommendations will be shared by its members in the coming weeks.

This post has been made possible by contributions from Julie Vecchio, Hanna Varachkina, Darya Vanichkina, Angelique Trusler and two anonymous contributors. Thank you!

Online Instruction in Low Bandwidth Environments

Consider setting up a Whatsapp group for aspects of your online instruction i.e. correspondence with helpers in your online workshops to troubleshoot specific issues.

Signal is a great alternative to Whatsapp - it does not collect metadata like WhatsApp does.However, it relies on individuals phone numbers for connection, and a group admin would need to have those handy to invite workshop attendees to a group chat. is also an option, with the advantage of connecting without need for phone numbers and the caveat of requiring money to use.

Here is a very detailed guide from the University of Cape Town on low-tech online teaching resources that we highly recommend reading.

Never Teach Alone

Consider taking the guidance to “never teach alone” seriously. For online workshops that Julie Vecchio has run, one person is assigned the sole responsibility to create and facilitate the Zoom session, and then they grant the instructor(s) and Teaching Assistant(s) “co-host” status when the Zoom session begins.

With this model, it is important for the individuals who will be taking on these roles to have a pre-workshop discussion to ensure they are all on the same page when it comes to what responsibilities these roles entail (e.g., one instructor may prefer to manage breakout rooms themself while another instructor would rather the facilitator take that task on). Remember to cover as many scenarios as possible in the pre-workshop discussion, for example, whenever the instructor makes announcements to the class (e.g., about break time), the facilitator should type the announcement into the chat box, in case a participant has stepped away or encountered a technical issue that interrupted their audio.

Flexibility in Online Environments

While immediate feedback is possible in-person workshops, there can be many other distractions in online settings that one needs to compete against, and specifically some unexpected ones that necessitate adaptability on the fly.

As you prepare for online workshops, designate alternative options for as many of your approaches as you are able to, and remember to let participants know that they should check the chat for this type of information in the event they get disconnected or their audio is disrupted during the session. It is best to do this when providing introductory remarks at the beginning of the session.

Teaching Pace in Online Environments

It might be more challenging to ‘read the room’ and adjust the pace of the course when using a lecture format in online settings. To fill any impending gaps, consider sharing reference materials to make courses more accessible, and encourage your learners to use them in self-driven and self-paced ways. However, not all students like this, and preparing alternatives where possible is advisable.

Using Zoom Features Effectively

Zoom has come highly recommended in the last few weeks as a reliable tool to use for online instruction. Zoom has a comprehensive guide to educating through the tool. Here are some of the features we recommend making use of:

  • Polling - allows you to create single or multiple choice polling questions while on a Zoom call. A report can be downloaded after the meeting.
  • Host and Co-Host controls - hosts and co-hosts can assign break out rooms, start closed captioning, start live streaming etc. There is no limitation to the amount of co-hosts you can have in a call, thus all Instructors and helpers can have host or co-host rights when hosting a workshop.
  • Breakout Rooms - a Zoom session can be split into multiple rooms, each breakout room has full audio, video and screen sharing capabilities. Participants can be assigned manually or automatically to break out rooms.
  • Non-verbal feedback - nonverbal feedback can be activated by participants, i.e., raising hand, yes, no, go slower, go faster, agree, disagree, clap, need a break etc with the use of icons next to each participant’s name. These functions can act like stickies.
  • Sharing a screen - this will enable you to share your screen, activate the whiteboard or share the screen of your iPhone or iPad through Screen Mirroring.
  • Whiteboard - will allow you to share a whiteboard you and other participants can annotate on. Multiple whiteboards are possible in a single call.
  • Annotations - various annotation tools are available, i.e., insert text, insert lines, arrows, shapes, draw, spotlight.
  • Chat - allows for participants to send chat messages to others in a call; both privately or to the whole call.

Note: not all of the features are available under the free subscription, which also limits calls to 40 minutes, so Zoom think about ways to manage your online workshop if you’re on the free tier.

All unedited notes and input on online teaching from community members developed in March 2020 can be found in this document.

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