Set expectations and ground rules
Be clear on expectations: tell students the structure of the session; whether there will be ‘break outs’ and how long these may be; and how you expect them to interact. Setting expectations can happen before your live session: when you invite students, make clear its purpose.
So spend a little time reminding or encouraging use of key functions: even so-called digital natives may not be that adept. Time spent reminding students how to mute prevents disruptive interruptions later.
Telling students what you’re going to do means they are more likely to engage, and use the functions, too.
Encouraging students to use the chat opens up a great communication channel, allowing for less intrusive dialogue between you and students, particularly in large groups. Depending on the software, this can allow individuals to ask you questions, who may otherwise feel exposed in front of the whole group.
But don’t forget to check the chat, and feed back, too.
Engage from the start
There is a temptation online to check email and other sites (we all do it!); so reduce the risk of students getting distracted by interacting frequently.
At the start, establish your ‘instructor presence’ by introducing yourself and the group.
A good idea is for all to switch on video to say hello - it helps to see students’ faces. People are more likely to invest themselves and engage better if they feel they have had a personal connection.
Ask students for permission, and say they can switch if off later if the internet is an issue.
One pro tip is to look into the camera - at the top of the screen and not the screen - this way, you look directly into their eyes.
Similarly, build rapport in the group through ice-breakers to engage students early on.
A poll or question early on also helps to establish to students that this requires their undivided attention.
Just as you would face to face, break it up.
You can seamlessly switch from presenter mode to screen sharing websites, images, videos, music or audio to add other voices; to live demonstrations and quizzes. Handing over screen control means a student can present or demonstrate.
The purpose of your session will determine how to structure the session.
If it’s the first session, ‘getting to know you’ activities may be appropriate. Is it a briefing for a task, presenting new concepts a review of work, or a small group tutorial? Or maybe a presentation by students?
This will help identify what tools might be useful: create breaks in lectures with questions to check understanding; at the start a poll will gauge the groups’ opinions or test prior knowledge; at the end, it’s a check of understanding, or feedback on your session.
Add a range of interactions to enrich your session, so get to know all the options of the functionality - whiteboards, polls and rooms, raise hands, emoticons and model them so students communicate with them, too.
Have breaks - keep it short
There is a reason we get tired on webinars or ‘zoomed out’ and it’s to do with how our brains are wired. According to a cyber-psychologist, the lack of non-verbal cues, and the imperceptible time lag - the gap between reception of a message - makes our brains, evolved as they are for in-person communication, work much harder.
So finally, keep it active and even ask learners to stand up, keep it short and give everyone a break!