7 Top Tips for Teaching Online during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Governments around the world have announced school closures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This presents a serious challenge to teachers and students, particularly those facing exams in the coming months. Many teachers will feel ill-prepared for the challenges which lie ahead and school and college leaders may not be able to provide the guidance needed during this time of crisis. Teachers need to quickly find new ways of connecting with their students in order to provide them with the education they need. Embracing technology and the multitude of online teaching resources available is, therefore, a must. Below are 7 top tips for online teaching designed for teachers with little or no prior online teaching experience.

This guide is provided by John O'Leary, an EAP and EFL teacher who has been teaching online for the past few months.

1. Make a screencast (while using PowerPoint)

Making a screencast is a simple and effective means of presenting ideas and information to your students during the Coronavirus pandemic. Basically, the screencast software allows you to use your computer’s camera, microphone and screen all at the same time to create a dynamic presentation. What results is a video with whatever is presenting on your screen (such as a PowerPoint presentation) complete with your voice and image appearing in the bottom corner. You just click a button, start cycling through your presentation while providing the audio commentary. The software then creates a video which you can send to your students (so you don’t need to do it live). This is perfect if you already have a collection of PowerPoints you have used in class before. Just set up the software and you are ready to go.

A typical screencast using PowerPoint
A typical screencast using PowerPoint.

There appear to be a lot of screencast options out there, but I had success with Screencast-o-matic which is a free service (with some paid extras). Also check out this page for a list of free and paid versions of screencast software.


2. Make a video

A screencast is a kind of video, of course, but you can go a step further and film and edit something a little more elaborate. Even if you don’t know it, most modern computers come with an in-built camera and basic video editing software. For the camera, just type ‘camera’ into the search area at the bottom-left of your screen, open the program and you’re probably just a click or two from making your first movie. For the editing software, if you open the ‘Photos’ app on a Windows computer and click on ‘New video’, it opens up an editor which is easy to use and suitable for basic purposes ('iMovie' is the Mac equivalent). It allows you to add title screens, display text on the screen and edit parts of your videos together, all very simply and intuitively. You’re not going to make Kubrick pictures this way, but something short and engaging is well within any teacher’s capability. If you have a whiteboard available, why not film yourself giving a presentation?

Windows video editor
A screenshot from the Windows video editor (found in the Photos app).

This YouTube video by someone called Kevin provides a useful guide to how to use the standard Windows video editor. If you’re feeling more adventurous and want to go beyond the basic Windows editor, check out this page for some free video editing software recommendations.


3. Hold online video tutorials

Regular contact with your students is essential to make online teaching work during the Coronavirus pandemic. Holding tutorials by video link with 4 or 5 students at a time is a great way to do this. Programs such as Zoom, Skype and even Whatsapp make this very easy to achieve. Just arrange a date and time with your students, ensure everybody has the software (which is freely available) and you are good to go. I would recommend encouraging students to turn on their cameras (audio only is an option) because being able to see your students’ faces (and allowing them to see each other) makes communication easier and ultimately more comfortable. Obviously with younger students it may be advisable to liaise with parents before requesting they use a video link. If you carefully plan your tutorials (consider giving students some pre-tutorial tasks), it can be very successful and also provides students with that important psychological link to their school and reasures them that their education is ongoing.

An image from Zoom's website
A Zoom conference call with a cast of 49. Around 4 to 5 is probably more realistic.


4. Use a VLE (if your school has one)

A VLE (virtual learning environment) can be an invaluable tool during times like these. A good VLE allows you to communicate easily with your students, provide them with activities and other resources, collect assignments and much more. In fact, in an ideal world, a VLE should perform all the functions we need as teachers, but this is unlikely to be the case in reality. But it is also true that as teachers we are sometimes guilty of failing to unlock the full potential of the VLEs made available to us, so the current Coronavirus pandemic could be an opportunity to put that right. However, it is also important that we make a judgement about when a VLE adds value and when it does not. A slow and laggy system can be extremely frustrating and even stressful for students and teachers alike. If it doesn’t do its job, find other tools which do. You will find more useful suggestions below.

A screenshot of Moodle in action
A screenshot from the popular Moodle VLE.


5. Use text chat (via Whatsapp etc.)

Video tutorials and VLEs are the best way to communicate with students during the Coronavirus pandemic, but not the only way. Students’ questions form an essential part of almost every lesson, but video tutorials and other forms of remote learning often make this awkward or difficult. Allowing your students to put questions to you simply and informally though text chat is a great way to overcome this. Whatsapp is a simple way to do this and can be downloaded freely on a mobile phone or computer and used very easily. It is less daunting than email and perfect for those quick questions curious students like to ask. Of course, no teacher wants to be inundated with texts 24 hours a day, so it is wise to arrange a window, perhaps for an hour each day, during which students can put questions to you, no matter how big or small. You can also arrange your classes into Whatsapp groups very easily (or ask them to arrange themselves) so when a common issue arises, you can post your answer to the whole group. Students are likely to be already familiar with Whatsapp and will feel comfortable using it.

A screenshot from WhatsApp
WhatsApp offers an easy way to communicate.


6. Make an online quiz

As we all know, providing regular good quality feedback is essential to successful teaching. A short online quiz may be one effective way of doing this. You can create multiple choice quizzes, picture quizzes, matching tasks and much more. They are easy to make, are marked automatically and students normally respond positively to them. Of course, they don’t satisfy those higher level learning objectives which require analysis and evaluation, but they are useful for checking knowledge and comprehension. A weekly quiz would make an excellent addition to an online course.

Tracking changes and adding comments in Word
Creating a quiz with the Google Forms quiz editor. You may want to make yours more challenging.

It is possible to make a quiz simply and easily using Google forms (check out this video tutorial). Also check out the following links for recommendations on good quiz-making software: Top 18 Online Quiz Makers For Teachers and Educators (this includes some free options) and Top 10 Quiz Makers for Teachers and Educators (complete with pros and cons).


7. Provide lots of feedback (using Word)

A quiz is a great way to provide instant feedback quickly and easily, but as teachers we know that good quality feedback is essential to properly guide and motivate students. This is especially true during the Coronavirus pandemic as students are forced to work independently and opportunities to provide feedback are limited. A simple way to provide effective feedback is to make use of a couple of simple and easy-to-use features built into Word, both located under the ‘Review’ tab. The first is the ‘Track Changes’ feature which allows you to make and display changes to your student’s work (e.g. spelling, punctuation and grammar corrections), while the second is the ‘Comment’ feature which allows you to highlight a section and provide a comment for your student. These are very simple yet much underused features of Word, but ones which can greatly enhance the quality of your feedback. See this video for a visual demonstration from a teacher and YouTube user.

Tracking changes and adding comments in Word
The 'Track changes' (underlined in red) and 'Comments' features in Word.


Other tips

Reach out to your students

It is likely that your students are extremely tech-savvy and will be willing to help during the Coronavirus pandemic helping to set up WhatsApp groups, share videos and deal with other technology related issues when they arise. Reach out to them and see what they can do for you and each other.

Use message boards

Why not set your class a topic and have them discuss it one a message board? Your VLE may have this facility and if not, it is possible to create your own (see this wikiHow guide).

Keep searching for new ideas

Many of us are new to online teaching and there are so many new things to learn. This list provided here may not be exhaustive so keep searching for new ideas and share them with other teachers. Working together is the best way to ensure we mitigate the effects the Coronavirus pandemic is likely to have on our students' education.