Five Tips for Online Teaching

On a basic level, online teaching is not any different from traditional classroom teaching. The instructor imparts knowledge to students using a variety of methods, ranging from lecturing to discussion and group assignments. However, the use of online technology does require paying attention to a few specific challenges.


To help my fellow instructors take advantage of the online teaching opportunity, I have compiled five simple tips. By watching out for these, online instructors can avoid some common pitfalls. These tips are intended for synchronous online teaching, where the instructor and students are in a virtual classroom. Such teaching is commonly done with technologies like Zoom.


Tip #1: slow down


Because of connection problems, audio quality, and other issues, online teaching still leaves a small gap between the instructor and the students. This gap is not an obstacle to effective teaching, but instructors should speak a little slower than the usual and keep an eye on connectivity. One really cool feature of Zoom is that it actually warns the user of any connection problems.


Tip #2: check if students have questions


In classroom teaching, an experienced instructor can read the students’ faces to see if they are following. This is also possible in online teaching, but because video is transmitted and the students are not there as a group, the instructor needs to pay a lot more attention to keeping everyone on track. I check frequently whether students have any questions or if they do not understand something.


Tip #3: use the virtual environment to your advantage


The virtual environment has some major advantages over the classroom. The instructor can easily share hyperlinks and material using functions like screen sharing and the virtual classroom chat. These advantages compensate for the challenges of online teaching. I recommend using them systematically to offer the students a multi-dimensional learning experience.


Tip #4: invite all students to participate


In any teaching, the instructor faces students with different levels of enthusiasm and willingness to participate. These tend to be exacerbated in online teaching because the virtual setting offers a shelter to students who hesitate to participate. Encouraging student participation is particularly important in online teaching. I always pay attention to allowing the more quiet students an opportunity to contribute.


Tip #5: start with an icebreaker


Because the virtual environment leaves some distance between the participants, it is useful to get the participants talking in the beginning. A simple discussion question or group exercise can do wonders to get the group’s attention.


If you are interested in learning more about online teaching, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!


About the Author

Johannes Urpelainen is the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Professor and Director of Energy, Resources and Environment at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (Washington DC, USA). He is the Founding Director of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP). He serves as a senior advisor for ViaX Online Education, a a Beijing-based learning and education company.


Johannes Urpelainen works as a senior advisor for ViaX Online Education. The views presented in this blog are the author’s alone.