What Zoom Reminded Me about Effective Teaching
Like many educators, I experienced a crash course in teaching via Zoom during 2020. More than another technological tool, videoconferencing has helped me rethink and refine my pedagogical practice—for both online and face-to-face settings.
In my typical class sessions, we jump into instruction and activities to model “on-task” productivity. However, Zoom has reminded me that giving attention to procedures and expectations is time well spent.
In a videoconference setting, these “norms” often relate to technical set up—microphones, chatroom, camera, etc. Such issues relate to all sorts of teaching environments. How can students use phones or other devices? What should they write down or record? When and how do they talk with one another and the instructor? These are all important questions, and answering them at the start establishes expectations for successful learning (Finley, 2013).
Student Questions and Comments
During a videoconference, students with questions or comments run into problems of interrupting the speaker or talking over each other. Instructors can bypass potential disruptions by establishing procedures for raising questions.
An example I’ve seen while engaged via Zoom is having anyone with a question use the chatroom. They type, “I have a question about ___.” The teacher is able to note the query, invite the student to elaborate, and address it at an opportune time. Face-to-face classrooms can use a similar routine to organize and document interactions. Instead of a chatroom, students could communicate via Poll Everywhere or Post-It Notes.
Zoom allows some interface in the form of “reactions” participants can share such as “Thumbs Up” or “Applause.” I usually cringe at the teacher’s use of “thumbs up/thumbs down” for gathering feedback, as students can guess or copy the majority.
While acknowledging the critical role of open-ended, thought-provoking questions (Vogler, 2008), I have also realized the utility of inserting quick prompts during instruction. In a Zoom setting, I use the thumbs up/down prompt to check a variety of issues, from students’ access to multimedia to comfort levels with a task. In turn, I extend these exchanges with follow-up prompts, further informing my instructional decisions.
Zoom’s most significant impact is on my own teaching behaviors. Indeed, having a camera record your every action does raise one’s self-awareness. What do my facial expressions convey? How well does my body language communicate enthusiasm in my students and subject? Eye contact may be awkward via videoconference, but I can still build rapport through smiling, nodding, and more nonverbal behaviors (Babad, 2009).
Conversation through Zoom also increases mindfulness of voice tone, volume, enunciation, and pace. Though easily overlooked, all of these behaviors are essential in cultivating a warm learning environment, whether online or in a classroom.
Keeping Connected through Social Distancing
More work is needed to fine-tune teaching through videoconferencing. Even so, these challenging experiences are opportunities to develop professionally and personally. In a moment of social distancing—no matter how long it lasts—educators can still foster meaningful learning and lasting relationships with our students.
Babad, E. (2009). Teaching and nonverbal behavior in the classroom. In Saha, L.J., Dworkin,
A.G. (Eds.) International Handbook on Teachers and Teaching (p. 817-827). Springer International Handbooks of Education, Vol. 21. Boston, MA: Springer.
Finley, T. (2014). The science behind classroom norming. Edutopia. Available at https://www.edutopia.org/blog/establishing-classroom-norms-todd-finley.
Vogler, K.E. (2008). Asking good questions. Educational Leadership, 65(9). Available at http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/summer08/vol65/num09/Asking-Good-Questions.aspx.