April 1, 2020

Strategies for teaching in the virtual classroom and facilitating virtual meetings

Continuing Education’s Nadine Gilfillan’s 7 tips for getting started
Online learning setup
Online teaching uses the same principles as conducting virtual meetings. AdobeStock

If you are like many people these days, you’ve been asked to lead virtual meetings or, like many instructors, you have been asked to teach your courses online. If this is your first time teaching online using a synchronous (live) platform like Adobe Connect or Zoom — or your first time in a while — below are some excellent tips to set you up for success.

We recently caught up with University of Calgary Continuing Education instructor and eLearning expert Nadine Gilfillan. We asked for her advice for those preparing to teach synchronous online classes or lead live virtual meetings. Here are her seven tips for successfully teaching online in the virtual classroom.

1. Take a moment to review the planning tools you have been given

  • You do not need a couple of months to go through the planning tools, but take at least a couple of days.

2. Learn the online teaching tool and practise using the features of the technology

  • Use the resources you have been given and those you find online such as tutorials to learn the tool.
  • Practise using the features several times before your first class.

3. Design activities for the online experience to keep your audience at their computer

  • Using features in the technology such as chat, whiteboards, annotation tools and breakout rooms increases interactivity for learners.
  • Become comfortable with one or two features of the technology you can use, develop activities around those features, and then add a few more as you get more comfortable.  

4. Create assignments or learning activities with a practical application

  • One way is to ladder each assignment so in the end students have a final project.

5. Your best experience in the virtual classroom is when, at the outset, students understand they will have to participate

6. Test the technical setup before each class — at least half an hour in advance of the start of the live session

  • Conduct a microphone check.
  • Ensure the internet connection is hard wired. Wireless connections can drop and disconnect you completely from a live session.
  • Ensure your microphone has a USB connection directly to your computer.

7. Practise, practise, practise and prepare in advance

  • Practise using the features of the technology.
  • Prepare classroom activities in advance. Facilitating activities on the fly is more complicated in the virtual classroom.
  • Do a dry run of your class from start to finish before you deliver it live.

Conduct virtual meetings using the same advice

  • Get organized in terms of what you need to cover in the meeting, and gather all the resources you’re going to need in advance.
  • Plan on an activity of some sort. It could be a community building activity or a check in; plan those interactions in advance.
  • Give people a heads up if they are going to be called on so they can prepare in advance.
  • Test the technical setup before the meeting every time.
  • And again: practise, practise, practise.

Online course registration open till April 7

Gilfillan is teaching ADL 115 Virtual Classroom Strategies starting Tuesday, April 7 and there are a few seats left in this online course. Register now if you would like to learn how to apply collaborative design techniques to create or migrate courses to online learning events; use templates provided to create synchronous facilitator and participant materials; and apply techniques to maximize participant engagement, energy and motivation in the online environment. Throughout the eight-week course you will be able to apply the skills learned each week to your own workplace.

About the instructor

Nadine Gilfillan, BPE, MCE, has worked in the field of adult learning and educational technology for the past 25 years. Seventeen of those years have been focused on teaching and learning online. She facilitates online courses for the University of Calgary and several other post-secondary institutions in Alberta. Gilfillan was also a course reviewer for eCampus Alberta where she evaluated online courses according to the quality standards set by eCampus Alberta. She has given workshops and presentations on topics ranging from the use of technology in education, supervisory and leadership development, coaching, and presentation skills.