Top 5 Tips for Transitioning to Virtual Teaching

Posted 04/14/2020 by Erica Schiller

Richard Snow

Richard Snow is a T³ Instructor and an expert in distance learning. He was the first educator to use TI graphing calculator emulator software while teaching students in an online environment. For the past 15 years, he has been teaching remotely and is sharing his top tips. Snow got schooled in communication skills when he went to visit a community of his distance learning students in person. His students were truly remote — only accessible by plane. Once he flew in, he enjoyed doughnuts and conversation with them. One student’s comment struck a chord: “You don’t seem nearly as mean in person as you do online.”

  1. Patience is a virtue

    Snow’s number one tip for teachers transitioning from in-person instruction to virtual learning environments is to have patience. You’re going to find that some things don’t translate well into the new online setting. Teaching in a virtual environment requires a different skill set, and students will react differently. His advice: “Try not to be so hard on yourself, and show yourself some grace. It will take time to get adjusted, and you have to accept the fact that it’s not going to happen on the first day.”

  2. Build the relationships and the learning will come

    One advantage teachers have in transitioning from the classroom to an online environment is that relationships have already been formed. You have been with these students for a better part of the school year. And, don’t just talk at the kids. Create a conversation like you’re used to doing in class. Keep it interactive and fun.

  3. Structure creates connection

    In an online environment, students are learning in isolation, yet they have a need and desire for social interaction. To build that socialization virtually, you need to create an environment for mutual conversation. It’s important to have a structure in place to respond to student questions to help them feel connected.

    “Regardless of the communication tool — email, a discussion forum, an app or virtual office hours — setting an expectation of when you will return communications and sticking to this timeline is key. By providing consistency to students, you will help them feel less anxious and more connected,” Snow explains.

    In the discussion forum, instead of giving the answer right away, respond by asking more questions; probe the rest of the class. Use questioning techniques and solicit feedback from students to increase engagement.

  4. Let ’em hear you laugh!

    Snow realized that by just focusing on teaching the curriculum, without paying attention to his tone, he was not coming across in an approachable manner. Since then, he has made an effort to infuse humor into his virtual communication with students. “Use your sense of good, fun humor to connect with students online. Acknowledge them when they log in, greet them, and try and make a joke. The reception for learning is much greater,” he explains.

    “But not sarcasm,” he clarified. “If you are teaching teenagers, their brains are still developing, and while they may laugh, they don’t understand or appreciate the nuances of sarcasm the way that adults do.”

  5. Embrace new opportunities

    This is an opportunity for you to learn how to use new tools that can complement face-to-face instruction in the future. Who knows? It might even make you a better teacher and open your eyes to new opportunities to improve how you teach. Even classroom instruction can benefit from appropriate use of technology.