By Kelli Drummer-Avendano
Many aspects of in-person learning can be replicated in the virtual classroom without too much difficulty, that is, once you get the hang of it. Unfortunately, when communication happens through a computer screen, the personal connection you make with students is not so easily duplicated. Nevertheless, a positive teacher-student relationship is not only essential for virtual-learning success; it’s also very possible. Here are some tips to help you connect.
- Make eye contact.
When you’re face-to-face with students in the classroom, eye contact comes naturally. You may have to be more intentional, however, when teaching virtually. It’s easy to get distracted seeing all your students on one screen, not to mention looking at yourself on the monitor. Still, every now and then, be sure to look directly at your computer’s camera. This way, your students can see your facial expressions better. Since nonverbal communication accounts for 60-70 percent of human interaction, this can make a huge difference when making a connection.
- Keep classroom routines and traditions.
Routines help students know what to expect, greatly reducing their anxiety and making them feel comfortable, which is essential for language learning. While you probably can’t carry over every activity from the classroom, try to keep the ones you can. For example, if you usually do a warm-up or bell exercise at the beginning of class, continue doing so virtually. If you always set aside a few minutes at the end of class for spontaneous conversation, encourage students to keep this tradition.
- Be clear.
In the classroom environment, students can ask questions at almost any time. During virtual learning, however, they may not feel as comfortable expressing doubt or concern in front of everyone. For this reason, all communication should be loud and clear. Review class expectations thoroughly and post them where students can easily access them. Any specific instructions for activities or projects should also be reviewed and made available. You may feel as if you’re over-explaining at times, but that may be preferable, in this case. Most importantly, make sure students know you’re available via e-mail or at virtual office hours if they need any clarification.
- A little empathy goes a long way.
The learning curve for both students and teachers has been steep during this transition to a virtual environment. Everyone has had their share of ups and downs, wins, and losses; that’s why it’s important to have empathy. Be honest with your students about your struggles and victories. By doing so, you’re giving them an invitation to open up about their own. You can even ask your students for their advice and input, modeling for them that it’s ok to need help.