• Allison Felten

5 Ways to Improve your Synchronous Learning Environment!

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

It doesn’t matter if you teach a herd of rambunctious kindergarteners trying to show you their pet cat or a grid of black squares that supposedly have high school students behind them, teaching an online class synchronously is hard!

It is a fact that students of all ages are exposed to digital content with high-quality production on a daily basis through Youtube, cartoons, games, and advertisements. The consumption of this fast-paced, dopamine-triggering content has shaped students’ ability to focus and process information. That being said, don’t think you need to adopt a new persona to engage the students. Implementing the 5 simple tricks below can help improve the quality of your synchronous digital lessons.

1. Get good lighting!

Good lighting is an important but often overlooked aspect to online learning. When you are properly lit you are the star of the show! The student's eyes will be drawn to your face so it is easier for them to focus on you. Just look at the pictures below. The left image has nothing but natural light from the window. It is hard to see the teacher's face and the entire image looks "muddy". The right image has a lamp and ring light illuminating the teacher. You can clearly see her face and she stands out from the background.

Avoid having a harsh light directly on you with a dark background. That can make you look washed out and sickly. Also, avoid direct sunlight. You would think sunlight would be a great way to light your video but it can be hard for cameras to process and your video will look overexposed. The best lighting is soft light that casts no harsh shadows.

A great tool to improve lighting is lamps. Having a lamp directly in front of you, or two on either side can give you a warm glow. Another popular item is Ring Lights. Ring Lights come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are small ones that can clip to your laptop or large ones with stands. Consider these if you want more options for the color of the light and light intensity.

2. Presentation is everything!

You don’t need to get dressed up in your formal attire or put on a full face of make-up but be conscientious about how you are presenting yourself. Being well-groomed and dressing nicely will impress students and their parents (most of whom will witness your class offscreen). Your appearance is important and gives an impression of not only you but your school.

Another tip is to think about the angle of the camera. Setting up your camera at eye-level versus a lower angle can have a slimming affect that will make you appear more attractive. Don't be afraid to play with angles and see what works best for you.

3. Teach in the same place.

Changing locations when recording happens. Sometimes a room that works one day is unusable the next (thanks kids). However, it is important to keep in mind the more consistent your recording location the less distracting your background is for the students.

Try and find a place in your home that is well-lit, has a decent workspace, and a comfortable chair. The location should be somewhat quiet and doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic from other people in your home. With a comfortable and functional location you will be able to get into the "teaching-zone" much more quickly than if you have to move all of your things from room to room.

4. Decorate your learning environment!

Any teacher can tell you the hardest part of distance learning is not seeing students everyday. There is no watching them play games, no goofy hallway chats, or seeing when they are having a hard time. This distance, though necessary, has hindered many teacher’s abilities to build relationships as deep as in the past.

One way to show students who you are and make them more comfortable is by creating a background that reflects you. You don’t need to spend money to create a set (unless you want to). Consider putting up pictures of your family or pets, have a bookshelf with your favorite novels, add figures from your favorite series, put up posters from your favorite movies, or even add a string of lights. Create a background that shows your students a little bit about who you are.

Another piece of advice is to avoid using digital background. They can be really fun but if you move the wrong way they easily glitch out. It is hard for students to pay attention when your shirt is blending into a beautiful beach.

5. Bring props/learning aids into your teaching.

Nobody wants to watch a person sit and talk at a screen for an hour. Bring something you can interact with to your lesson. For example, reading books with pictures are great for younger kids, show off rocks for science, play an instrument for music class... the options are endless! Interacting with materials can break up the monotony of a lecture and reengage the students.

Teachers are life-long learners. We are always working to improve our craft so we can better educate our students. Distance learning is still relatively new so we will have to continually work to improve synchronous learning, but by making small changes to our learning environments, we are making big changes with student engagement.


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