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How to improve your online-teaching game

The coronavirus has pushed many in Vietnam to online teaching, but it is important to stay ahead of the curve

Judith Barnes

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Teaching In Hanoi Online

Everyone has been reeling from Vietnam’s quarantine restrictions, which seem to be getting stricter by the week. The teaching community in the country has found it particularly tough as schools have been closed since the second week of February, making the two-month long stretch of no-work impossible to bear for some.

The sudden onslaught of joblessness has caused a flurry of departures for home countries and left others scrambling to sell off household items or even drum up dollars with ad hoc bake sales.

Amidst the chaos however, some schools have stepped-up and have been attempting to bridge the gap by opening classes employing online teaching. While helping their teachers to ease financial stress, it has also presented them with the daunting task of becoming borderline computer whizzes overnight, what with having to master the many dozens of different platforms used in education. Nevertheless, it is, partly, a teacher’s job to adapt to the times. It needs to be done. But where to start? A few resources that I have found particularly useful include:

  • Google Slides —  an online presentation app that comes free with any Gmail account. The slides are fully equipped with a variety of themes, fonts and the ability to embed video and images
  • Google Forms — a web-based app perfect for creating your own surveys or quizzes
  • Peardeck — an interactive presentation tool where teachers can create slides from scratch and collect responses individually from each student. Most appropriate for students in K-12
  • Padlet — a bulletin board where students can share their ideas and work
  • Nearpod — a student engagement platform that includes pre-made lessons on a variety of topics. Teachers can also choose to create their own lessons which can include quizzes, polls, videos, drawing boards and more
  • Zoom – a video conferencing platform with features that work well for online classes such as screen sharing, annotations, a chat feature, and breakout rooms, which can be used to place students into pairs or groups where they can work together.
Zoom Conference Teaching Hanoi
Zoom conferencing setup for teaching online.

Aside from getting to grips with all the latest internet wizardry, there’s the added pressure of making sure the lessons are well-presented and fun enough to ensure students will not drop out. When teaching online it is tougher to keep students engaged that in a bricks-and-mortar class room, so you have to ensure you up your game. There have already been centers that have had to close because of this very issue. For instructors who want to aid their employers in keeping the virtual doors open whilst hanging onto their jobs, the mandate is clear: adopt savvier skills to stay ahead of the ‘Covid curve’ or be swept away by the fast dwindling opportunities and wave of closing schools.

“Since a friend of mine introduced me to sites like Nearpod and Padlet, the quality of my classes has changed massively, and shifted from me just talking the whole time to students self-studying and collaborating with each other.”

It is not only about keeping your head above water though, as IELTS instructor Vincenzo Massari points out. “I’m actually updating my lessons so they are even clearer. I can print these [Google slides] out and use them as packets in class once this is all over,” he says. “At first I was really overwhelmed with how time consuming everything seemed to be. But eventually I’ve gotten the hang of things like inserting text into text boxes and choosing suitable fonts, overlaying Peardeck slides and activities (onto the Google ones) and even creating my own quizzes on the Quizizz website. What was once a three to four hour preparation period for a three hour class I’ve gotten shaved down to about two.”

Chi Cam Nguyen, a teacher at a center for teens, has had a similar experience, but instead of relying on plain Powerpoint-style boards, she has opted for glossier platforms to present her lessons, and feels that those like Powerpoint are more appropriate for work meetings. Nguyen is trying to engage Gen Z’ers, so if anything has to choose something with more bells and whistles to keep up with their seemingly shorter attention spans.

Hanoi Chi Cam Nguyen
Chi Cam smiles and shows Chào her set up.

Like Massari, she was also thrown for a loop at the beginning. “When my company started an online learning program, I was shocked about how fast they turned that idea into action. Two days after introducing us to Zoom, they launched some of their first online classes. I was new to this method of teaching and to be honest I was scared just like everyone is when they have to do things they’ve never tried before,” she says. “My first lessons were super boring as I could see how tired and forced my students were through their cameras. But when a friend of mine introduced me to sites like Nearpod and Padlet, the quality of my classes changed massively, and shifted from me just talking the whole time to students self-studying and collaborating with each other.”

“Kids love anything fun and entertaining, so if you can grab them at their level, the rest is pie. It’s also fun for them to see their teacher doing something unexpected,”

Yet, not all schools have adopted such strict and technical decrees. For instance, some instructors have been given free rein to engage their students at a distance with more creative methods such as arts and crafts. Aside from being a great tool in keeping one’s mind away from the uncertainty that lies ahead, they can be used in videos that are especially good for very young students to enjoy at home.

Bella Cain, who teaches young learners, told Chào: “I use them in story-time videos for my preschool students. Story time is one of the kids’ favorite activities, but merely reading from a book gets old quickly, even in the classroom.”

Hanoi Teacher Bella Scott
Bella Cain gets excited about her ducks.

Accordingly, Cain had to figure out how to grab student attention with the added challenge of only having a screen at her disposal.  Inspiration struck when she realized she could act the stories out herself.

“Kids love anything fun and entertaining, so if you can grab them at their level, the rest is pie. It’s also fun for them to see their teacher doing something unexpected,” Cain says. In a short video skit about a mother duck that lost her ducklings, she put on a home-made duck costume and chased around a bunch of little ‘duckies’ in her pool.  “I couldn’t help but giggle through the whole thing, because really it was so funny,” she says. “The kids at home also seemed to think so.”

But of course she needed to put the work in before reaping the benefits, and there are plenty of options. Think: colorful backdrops, puppets, masks and toys. The materials for these creations are surprisingly simple though. One really only needs crayons and construction paper, cardboard and felt. Most of these materials can be found at your local convenience store or even on art street (Hang Ma) in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, and others such as the cardboard can be sourced from recyclable bits lying around. For those of us who are not so artistically inclined, online tutorials can easily be found on Pinterest or YouTube.

It goes without saying that the very act of creating these projects have overarching benefits as well. Not only can they act as stress relievers but are also an imaginative way to escape isolation – you can go anywhere through art. You can also take these creations with you in real time, once in-person classes resume. Anything eye-catching and jumbo is best. Foldable, bendable cardboard and felt are just the type of tactile props that kids love and that they can also make things out of.

So, to all the educators out there, do not fret. What better, productive use of one’s time is there than to update and hone your skills, hang on to your online gig if you have one, and come out ahead once Queen corona is dead!

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