With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been communicating fully or at least partially within a virtual environment. Virtual delivery has allowed us to continue to connect and collaborate with students and co-workers while maintaining social distancing practices. Throughout the past several months, we all have encountered good and poor virtual experiences, including meeting and screen fatigue. Cathy and I have reflected on our personal experiences and we decided to identify some virtual delivery best practices.
First, make sure that you have the correct equipment to effectively deliver your course or meeting content. This includes having a reliable web camera, and luckily, most laptops and tablets have adequate built in web cameras. If you prefer a higher quality camera or if you have a desktop, many external web cameras are available at very reasonable price points. In addition, sufficient internet speed to support streaming content and video is required. Many households have implemented a family internet usage calendar to avoid too many devices streaming content during the same time of an important virtual meeting. To improve privacy during virtual delivery, Cathy and I suggest using a headset or a pair of earphones. Many listening options are available depending on how much someone wants to spend on this option. Cathy and I prefer wireless options like Apple AirPods or the Anker Liberty Air. The final piece of equipment that we have invested in is a quality microphone for recorded presentations. Cathy and I prefer the Blue Yeti microphone, which is available with a desk stand or a boom arm. To further reduce microphone noise and acoustic transparency, an optional pop filter can be placed in front of the Blue Yeti microphone.
After you are assured that your equipment can support the delivery of your meeting or course, there are other great practices that should be observed.
- Prepare Yourself Ahead of Time and Incorporate Some Transition Time – Make sure to mindfully transition from all other tasks before you deliver or participate in a virtual meeting. Make sure to close other apps and browsers to increase internet speed and to help reduce distractions. In addition, it is important to get into the correct mindset before the virtual meeting begins. Cathy and I suggest reviewing the course topics or meeting agenda for a few minutes before the start of the virtual meeting. Decide if you are going to stand or sit during the virtual presentation. If you normally stand when you teach, we suggest that you stand during the virtual presentation. Also, make sure that your lighting is adequate for others to see you during the presentation. Test your video camera and the lighting before your meeting begins. Furthermore, make sure that all screens that you plan to share during the meeting are ready to view on your device.
- Don’t Do Too Much at Once – Typically, it will take longer to cover material in a virtual environment compared to when we meet in person. Consider covering less material and allowing more time for questions and conversation. Online delivery models require more repetition and additional time for discussion. PowerPoint can work well with presentation organization and delivery, but we should avoid putting too much material on individual slides. PowerPoint can help facilitate keeping meetings and classes on track, but the slides should include only the main discussion items. In addition, try to avoid having long virtual meetings or classes. We as humans can only stay engaged virtually for a certain period of time.
- Set Some Ground Rules – Participants should develop a habit of muting themselves when they are not talking. To avoid everyone talking at once, a process to ask questions or contribute to the discussion should be in place. Utilizing the chat or raising your hand features are great practices to insure a fair an equitable process for everyone to have a voice during the meeting. Decide ahead of time if all participants will be required to have their camera on during the entire meeting or only when they speak. Cathy and I like the human element in our virtual classroom environments and it is more engaging when students have their cameras are on. At a minimum, everyone should introduce themselves at the beginning of the semester (or meeting) and then state their name when they ask questions.
- Increase Engagement – Cathy and I cannot stress enough that engagement during virtual delivery is essential. We utilize polling software to insure that our students are participating and understanding the material being presented. Poll Everywhere, Kahoot, Mentimeter, Socrative, GoSoapBox, and Nearpod can be used for virtual meeting polling activities. In addition, we use online breakout rooms to promote smaller group discussions.
- Finish Strong– We should always end our virtual meetings with either an overview of what was covered or what still needs to be completed. Many times, we can ask everyone for closing thoughts, what they learned, or what they still are confused about before they exit the meeting. The online chat feature or polling options can help facilitate the end of the meeting discussion.
Cathy and I are always trying to improve our classroom delivery and student engagement. Our goal is to provide others the techniques and technology tools that have been successful in enhancing the student learning experience within our on-campus and virtual classroom environments. Hopefully, our best practices will help with your virtual meeting and course delivery planning process.
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