With the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, many classes are migrating to the digital sphere, bringing with it a fresh set of challenges. Online classes meeting through various video conferencing platforms can be a great option, but come with their own hiccups and frustrations. As such, we thought it might be helpful to gather a guide of best practices for the video classroom.
- Find a quiet place to work
- Use a headset, when possible
- Mute yourself when not speaking
- Avoid windows or distracting backdrops
- Keep on-screen movement at a minimum
- Turn off notifications on your phone and computer
- Avoid the urge to multitask
- If you wouldn't do it in the classroom, don’t do it in the video conference
- Prepare in advance
Conducting video conferences from a noisy coffee shop or public space can be a distraction to everyone – both those on the call and those in the space with you. Whenever possible, find a quiet place to log on to help cut out the background distractions.
This will provide the best audio quality for you and for everyone on the call. It will prevent echoes and any errant notifications from your system from plaguing the call. Also, if you happen to be in a space with others–if you have a partner or roommates also working from home or kids not in school–this will save them from having to listen to your whole class.
Even if you're in a quiet place with no distractions, use the mute function liberally. The fewer audio sources feeding into the conference call, the fewer chances of distracting or interrupting the class. This is especially true when using a platform that has a spotlight function which switches to whichever video feed is making noise. If you aren’t speaking, click that mute button!
A bright window can throw your screen into a brutal white balance, even with closed blinds, leaving you a mere silhouette like something out of a 20/20 exposé. Meanwhile, a busy backdrop can be distracting–whether there’s a lot of movement or just a full bookshelf of things to examine. Try to find a blank wall to put your back to during the conference call if possible. If there isn’t a clear space, try to find the least distracting option.
Try not to fidget, move the camera around, or otherwise make too many unnecessary movements; it can be distracting for some. If you need to move around, turn your video off for a moment to avoid distracting everyone else. (That said, try not to switch your camera on and off frequently either, for the same reason).
Hearing the ping of a new text message, even if the source is unknown, is a great distraction. Turn off the ringer on your phone and mute notifications on your laptop, especially if you’re going to be sharing your screen. No one needs to see the text from your mom asking if you remembered to call grandma for her birthday. (Did you though? Because she’d really love to hear from you.)
With the freedom to turn off audio and video, it can be tempting to let the class play out in the background while you work on other things. So tempting. I don’t think I need to point out all the reasons this isn’t a great idea. Close out or minimize other windows, put your phone away, and stay focused on the task at hand.
With the exception of wearing headphones and using a laptop, a pretty good barometer for whether something is appropriate to do on your call is to ask yourself if you would do it in the classroom. Texting, eating loud food, scrolling through social media, or watching Netflix are all probably bad ideas. Just because you’re muted doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be engaged. Treat the digital classroom the same as you would a physical one, and you should be safe.
Make sure everything is ready to go before it's time to start class. Technical difficulties happen, but can often be avoided with a little preparation. Make sure your headset is connected and working, your computer is charged, your WiFi is functional, and everyone else in your environment knows you will be unavailable for the duration of your class. Five minutes of preparation can save you a lot of headache and awkward downtime at the beginning of class.
For many people, this is a new and unfamiliar experience; for others, it’s old hat. Don’t forget to have a positive, open-minded attitude. We're all in this together. Even with thorough preparation, things can and will still happen… just ask Robert Kelly.
We’re all human (not counting the dogs and cats that like to make appearances in video conferences) and we understand things happen. Don’t forget to have compassion for each other and if you find yourself interrupted by a toddler or pup, don’t forget to laugh.