Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why Professors Teaching Online Must Think Like Method Actors and Film Directors

Why Professors Teaching Online Must Think Like Method Actors and Film Directors

by Varun Khanna

Clearly, academia is going through a disruptive phase where students from all over the world believe that their next classroom experience may not come face-to-face from the local college but, half-way across the world via a web conferencing tool like Adobe Connect, Fuzebox or Bb Collaborate.

Even die-hard traditional universities that may have vowed never to join the blended/online classroom experience are now reevaluating their strategy.

So, what can professors do to enhance online engagement experience for their students?

Think - Camera! Lights! Action!
  1. Camera Angle
  2. Lighting 
  3. Background
  4. Color
  5. Movement 
  6. Eye contact 
  7. Punctuate 
  8. Script it 
  9. Rehearse it 
  10. Technique
Laptop Camera Angle
If your laptop camera is not eye-level then you are looking down on your students. If you have too much space on the top, to left or right, then you probably are projecting a diluted version of yourself online.

Think soft warm light as opposed to fluorescent lighting that is rarely kind. Pick up a couple of small lamps with warm light bulbs from your local hardware store.  Place a light to your left and right (one closer than the other). Try not to have an overhead light that might create shadows on your face. Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry's girlfriend looks rather interesting under different lighting conditions?

Sitting in front of a window during the day teaching an online class? You could be in a silhouette on camera.  If possible, your office desk should be at least 6 feet from the back wall.  If working from home, please take off any clothes hanging behind your home office door.

Think strong colors that compliment the topic being covered in class. Solid colors do well on camera. Stripes, polka dots, plaid - not so much! Now if you are teaching double-declining depreciation - you are on your own!

Some web conferencing tools might not deliver the optimal frame rate per second that best represents smooth video quality.  Lower bandwidth connections will deliver higher quality video if you limit on-camera movement to a minimum, unless you are teaching P.E. online!

Eye Contact
If your laptop or desktop camera is eye level and you are looking directly into it from time to time, students will be more engaged as you bring content directly into their online world. Look to that green light on your Mac from time to time. If your laptop does not have an "on" light next to the built-in camera, paste a small stickie note next to it.

Online content delivery begs that you carefully punctuate! Punctuation may also come in the form of turning off your camera while your student/s are talking and then turning their camera/s off and turning your camera on to amplify your presence and response.

Script it

Your online class needs an even stronger (might I dare say, dramatic) script than what you would have in a face-to-face class. The script needs careful attention with a beginning, middle and an end. It will need constant revision. After all, your online audience is tiring as the semester progresses and every semester your audience is going to change. One glove fits all simply does not work!

Rehearse it
Even Academy award winning actors need an acting coach. Don’t be afraid to invite a good coach (instructional consultants or peers) to several online rehearsals and performance/s.

Rehearse it! Rehearse it!! Rehearse it!!!

Unless, you are Steven Segal!


Once you have mastered the technique - forget it! What that means is that as an online teacher you must, yes, must master the technical UI (user interface) of your web conferencing tool and LMS (Learning Management System) and make that second nature. Mastering a web conferencing tool like Bb Collaborate, Adobe Connect or Fuze is imperative. Once you have mastered it - you must forget it so that your students do not see these technology tools as a deterrent to delivering an Oscar worthy performance every time.

Break a leg!