“What has teaching Theatre online been like? Do you have any tips?”
With the Coronavirus spreading worldwide schools are closing down temporarily. Many of my friends and old colleagues have been asking me similar questions over the last few days as I am currently based in China. So, I thought I would write a short article sharing my experience. When our school announced that we would be teaching online I thought it near to impossible - but it is not. It does come with its set of frustrations but in retrospect it has been a very rewarding journey and it is doable if, like I tell my students, you “just get on with it!” So, here are ten things I found pivotal in getting started:
1. Follow admin’s lead
As is usually the case in a time of crisis turn to your school administration for guidance. From them you should find out which online platform you will be using, whether or not you will be sticking to the school timetable, what expectations they will have of teachers, and if the workload for students will stay the same (it will most likely increase for you). If they do not provide clear answers, decide how you will run your classes and submit it to them for review. It is important that you have admin’s buy-in because as the online teaching period lengthens, parents may grow concerned over prolonged screen-time and the amount of set homework, and if you have admin on your side, these conversations can become a lot easier. If you teach theatre as an elective, there might be external pressure to cut back on your classes but if you have been following admin’s guidance, they are more likely to be open to standing up for you.
2. Set up an online platform
Find out which online platform you will be using to conduct your classes and get accustomed with it as fast as possible. In my school we are using Microsoft Teams, but other professionals have been using Google Classroom or a combination of email, Skype, and/or Zoom. Whatever platform you are using make sure that it allows you to: create groups based on the classes you teach; have a general platform where you can post announcements, assignments and reminders; easily conduct live video lessons; upload and review students’ assignments/tasks; upload course material; and message instantly.
3. Keep a timetable
Try to have students follow their normal school timetable. This way their normal school routine is not disrupted too much and they get to change between subjects like they would at school. It also helps teachers respect different subject boundaries and allows them to teach lessons “live” like they would if they were teaching in school.
4. Have student contact hours
If you do not have student contact hours at school - set them. If you have student contact hours - keep them. Having a time of day where students know that if they write to you, you will respond immediately is important in keeping them motivated as it shows you are reachable and care about their well-being and quality of work. If these hours overlap with other subjects’ live lessons – do not worry. You are teaching a generation whose personal devices are an extension of the self, so trust them to be able to multitask online.
5. Set up an online routine
Just like you do when teaching, set up a routine. Make sure students know when you will make subject announcements, release the week’s task and the previous week’s feedback, and expect work handed in. It will not be long before they and you find your rhythm. An online routine also gives students a sense of consistency in a time that is marked with uncertainty.
6. Stick to your semester plan
Being expected to teach online does not mean you need to redo your semester plan. It simply means you need to rethink your kinaesthetic tasks i.e. group acting might be reduced to a series of monologues or character acting pieces or puppetry. If you have a tech-savvy group of students, you might not even need to change your group acting task because they could create a video that includes all of them.
7. Write concise and precise instructions
When I started out teaching, I used to write down my teaching instructions as my teacher talking time was too high. By writing it down, it not only helped me to reduce the amount of time I spent talking but it also helped me to simplify my instructions as I mainly taught EAL-students.
Your students will not be in your classroom where they can draw from your body language or their peers. They might also struggle starting a task if they only receive instructions during a live lesson or via video. Thus, be sure to accompany any set task with written instructions. Keep these instructions simple and short. You can achieve this by ridding instructions of adjectives and by separating steps of action e.g. “Click on the red PDF-file titled “Task 101”and read pp.6-10” can change to “1. Click on the PDF-file titled ‘Task101’. 2. Read pp.6-10.” Important to note that when they reach the end of your set of instructions, they should ideally have the task completed and uploaded. Try as far as possible to not exceed more than ten steps.
8. Still set interactive tasks
All your planned groupwork and/or interactive tasks do not need to be replaced with individual work. Students can interact with their family and friends in their home environment to complete the work. They can also be grouped online. They will just need to text, email, and call to get it all done. This gives them a wonderful opportunity to experience what it is like in many modern-day offices where individuals do not have the time to go and speak personally to whomever they wish to see. What is more is, if your task calls on them to act out a piece or build a set they can still do so. Instead of you assessing it in person, they can record their performance/process