Hero photograph
Korean and Kiwi kids meeting online
Photo by Darren Sudlow

Strategies: The Video Conference


There is no definitive approach to a video conference/hangout lesson. Some teachers treat it like a tutorial, while for others it looks much more like a structured traditional lesson.

You will need to decide on the approach that fits your needs and you are comfortable with, but there are some things to keep in mind. It is important to keep in to use the session to do the things you can’t do outside of it. It is an extremely good opportunity to develop conversations and that point of connection which face to face learning offers. 

Some tips

  • Be very organised. You cannot ‘wing it’ in a video conference session. Students should receive a plan of the lesson well in advance so they know what to bring, what their role will be and what will be covered. You need your students prepared and if a plan of the lesson is sent out there are no excuses. You will find your students will come to appreciate this.
  • Don’t be a talking head. Every now and then it might be necessary (prep for assessments and exams perhaps), but the VC is an important opportunity to connect your students. Students new to VC will often be unwilling to get involved in discussion, but they will soon get used to it. Make sure almost every lesson has time set aside for the students to interact.
  • Do the things in the VC that you can’t do with the students online. Don’t try and go over all the work covered in the week, it just won’t be possible. Pick the key aspects based on the learning of the students. What difficulties have they been having? Is there a key part of the work that requires some reinforcement? Is there a chance for some practical work? Think very carefully about how you will use your lesson, because that time is valuable.
  • Don’t let the students sit there passively, because many of them will if you let them. Learning is best in when it is active so use names to call on specific students to answer a question or to give their thoughts. Don’t just wait for anyone to answer or a few will dominate discussion. It’s a good idea to let students know what their specific role will be before the lesson.
  • Ask students to keep the mute button off (unless it is an especially large class). Though you might get some annoying noise in the first few lessons, students will soon learn how to reduce this. Having the mute button on allows students to disconnect from the lesson far too easily.
  • Make the lesson varied. Don’t spend all your time on one task or activity. Change it up.
  • Use the lesson as a way for students to demonstrate their learning/knowledge. Get them to do short presentation or seminars. I have found this works extremely well.

Asking and Answering Questions

  • Asking and answering questions is at the heart of much of the interaction that takes place in an educational context. When taking place via video conferencing it can be a little harder to get discussion going.
  • Ask various types of questions – planned and spontaneous, high and low-level.
  • Remember to pause long enough to give them a chance to consider their answer AND reply.
  • Answer the person who has asked the question directly (and by name).
  • Remember that you need to direct your answer to the camera – in view.
  • Answer concisely using spontaneous writing or other visuals if they help.
  • When asked a question, instead of answering immediately you could ask questions to see if they can answer it themselves.
  • Try and get a discussion going between sites to obtain an answer.
  • Turn to another site and ask a student there to help.
  • It is important to find something positive in every answer so the experience of communicating via the link may be encouraging rather than off-putting.
  • You may find that you cannot tell who asked a question if it came from the remote site. Don’t be afraid to ask!

You are an important visual image!

A number of rules apply:

  • Try not to think of yourself as being on camera, just behave and talk naturally.
  • There is a tendency to make sessions very formal but they will be enjoyed more if you smile and crack the occasional joke.
  • There is no need to shout or even raise your voice.
  • Your normal appearance is fine for video conferencing but small patterns, checks or fine stripes and so on will make your image appear blurred..
  • Show you are listening when the remote students talk. Some useful techniques include leaning forward, nodding your head, looking at them by looking at the camera. Facial expression is an invaluable tool!