Last month I took part in Anna Poplawska’s workshop on teaching online. I was teaching online for a while and I’m absolutely sure I’ll get back to this form of teaching sooner or later (probably sooner) – however, I got inspired when we discussed various forms of teaching platforms. Today, I want to share with you an idea of a free platform where you could practise skills required from a professional online teacher.
First of all – why would I recommend a platform? Naturally, you can practise your communicative skills on Skype or Google Hangouts, but it’s far more to teaching online than mere speaking or (limited, but still) body language. You have to multitask quite a lot, switching between speaking, listening to particular student, reading chat window and preparing next slides etc. Working on an actual platform will definitely help you. But where to find a free platform where you could practise?
Surprisingly, my idea springs from my proper hobby – roleplaying games. I love playing pen-and-paper RPGs, but they require meeting up with people, which may be quite difficult to organise when you’re over 30 and your mates live all around the country. Meeting three times a year is awesome, but at the same time quite frustrating, so we went online. The platform we started on was Roll20 and it turned out to be a good way to play.
Now, those who play RPG will know, those who haven’t tried yet – believe me: teaching is pretty much like being a Game Master, only you’re dealing with people who seem to be more sensible.
Roll20, a free online platform, is actually a set of digital tools that expand traditional pen-and-paper game. You can easily ignore the dice rolling and use it as a teaching tool, and let me share some tips on how to start.
1 Create an account
You don’t need to choose a game setting, it’s optional and treat it as one of many parts you’ll probably ignore (as rolling the dice and game mechanics). Create your own campaign (English lesson 1, for instance) and that’s it! If you want to invite someone, just send them a link.
2 Video+voice chat
This kind of connection requires simply a WebRTC compatible browser (Chrome, Opera or Firefox will do). If your connection is too slow, you may turn off the video and keep talking. Generally, it’s really important to check your connection, especially upload, before teaching online – I usually use Adobe Meeting Connection Diagnostic, but it’s due to my work on AdobeConnect, so find your favourite test.
Tip: camera and mic will operate no sooner than someone joins the game, so don’t worry if you don’t see any options at first!
Drawing tools (panel on the left): you may use default screen as a board and write on it (so may your students).
Handouts (panel on the right): you may use it to share slides – images or scans from a book. Remember, once you share an image, you can write on it, so that’s pretty useful. Basically, once you share your handout it will look like a background map.
Background music: now, this is this aspect of roll20 that I find particularly annoying because you simply cannot upload a track. You can share a link, though – so you may upload a track on GoogleDrive and share a link to it so that everyone can listen to it individually, but that would be all. Really annoying.
Secret whisper: apart from a chat window, everyone can use an option “secret whisper”, which is a chat seen only by people to whom whisper is directed. You, however, will be able to see everything, so no cheating for your students!
Try to prepare a short lesson with warm-ups (e.g. pictures to compare), listening (link to track + slide with exercise), reading and a follow-up discussion.
Invite your friends or students to participate in your online classes and have fun practising online teaching!
Good luck and let me know how you found roll20!