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When Good Online Teachers Run into Problems, This is What They Do

Has it happened to you? Have you sat, mid-Zoom lesson, screen shared, pointing to keywords while emphasizing the importance of new content, only to look down at the thumbnail of your own image and see that you are frozen? If you have done any online teaching this past year, I imagine it has.

You are not alone. We have all had things go wrong, new things that we did not have to contend with before teaching virtually. These are not issues of under-planning or not knowing our content area or failing to engage our students. These are virtual-specific problems.

As I created a list of “problems” I hear from my online teaching colleagues, I got uncomfortable with the word “problem.” Students’ videos may be off for very good reasons and being tired of screen time is not a problem. It just acknowledges our holistic needs that include other types of interaction.

So these are five of the top “challenges” that teachers face online… and how you can respond effectively.

Challenge #1: I can’t find my students!

The response: Sometimes we “lose” our students, virtually. Or they lose us. Maybe they can’t find the link to our Zoom room or are accessing our class from a new device. For whatever reason, class starts and you are missing students. This is why many effective online teachers use the same virtual “space” for every class. If you use your PMI (Personal Meeting ID) in Zoom or a recurring Google Meet, your students can count on finding you in the same place for every class. Then, make sure that link is accessible to your students in lots of places:

  • Students can bookmark your class link

  • You can include your class link on the homepage of your course

  • You can even include your class link in your email signature

Note: Even though this approach requires sharing your link far and wide, it is safe as long as you have basic security measures in place such as a waiting room.

Challenge #2: My internet got bad right as class started

The response: This one is easy. Video conferencing requires more internet bandwidth than audio alone. Any time your internet slows down or your connection is lagging, turn off your video and continue to teach for a few minutes with audio only.

Check in with your students. Ask them if they can still hear you. And then, after a few moments, turn your video back on and see if the issue has passed.

Challenge #3: My students are not using their cameras or their mics

The response: Many online teachers would prefer that their students turn on their cameras and use their microphones so that we can see our students and interact verbally with them. However, in some circumstances, this is not possible or not best for our students. But there are other options for interaction and engagement! Many effective online teachers use annotation tools, virtual whiteboards, and tools like Google Jamboard and Quizlet to receive real-time feedback from their students, even if they can’t see or hear them. And don’t forget about the chat box! This often even allows more students to respond in a shorter amount of time than the classic “hand raising and unmuting” approach.

Challenge #4 The website/app I planned to use is down

The response: Despite all of our planning, things can always go wrong mid-lesson. Just like effective brick-and-mortar teachers, effective online teachers always have backups. Consider preparing a list of backup activities that don’t require any special tools for just these circumstances. These are activities that can be adapted to the topic, but that also can engage students for more than just a few moments. Here are some ideas that could work for different content areas and ages:

  • Freewriting: Students write on paper based on a specific prompt. Students could take a picture when they are done and send the picture to their teacher to review.

  • 3-2-1: Students share 3 things they learned, 2 things they want to know more about, and 1 question they have in the chat. Teacher responds.

  • Class discussion: In gallery view, the teacher facilitates a class discussion on the topic being studied.

  • Show and tell: Students and/or teacher share something special from the room they are sitting in.

  • Think-Pair-Share: If you have breakout rooms available, you can use the classic “think-pair-share” activity by having students write or think on a topic privately, then join another classmate in a breakout room to discuss and then come back to the whole group to share.

Challenge #5: We are all tired of screen time

The response: It’s not just us. Our students get tired of screen time too. Effective online teachers plan to give everyone a break from the screen every lesson. One way to do this is with “brain breaks.” These short activities can pop up anywhere in a lesson and give everyone a quick break before returning right back where we left off. Unlike the more content-heavy, longer activities above, these have nothing to do with the lesson and just last 30 seconds to 1 minute. Here are some examples that can be used with almost any age:

  • Trace the entire alphabet in the air with your index finger

  • Do 10 jumping jacks

  • Touch 10 things that are blue in the room around you and come sit back down

  • Run in place for 30 seconds

  • Doodle for 1 minute

  • Write your name 5 times with your non-dominant hand

  • With your mic muted, hum/sing your favorite song


Olivia Grugan is a Virtual Learning Specialist for the World of Learning Institute.

The World of Learning (WOL) provides world language instruction

  • Live, face-to-face instruction

  • Online, at your fingertips

  • Interactive & engaging

  • Customizable for individuals or entire classrooms

Your students can learn Spanish, Latin, German, French, Chinese, and many more! Learn More About WOL.

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