How can we achieve that "all in the same classroom" environment? Here are a few tips that I have found helpful toward that goal:
- Actively listen - When a student is posing a question or sharing information with the class, stay focused on what he/she is saying. It is too easy to use this space of time - when you are not talking - to organize your next thought, or bring up the next window on the computer. This can result in missing what the student has just said; you may have heard it, but you really didn't listen to it.
- Avoid multitasking - Okay, this is really close to the first point, but this can happen while you are talking. If you are trying to explain one thing, while thinking of something else, and/or doing something else at the same time, you'll never be quite sure of what you just said. Your students may not be in the physical classroom with you, but they will pick up on this. We can sum this one up in two words: Stay focused.
- Maintain professional etiquette when speaking - Remember, your students' primary way of "seeing" you is through your language. Speak clearly, thoughfully. Be mindful of your tone - inflection is important. No slang, either. And watch those "ummmms," "ahhhhs," and the "you knows." They are distracting to students when they are in the same room as you. They are even more pronounced and magnified when all they can do is hear you.
- Phrase questions that are open-ended - Maintaining collaboration and interactivity are critical in the virtual classroom. Keeping participants engaged keeps them learning. Close-ended questions requiring nothing more than a "yes" or "no" will result in your students drifting off, and makes for a boring session. Remember to ask those questions than encourage dialog and interaction among class participants. People like to express themselves - and this gives them the opportunity to do so.