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Main Differences Between In-Class and Online Teaching

Main Differences Between In-Class and Online Teaching | ITTT | TEFL Blog

I remember the first time I sat in front of a computer waiting for my online student to arrive. I had already been teaching in-class for about two years, but this was my debut in the unknown online waters.

In the current world, online teaching has gained more popularity due to the pandemic. Yet, a few years ago, when I started with it, online teaching was not so common for me.

After over four years of expertise with in-class teaching and over three years in online teaching, I can share some insights about the main differences I have found with you.

Student participation

For me, student participation is one of the most influential differences between in-class and online teaching. When I am teaching in a classroom, I like to move around to create an engaging environment.

When students are in a classroom, they can be more motivated to participate. A desk, a classroom, a whiteboard, and your classmates around you can help with motivation and the sense of formal education.

Students can take online lessons from home. Being at home is not always beneficial for their motivation and participation. Some of my students often take their lessons while lying in bed, so they don't have a classroom-like environment.

This can influence their participation in the class, as they might feel tired, demotivated, or even bored. For some students, online lessons, especially at the end of the day, are just something to tick off their to-do list.

It is our job as teachers to motivate students and make them feel as involved as possible. We need to find ways to interest our students, perhaps even more than when we are in a classroom.

This necessity leads to the next topic in this list of differences; the types of activities you can do.

Types of activities you can do

When you are in a classroom, there is a myriad of activities you can do by moving your students. You can create groups, pair your students, move the desks around, take them out of the classroom for games, and more.

My in-class lessons often begin with a game where students need to move, stand up, go to the board, and any other physical activity that can help them relax and activate their bodies to absorb the knowledge that is about to come.

I like creating groups, pairing my students so that they can help each other, and reorganizing the class display depending on what the lesson will be about.

None of that is possible when you and your students are sitting in front of your computers at home. There are no desks to move around nor whiteboards to stand up and go to. What are we supposed to do in that case? I can tell you for sure that I asked myself that question.

Some apps like Zoom give you the possibility to create "breakout sessions," where you could separate your students into groups. However, students tend to feel uncomfortable in these situations. Can you imagine being alone in a video call with a person you barely know and with no teacher there?

Using any strategy available to group your students will be of great help but be sure to read the room well in order not to create anxiety and uneasiness with the breakout sessions.

With physical activities out of the equation, you might feel like the class loses dynamism. Here's where you need to be resourceful and find other activities to do with the students. Luckily for you, your computer has everything you need.

Equipment needed

With in-class teaching, you need some equipment for the class. When you walk into a classroom, you should have at least a whiteboard, markers, and some printed worksheets, apart from the coursebook.

If we get serious about the equipment needed, we might include speakers, a projector, a computer, and many other devices for the different activities you want to do in the class. The more you want to do, the bigger the list.

For online teaching, all you need is a computer. This multifunctional device is a godsend for teachers. Your computer can serve as a whiteboard, a projector, a TV, speakers, and more! Forget about printing! Send the files to your students, and you are good to go.

As if that weren't enough, you have one of the greatest resources of all times at your disposal: the internet. Think about YouTube videos, online articles, interactive worksheets, in-context examples, and any other amazing resource you can imagine.

Even if you had your laptop in a classroom, you would still need a projector and speakers for the whole class to watch and hear.

The downside is that if your laptop or desktop fails, there is no plan B. You are completely dependent on your computer, and that can be scary. Be sure to have your computer and materials ready for every class.

Controlling the use of the student's first language

When students are in a classroom, they might reduce their use of their first language. Moreover, to look for any word, they might need to make use of a dictionary. That often takes time, so it gives you plenty of room to explain the word before they find it there.

In a classroom, you can listen to any use of another language that is not English and act on it. I usually joke with the students to prevent this from happening. I might say that I don't understand the certain language that is being spoken around. They laugh about it and then start using English again.

With online lessons, you have less control over this. Students often have online dictionaries open in their computers, and instead of trying to infer meanings, they immediately look for the words.

This can be harmful to their vocabulary acquisition, as they are not working to understand the words in context or with mimics and explanations. Help students use only English by providing many examples.

Monitoring student progress with the activities

Classrooms are great places for monitoring students. I often tell my students to do exercises and then roam around monitoring their progress. Many students will feel uncomfortable raising their hands and asking a question in front of the whole class.

However, if you come close enough, they will probably ask you their question in private. Walking around the classroom can help you clarify any doubts your students might have and ask for help if they need it.

Online lessons are a different story. After telling your students to do an activity, you cannot but stay in front of your camera and hope for the best. Of course, you can ask if they have any questions or offer your help if needed, but it doesn't have the same effect.

Some students might write questions in a private chat, and you can help them there. If that works for you, you can offer it from the very beginning of the exercise. Be sure to keep further explanations general and not point at any student for not knowing something. If they feel uncomfortable with that, they might stop asking questions.

Wrapping up

Both teaching methods can be effective with the proper preparation. It is not about one being better than the other; it is just about knowing how they differ and being ready for anything.

Now that you know some of the differences, you can go about preparing amazing lessons for your students. Add games and interactive activities wherever possible to help your students have fun while learning.

If you are in a classroom, those games and activities will help the students activate their bodies and their brains in the class. If you are teaching online, these activities can help bring dynamism to the class and motivate your students.

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