Approaching Online Teaching as Performance

Ashlee Espinosa is an acting coach and an online instructor. She has some great advice as you consider how the video of yourself gets shared with students.

More than any technology, the energy that you bring to your class is critical. You are conveying your excitement about the materials and caring for students through a lens, and this can be draining. Here are some tips to bring more energy to your online sessions.

Tips for Champlain Faculty

Champlain faculty Kerry Noonan and Joanne Farrell, who previously led a faculty learning community on Teaching as Performance, offer some additional advice.

Joanne’s Tips:

  • Before class, take at least 20 minutes to breathe and do vocal warmups
  • Try standing up when you teach
  • Wear lipstick, at least some gloss, so you look alive*
  • Be enthusiastic. Feign it if necessary, with your voice and facial expressions. Look at the students (camera) as much as possible, especially when they speak! I do this even if I’m looking at an avatar (when this happens, I won’t tell you what is going on in my head, but I look as if I’m seeing a real person). If we demonstrate enthusiasm and curiosity, they will pick up on it.
  • I make sure I am the last to leave the meeting, in case students want to chat.

Kerry’s Tips: 

I make sure I am always slightly smiling or looking interested or approachable at all times (yes, it’s tiring), because Zoom is all about visual cues, and I know that if I look abstracted, or if I’m concentrating, this visual cue stands out way more on Zoom than it would if students could see my whole body, my physicality. Standing or sitting up straight is good too, both for your own energy and for how you come across. I also try to look at the camera when I’m talking, rather than at the images of the students–hard, but it then comes across as really looking at them.

I also think it’s important to position your computer camera well–make sure you are not appearing as looking down, since subliminally that translates to “she’s looking down on me.” It’s important to raise the computer up on a box or on books or on a kind of mini-desk. Lighting is important too. It’s also good to make sure you are a bit further from the camera–it’s become a comedy trope to show older people on Zoom get too close to the camera. Make sure the camera frames you within a rectangle with space around you–not a close-up or extreme close-up.

I try to call students by their names when I mention stuff from the chat or that I heard them say in the breakout rooms–again, to establish connections that I often might have done by standing near them, gesturing to them, etc.

*It’s widely acknowledged nowadays that videoconferencing’s focus on the face creates far higher expectations of feminine-presenting people’s grooming than masculine-presenting people’s. Makeup is not necessary for anyone, but conversely, anyone can test out whether it helps you feel more confident on screen. Read more about looking good on camera, with or without makeup for any gender, from Champlain faculty Liz Allen-Pennebaker and Adam Van Sertima. [ed.]

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