Ed Prevatt has been teaching for a long time.
After a construction industry career that included home restoration, Prevatt spent 18 years teaching Building Construction in the public school system, where he first got involved with the NCCER curricula. In more recent years, Prevatt has taken over as NCCER’s ‘Master Master Trainer’ – the one who teaches the Master Trainers that then teach and certify the rest of NCCER’s craft instructors.
But on Monday, March 16th, 2020, Prevatt taught in a way he never had before: Online.
Like most instructors around the country, Prevatt’s standard teaching methods were thrown up in the air due to the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. To comply with social distancing recommendations, teaching has gone digital for the foreseeable future.
Although there are adjustments that need to come with stepping into an unfamiliar situation, Prevatt’s first experience teaching online went better than expected.
“For any instructor to get to deliver material in a different way, it’s always interesting and challenging. I really enjoyed it – it was a lot more fun than I thought it would be.”
Based on his experience virtual training, Prevatt has some insight and tips that might help other first-time online instructors across the nation.
Be Prepared and Practice
Preparation for your first online classes is an important part of starting off on the right foot.
The biggest area of concern for Prevatt going in was the IT aspect of virtual training – operating the software, syncing up slides and even where to stand when on camera.
To make sure day one went smoothly, Prevatt met with IT and video teams the day before the first class to do some dry runs and become more familiar with the technology.
According to Prevatt, these low-pressure trials made a big difference in his comfort level heading into the class.
“With the walkthrough on Sunday, my concerns were kind of put to bed.”
To get prepared for their own classes, instructors can conduct their own practice runs before the real deal. If any technical issues arise, they should contact the IT staff at their schools to answer any questions, and as always there are a number of tutorials and other resources online that can be utilized. For example, LinkedIn Learning has recently made 16 work-from-home related courses available for free, including how to operate tools like Zoom and Skype.
Get the Buy-In
These are strange and stressful times but making virtual training work becomes a lot easier when everyone is on the same page.
“One of the things that made it better and easier for me as an instructor is that I got really good buy-in from the folks at home,” says Prevatt.
While students may not have much of a choice of whether classes are online in the current climate, the mental buy-in element is still critical to their success. The transition is easier when it’s done willingly rather than begrudgingly.
Here are a few points that you might be able to use to encourage optimism, according to Prevatt:
Virtual training allows students to continue to learn skills and work toward earning credentials, certifications or degrees, even amid a pandemic.
Students get to be in their own comfort zone. Learning from home means they can take advantage of the comforts of home as well.
Virtual learning eliminates potential transportation or logistical hassles, such as finding a ride to and from school or paying for gas.
In addition, instructors should prepare their students for what to expect going into this new format as best as possible. Fewer surprises mean less frustration.
Learning to teach online may be challenging, but Prevatt says that one of the biggest keys for instructors is to not beat yourself up over small mistakes.
There will be a learning curve to teaching students online, and there will likely be some hiccups along the way. But that’s okay.
At the end of the day, while the format may be new, the material is not. In Prevatt’s case, the NCCER curricula is still focused on topics like tools, equipment, materials, procedures and processes that certified instructors – many of whom spent years as craft professionals in the industry themselves – are plenty familiar with.
“I’d say to all instructors: Trust yourself. You know the material, and just like any good athlete, you let the game come to you.”
Even if a mistake gets made, it’s a learning opportunity. You get to come back and fix it next time.
“That’s the beauty of teaching: You get to learn something new every single day.”