March 18, 2020
Tips for Teaching Virtual Childbirth Classes
By: Sharon Muza, BS, CD/BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE | 7 Comments
Well, to quote a well known Bob Dylan song, “The times they are a’changing.”
In fact, they are changing so fast that whatever update I might be able to source and share today on the status and recommendations on Covid-19 will be outdated by tomorrow. But, as one of my current childbirth class students reminded me, “the babies are still going to come.”
With that in mind, I have moved all my classes (I teach independently) to virtual classes, but most of my colleagues (including Andrea Lythgoe, who has contributed to this post) teaching for hospitals have done the same. You may find yourself in a similar situation and you may agree that for many of us, the learning curve is steep, to say the least.
Here are some tips and tricks that we have put together to help you make the transition to virtual teaching. Please note, teaching virtually is different than a packaged online course. It is live, both for the educator and the participants.
Conducting a virtual childbirth class, even for an experienced educator, is not as simple as doing exactly what you do in class, just in front of your phone or laptop. The learning curve has been steep, almost like when I first started out teaching 17 years ago, when I prepped ten minutes for every minute of class facetime.
Choose a platform
The platform I am currently using is Zoom, but Andrea is working off of WebEx, the system chosen by her hospital employer. There are many other platforms to choose from as well. Whatever platform you select, I think it is best if you can see the participants and they can see each other. This helps build community and enhance the experience.
Prep for best quality video and sound
I have purchased a softbox lighting kit, that can be set up anywhere, so the families can see me and my props without difficulty. I am also using an external microphone, after testing my airpods, wired headphones/earbuds and the laptop mic, all for the best sound. The external microphone was best. I prepped the background behind me (a blank wall) to be clean, clear, and free of clutter and hanging pictures. I am using the camera on my Macbook Air, but I could see how an external camera might work well too.
Plan ahead and set up well
I am teaching in my classroom/office outside of my home, but many of you may be using your home. If there are other people/pets in the home, they need to be aware that you are live and leave you alone. Also, depending on your internet speeds, others may need to stop using devices while you are teaching. In my house, for example, my two college student age children can suck up all the bandwidth. Even using the microwave impacts our WIFI speeds.
I close down everything on my laptop but the apps that I need, stopping all back ups, extra tabs and background applications.
I carefully go over my lesson plans and place every single teaching aid and prop within easy reach, in the order that I will use them. Because these platforms allow you to share your screen, I cue all my videos (they are all digital) to be ready to play with just a keystroke, and have created a presentation in Keynote, (PowerPoint/Google Slides) with any images that I want to show them. Consider posters you use, handouts you might share, or other things that they would normally see during class. I put these images/slides in the order that I will use them, in one document. This is also open and ready to share.
I normally provide a textbook, packet of handouts and a “goody bag” of fun learning activities to every family. I have physically mailed these in advance, so that families have them at the ready. I also send them on a scavenger hunt before class starts with items I want them to gather from their homes, such as pillows, an armless chair, a bowl of ice for a labor simulation etc.
Have a comfortable chair for yourself and a water bottle handy to keep your throat lubricated. Turn off your phone and noisy notifications on all the devices within earshot.
Consider having a tech person to help you out at the start of a class. Share their phone/text contact info with the class prior to starting and have them also in the virtual classroom. This extra person can troubleshoot people who are having trouble connecting while you are starting class.
Prepare your students in advance, with all the information they will need to connect, along with the list of items to have at the ready. Thanks to educator Janelle Durham, here is a sample of what you might send them in advance (referring to Zoom, but applicable to other platforms).
You can run Zoom on any laptop, tablet or smartphone. (Or you can just call in on a phone like a conference call. Call +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose) and use Meeting ID: XXX YYY ZZZZ)
You don't have to have a Zoom membership or even log in to join a meeting.
You can choose to enable your camera so we can all see your smiling face, or if you're in your pajamas with bedhead, you can keep the camera disabled.
I will ask that you plan to be muted, unless you are speaking, for most of the call so we don't get all the background noise from all of our environments. (Dogs barking, dishwashers, etc.)
Before it's time for the call, go to https://zoom.us. Click on Join a Meeting, and it will prompt you to download the software. (If you're going to use a smartphone or tablet, go to the app store and download the free Zoom teleconferencing app.)
When you're in the app, if it gives you the option to test your audio, to make sure it works.
It's a good idea to plan to log in a few minutes before a meeting begins to make sure it's working for you. I've got it set to put you in a "waiting room" till I open the meeting.
Here's a tutorial on how to join a meeting, and you can even do a practice meeting there.
This is a basic guide to some of the controls you can use during a meeting.
If you have a second monitor, consider putting the information you want to show on the smaller one so that you can see participants bigger (and maybe more of them) on the larger one. Have a clock visible where you can see it without waking your phone.
You might want to try a few practice sessions with friends and colleagues to build your confidence and familiarize yourself with the platform before you start. Also consider inviting a peer educator to join the meeting on mute to observe and give you feedback after the class is over. (Thanks Alice and Andrea!). This was very valuable to me.
Consider having the meeting room open 15 minutes before, so that as families join, they can participate in informal chit chat before the class starts. This community and connection is so important and even more vital during these stressful and uncertain times.
As you do introductions, have everyone say their names, and be sure to write them down, both the pregnant person and their support/partner as well. Often, only one person from each family will have their names show up, and sometimes they’ll be things like “Monstergirl2014” which is not totally helpful to me. Rather than waiting for people to volunteer to answer, you may need to call on people, using their names. Either go in the same order each time or make tally marks so you know who has and has not had a chance to speak.
If you have received permission in advance from all participants, record the class (if that is an option for your conferencing platform) in case people miss some of it or want to watch again.
Never forget that even if you are alone in the room teaching, they can see you! Someone is always watching, so don’t do anything on camera that you wouldn’t do in front of your class.
Ideas for activities
Show your face as you talk. If you are freaked out at the sight of seeing yourself on the screen, (as I was), know that the more you practice, the more confident you will feel and the easier it is to ignore your image. If you’re demonstrating with props like a pelvis and baby, make sure you step back so they’re visible, but not so far back it’s hard to see.
Consider using more images than words on any slides you include. Many webinar platforms have a whiteboard you (and the participants) can draw on. I used my iPad and Apple Pen and share that iPad screen with class, so I could write as if I was using a whiteboard or newsprint and they could see it.
Use the chat feature for questions from them, (don’t forget to check it often) if they don’t want to interrupt. I have totally enjoyed using the polling feature on Zoom to occasionally ask some questions and have them answer. I have used it as a review or to introduce a new topic. Families seem to really enjoy this feature and so do I.
It is totally possible to keep your classes interactive and activity heavy rather than resorting to PowerPoint and canned videos. It just takes more time to think things through and prep well in advance. I have also enjoyed using the things in their homes to enhance the learning experience. Instructing them to lean over the kitchen counter and rock their hips is so much more realistic than when we are in my classroom “pretending.”
If you do not have access to electronic versions of videos you usually show check out this post for free online videos to use when teaching childbirth classes.
You can also create break out rooms in Zoom and have your families work in small groups, that you can move between to facilitate.
Conclusion and an invite
I am not a “techie,” and this virtual classroom was (and continues to be) very intimidating. I am also self-employed and my family relies on my income to live. I had to do something and so here I am. I am committed to improving my skills, and providing a professional, evidenced-based, and dynamic learning experience for those families whose own lives have been upended by today’s circumstances. Andrea Lythgoe and I would like to invite anyone facing the prospect of doing virtual childbirth classes to participate in a Zoom live session where Andrea and I can share some ideas, demo some things and we can all talk about these challenges. This is scheduled for March 20, 2020, at 10 AM PST. You can join that meeting here.
You can also listen to the recent Birth Geeks podcast, where educator Robin Weiss invited me to be a guest and talk about how to be successful in making this transition.
For those of you who are not in a position to do virtual teaching, look for a blog post later this week with additional resources from Lamaze International highlighting the rich array of tools Lamaze International has for student-paced online learning that is available for your families. Lamaze International is committed to supporting educators and families during these evolving and challenging circumstances.
Hang in there and stay safe.
TagsChildbirth education Lamaze International Andrea Lythgoe Sharon Muza COVID-19 Virtual Childbirth Classes Zoom Webex