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Teaching Virtual Childbirth and Perinatal Classes: Best Practice Review

Written By Debbie Young MSL, ICCE, ICBD, LCCE, CLC

 

Virtual classes are being held successfully now, and for many organizations they are here to stay, even once in-person classes resume.  Here are some things I learned from experience over the past few years and by sitting in on other educators’ virtual classes. You may have already employed some of these best practices, or maybe you’ll pick up some ideas to enhance your existing classes. 

Connecting with & preparing students before class

Starting a few weeks before you class (if possible), connect with your families and let them know how you intend to present the class.  Dates, times, and the link to access the virtual class are all important, but are you also asking them to gather the things you would them to “bring” to the class? This can include pillows, massage tools, a doll or stuffed animal, diapers, or their pump depending on the subject you are teaching.  Send at least one follow-up email with a reminder about the class date and time that mentions that they can have dinner while participating in the class (if desired), to have something to drink nearby, and letting them know the agenda and break times.  Be sure to use a blind carbon copy (bcc) or email each student individually for privacy reasons. Ask them to send you any questions that they want to be sure you cover.

You can send many resources via email, such as PDFs, links, or even an InJoy web app code that provides access to a video library and tools.  If you are mailing reference material, make sure you get it in the mail 2 weeks ahead of time. Books like Understanding Birth come with a web app, and you can encourage them to pull it up on their phone or device ahead of time and even “assign” a few videos for them to view prior to class.  You can include any handouts in the mailing, such as a list of things specific to your location that they may need, resources for them to check out, and more.  Some educators include a map of their facility, where to park when they come to the hospital in labor, and anything important that you might cover during an in-person tour.

Setting up the day of (and before) the class

Practice your presentation ahead of the day, go over your outline, and include any questions the students asked in your pre-class email. Check out the background that appears in your camera to make sure students can focus on you and the presentation rather than personal photos or clutter in the room and be sure to minimize audio distractions. On the day of the class, log in early. To prevent your students from logging in while you are setting up, use the waiting room feature of your web meeting platform.  Depending on your platform, you may be able to add a note to get them thinking about the class while they are in the waiting room.  Open the door right at the specific class start time.  Greet students as they come in. Get and note their partner’s name, so you can address people personally.  Chat – how was your day, what is the most surprising thing that is happening in your pregnancy (having a newborn, breastfeeding, as applies), talk about weather-related happenings or ball game highlights if applicable to your area. Just “getting to know you” before all students come in the class can create a welcoming environment.  They can voice their answers or invite them to put them in the chat box.  Start the formal class within 5 minutes of the stated begin time.  You can let students know that you will allow that time to get situated, but don’t wait longer or your will lose people’s interest. 

Using video or PowerPoint

High quality video and PowerPoint can be useful tools for presenting concepts during class.  Practice switching from using a video or PowerPoint to full-face mode on camera to bring up a document, etc. For videos, play shorter clips and use them to start discussions. A class I attended recently asked the families to view one of the birth story videos on their app and included a break-time during this portion.  She gave 10 minutes to view the video and get a drink or use the loo. Then at the stated time, she asked them to turn their cameras on again and discuss.

For PowerPoint presentations, keep your face on the screen.  Did you know that you can use controls within PowerPoint to create a black or white screen that provides a break while you are presenting?  To practice your presentation, you can record yourself presenting and then review it; adjust your presentation before the actual class if needed. 

Demonstrating effectively on camera

As in the classroom, being interactive is the key to helping the students bring in and retain the information presented.  If just watching a video would impart all the info needed, we would not need educators!  And we know that a combination of types of presentation is most effective – video and/or PowerPoint, discussion, questions & answer, demonstration, return demonstration, and games or activities work well to impart information and have students retain it. 

When you are ready to move from screen share to demonstration mode, just stop sharing your screen.  Have your tools available in front of or beside you: pelvis or breast models, comfort measure tools, baby and blanket, etc. Make sure you are far enough away from your camera to catch whatever you are demonstrating in the frame (you will have practiced this ahead of time).  Hold up your pelvis model to show how positions change the structure of your pelvis.  Show various ways to hold the baby for nursing in a breastfeeding class.  Some people use special overhead cameras to capture what is happening on the table, but you can move your body or your stand-alone camera to show your demonstration in most cases.  You can even bring in a “model” person to demonstrate comfort measures.  My daughter or husband are up for showing good massage techniques.  Get creative!

Creating an environment of sharing and participation

Beginning at the start of the class, in those first 5 minutes, start helping people understand that sharing is encouraged (but not demanded).  Let the students talk to each other.  Give a little life history if desired.  This usually has someone saying, “Oh, I did that, lived there, went to that school…”  You can leave people’s audio on, or have it turned off unless they raise their hand.  With a smaller class it is often fun to leave it on unless there is distracting noise at a student’s location.  Ask questions of specific people so that everyone feels like sharing is a normal thing.  It also helps shut down the person who answers every question and may talk too much. If you have a large class, you might use breakout rooms to discuss topics like “What massage or massage tool are you bringing to the birth?” “Did your mom breastfeed you, for how long, and how do they feel about you breastfeeding?” and so forth.

Remember, it is not appropriate for the educator to share students’ contact information with the class, but you can allow them to put their preferred contact info in the chat box with their name if they want to stay in contact with the other students.

Ending the class

If you are teaching more than one day, set up expectations for the following session.  Ask for additional questions they want you to cover in the next session.  Encourage them to watch specific videos on their web app between now and the next session if appropriate.  Invite them to email (or call) you between classes if needed.  During the last class, or for one-day classes, let them know you will be sending out a survey about the class that will help you adjust and improve for the next group.  Survey Monkey is a popular survey platform.  An email or facility-designed survey may also be available.

Following up after the class

If you track students’ due dates, you can send out a “check-in” email near their due date, offering to stay connected if they would like.  Go through your surveys to find out what you should change for the next virtual class.  Give yourself a pat on the back for helping families get off to a good start!

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