Saturday Greetings from Learning How to Learn–Special Pandemic edition
14th March 2020
Cheery Saturday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!
Tips for Moving Your Classes Online
We realize that, due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic, many teachers are working this weekend to move their courses online. If you are one of those teachers, here is a compendium of general information that might prove helpful for you. [This newsletter inspired in part by the recent lecture of Barb’s friend and colleague, Professor Chris Kobus at Oakland University: streaming, download.]
The first tendency of educators moving their classes online is to use something live, such as Webex or Zoom. But there are challenges with this approach. For example, Webex defaults to live microphones. If you have a live class of say, 70 students, you can spend half the class debugging who has a microphone on—and as soon as that’s fixed, someone else can leave their microphone on. Where Webex and similar can come in handy is in hosting office hours. There are ways to embed Webex meetings in your LMS so that the meeting is instantly accessible by all your students. Generally this is done by something like adding an activity or resource to your LMS. There are other possibilities, however, for teaching to large groups, including Twitch. (Here’s an article about how a math professor has found Twitch, ordinarily considered a gaming platform, to be useful in his teaching).
The Value of Screen Recording
But it can be much easier—and students love it—if you simply record each of your lectures. Then, not only is the lecture more similar to what you normally give as a lecture, but students can also access the lecture at their convenience. When students have questions, they can easily email them—more complex questions can be answered by phone calls.
You might think that a narrated video is just extra work, and it’s easier to just upload documents and make students read them. While uploading documents may be simple for you, it makes things much more difficult for students. Students often need to know why one step, for example, leads to the next in a derivation, or to see you draw arrows and discuss the relationship between grammatical structures as they hear you saying words in French. Just giving students a handout and forcing them to read the materials means that students don’t have access to your real value as an instructor—which often lies in being able to provide both pictorial and audible narrative simultaneously (the great power of multi-media instruction).
We ourselves generally capture our screen with screen capture software such as Camtasia (Panopto is another popular option). Camtasia has five-minute introductory tutorials—watch the first one or two, and you can be on your way to screen capture within minutes. Don’t learn all the additional more advanced add-ons. Your first goal as a new online instructor should simply be to record five minutes of one of your lectures. If you can do that, you’ve taken the first major step to getting your course shifted online.
Writing Tablets, Touch Screens, and Microphones
We like to use a writing tablet (for example, this one) attached with a USB to our computer in order to write on PowerPoints or a page. An alternative recommendation if you have a touchscreen on your PC is to use a special glove with your pen, so that your hand, which can also sometimes touch the screen, doesn’t mess up your writing. PowerPoint has its own annotation ability. Microsoft’s OneNote (for PC or Mac) allows a very simple way to write on pdfs—here is a good tutorial on OneNote.
Blue Snowball and the more upscale Blue Yeti microphones are very popular and can sometimes make a nice improvement over the audio pickup of your computer. If you’re confused about the microphone you’ve selected, and how to use it, can be helpful to watch some of the video reviews on websites like Amazon to get a quick sense of how to use some of the microphone features, which are really quite simple to understand once you see someone demonstrate it. (Of course, that’s the benefit of teaching through videos!)
As far as your class testing goes, one of your best options for a sudden, last-minute shift into the online world is to set strict rules about no coordination between students, and then to send tests out that have a firm time limit for return after receipt of test—eg, 45 minutes or 90 minutes. There are proctoring services such as ProctorU, but those can be expensive, and it’s hardly fair to suddenly impose their use on students.
When turning in homework, don’t have students take pictures, which can be hard to see through shadows and poor angles. Instead, use cell phone scanning apps such as Cam Scanner.
Go to the Discussion Forum
If you have any comments or wish to discuss or add to any of these ideas, please go to the main discussion forum and add your comments!
That’s all for this special edition. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!
Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team