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Wednesday, 18 March 2020

How I teach classes remotely

I’ve been teaching classes remotely for over a decade now — mostly to adult learners — and so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. With a lot of schools and universities having to switch to remote classes, here’s what I can suggest:
  • One of the most useful tools is Krisp.AI. (Affiliate link to get one month free: krisp.ai ; link for the free version for students and educators https://krisp.ai/blog/covid19-response/ ) — this automatically removes background noise, so you can be delivering a class in a noisy coffee shop and it sounds to your listeners like you are in a quiet recording studio. It is free to students and educators at this time.
  • The second most useful tool is a good quality microphone. I use the Blue Yeti (affiliate link Blue Yeti ; direct link https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Microphone-Silver-Certified-Refurbished/dp/B01LX1N2WT) and it is very, very good. You can then use cheap earphones to listen, because the Yeti has a good phone-out audio monitor.
  • If you have a modern laptop, you can use it to remove the background behind you automatically. Otherwise you can make a green screen very cheaply: (affiliate link: tension wire, direct link https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07P3KQYGV ). Either way it means that you can run a class from your bedroom (or wherever) without much invasion of privacy.
  • If you are presenting a computer desktop (e.g. I teach programming classes, so I do a lot of this), then get your IT department to organise an Amazon Workspace for you. Join the conference call twice — once from your laptop, and once from the Workspaces session. Share the Workspaces screen, not your home laptop. That way, if a message pops up on your screen, the students won’t see it.
  • If you are low on bandwidth (which shouldn’t be the case in Australia, as Optus and Telstra have lifted their link speeds for everyone), you can use Workspaces & phone in to the call. Your telephone voice has priority over data, so your voice will be clear and crisp. Your Workspaces computer will never be affected by low bandwidth.
  • Remote classes scale up better than face-to-face. It is a brave teacher who would be willing to teach a 60-person face-to-face, but it can be done remotely. So ideally, pair up with another teacher teaching the same class at the same time: one of you will deliver the lesson, and the other teacher will handle audio muting, responding to comments in the chat channel and keeping the class on track. I’ve generally done this with a model of senior instructor + junior support teacher.
  • Depending on the class, you can do open-mike for everyone, or otherwise do a structured question asking: e.g. if you want to ask a question, flag in the conferencing tool, or ask the question in the chat channel. Then your support instructor can interrupt the class with the question.
  • It is OK to watch a video (e.g. from Khan Academy who have got daily schedules organised) together, and then discuss it afterwards. It’s OK to admit that there is a resource on the internet that can be better than you at explaining something through a computer screen.
  • You need to have some kind of “exit tickets” from each lesson (or at least each week) where students tell you what the lesson was about, and any questions that they have. It is often quite enlightening.
  • The chat channel in Zoom and google hangouts doesn’t quite work; but they are definitely the right choice for running the video session as you can mute participants, create breakout rooms and so on. Slack or Discord can work better as a chat channel, particularly if you have a co-instructor monitoring it for you.

8 comments:

  1. "If you are presenting a computer desktop (e.g. I teach programming classes, so I do a lot of this), then get your IT department to organise an Amazon Workspace for you. Join the conference call from twice — once from your laptop, and once from the Workspaces session. Share the Workspaces screen, not your home laptop. That way, if a message pops up on your screen, the students won’t see it."

    I can do you one better that'll be free and far more flexible: use a VM to do the work on your laptop/desktop and then use OBS to capture that window and broadcast that. That way anything happening on the desktop outside the VM won't ever be seen and there's no need for a WorkSpace instance then.

    I do this with great success and I'm happy to show you an example of it working if you give me an email/mobile (I'm in Australia too; Brisbane.) Just email me.

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  2. I did do that for quite a while, but I found it had several problems.

    In particular the VM took up CPU and memory on my laptop. It's OK for me now since I upgraded my laptop, but in the past when I only had a cheap laptop, this could slow everything down. In particular, the video encoding of my camera often couldn't keep up because the CPU was being shared with the virtual machine.

    I also found that less technical staff (I used to have a lot of e-learning authors I was working with) found the whole concept of virtual machines on their laptop quite confusing, and it just caused a lot of IT support issues. VDI solutions like Workspaces seem to make more sense to non-geeks.

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  3. this is awesome advice! thank you for sharing

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  4. Great advice! But what about note-taking? You could use “Focus on Listening “ for that

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  5. Greg, this is some great advice. If you'd like to run assessments/quizzes, I can help set up a free account for you at InterviewPass. We built it originally for hiring use case, but would work well for education purposes too. My email is suresh [at] interviewpass dot co.

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  6. Thank you for this list Greg! I haven't been able to find many remote teachers sharing their thoughts so posts like this are very welcome.

    You mention modern laptops being able to remove the backgrounds on videos in order to maintain some privacy. What software do you use to do that?

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    1. Zoom does this automatically if your laptop is reasonably recent.

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