Tips for live teaching tech online, deeply informed by The Carpentries

As the higher education world begins to adapt to an online format and industry to virtual meetings, many of us are adapting to a new set of social etiquettes around teaching in platforms like Zoom.

I won’t be getting into the important topics about digital equity involved in a flip to fully online education or working from home.  Just to highlight:

  • don’t presume people have {thing}, have great {thing}, have {thing} to themselves, or even have a home where {thing} could be.  For each thing, fill in:  internet, computer, monitor, attention, etc.

I shared the following list with my department today.  This is not exhaustive, but is a general toolkit that I try to utilize in any online meeting or course.

A large part of my service work is with The Carpentries (https://carpentries.org/) which is completely distributed across the globe. We use Zoom, a lot. Like, A LOT.

Some examples of the online zoom work that we do:

  • Run 2 day workshops synchronously in zoom, this includes breakout rooms, screen sharing, and a lot of discussion oriented activities.  Participants will usually be grouped by timezones but from multiple countries, and sometimes we’ll have a remote site with multiple people in combination with individual remote attendees.  The instructors will be remote/geographically distributed as well.  We use a combination of etherpad or google doc to collaboratively share the results of the think/pair/share activities.
  • Run live teaching demos as part of the certification process, where up to 5 people join a meeting and do 5 minute screenshare teaching presentations.
  • All staff and community discussions take place in zoom. This includes the Executive Council (this is my third year on it) meets entirely in zoom. We use a shared google doc for agenda, with someone in another section taking minutes.
  • Our tips on zoom are here, including other advice for leading online training in zoom:  https://carpentries.github.io/instructor-training/guide/index.html#zoom

I’ve done all these things, and now also been teaching in Zoom this semester for UIUC.  I’ve found that scale does make a difference, but many things hold true.

Many of the iSchool’s graduate students are remote/online students, so I always design my classes as online first. I might pilot a class in person, but I always presume things will end up online or in a hybrid classroom.

My general online tips for meetings and teaching are below.  Again, this is general, and I will deploy as needed depending on context.  Not every class and topic fits well with this.  But having a large catalog of online skills makes you quickly adaptable for when things go poorly.  These tips are geared toward synchronous sessions, but I’ll add some recordings advice at the end. There are other guides out there on recording videos for asynchronous use.

My suggested toolkit for online meetings and synchronous classes:

  • Be clear about your expectations for chat and state it up front at the beginning of every class.
    • Zoom chats aren’t threaded and can get quite cluttered.  I usually discourage side conversations unrelated to the content being presented.
    • Remind students to remain muted when they are not speaking/presenting.
    • As a host, you have permissions to mute someone. This can happen when someone calls in on their phone, as the controls are odd.
  • Be invitational if you want video.
    • Clearly state if you would like people to use video as able, and it’s ok to turn it off/leave it off during a break of if they are eating.
    • Encourage, but don’t pressure, is key.
    • Be explicit with permission to turn it off as needed.
  • Practice using gallery view/speaker view, and remind students that these are options.
  • You can narrate what you are doing if you are invisibly fighting with things behind the scenes so students don’t think their connection has died.
    • Try to laugh off problems.  It happens to everyone!
    • You can use this to cultivate some solidarity with the students. They are also likely learning a new platform.
  • Be clear about how you want people to communicate. When calling on a student, state “[name], go ahead and take the mic” or “[name], put your question in the chat”.
    • Invite students to take the mic, as they will likely default to using chat.
    • Get used to indicating which communication channel you want them to use when you are calling on them or when you are asking for feedback.
  • Remember that there is a strong delay with chat.  So it may take up to 10-30 seconds to start getting questions or answers appear in the chat.
    • Students not only need time to think, but additional time to type & formulate a question, plus lag between when you speak and when they get it.  This is especially true when teaching in a hybrid environment.  In person students have a time/bandwidth/speaking advantage, and rarely will an online student beat that.
  • There are many ways to run an interactive class without having full discussion.  Don’t just read slides to them.
    • Invite students to stop and think about things.
    • Ask them to state an example and put it in chat, and then read some of them out. Try to balance who you are highlighting.
    • Ask them to make predictions and place them in the chat. This is a great/easy way to do formative assessment.
    • These give everyone a chance to be involved even if they are timid about the mic or you have some extremely chatty students.
  • Turn taking must be an explicit and policed etiquette.
    • The raising hands feature in zoom in very limited.  The Carpentries get around this by using the /hand in the chat. Anyone wanting to speak should place /hand in the chat. This is a visual indicator that’s clearer than the long participants list, and it also naturally captures the queue as the chats roll in.
    • An alternative form of this is “/hand [topic]”.  So you can see what students want to talk about and configure discussion as needed.  This can semi thread the hand stack.
    • Scale makes this hard.  “Can I get about 3 people wanting to talk who haven’t yet?” is a good way to naturally limit the queue.
    • Actively remind students to use /hand or ask a student to turn off their mic if they are not taking turns.
  • Assign roles in meetings (https://frameshiftconsulting.com/meeting-skills/, and https://frameshiftconsultingdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/frameshift_role_cards2.pdf).
    • Having a dedicated facilitator, who is someone not presenting and not taking notes, can be great to handle heavy discussion situations. So someone is dedicated to watching the /hand queue and keeping track of who is next.
    • Rotate these duties, and have subs for when people in those positions need to present or speak. Eg you can’t take notes while you are presenting one of your items.  The sub should fill in, and the person should direct the sub to take over while they present.
    • Add, adjust, or change the roles as it makes sense for your meeting.
  • Think about rotating these roles or asking students to volunteer to take these roles during class.
    • Practice with facilitation, gatekeeping, and timekeeping are important.
    • Rotate by discussion point or class as desired.
  • Activities are different in online, be creative.
    • Having students do something independently and then post the results in an LMS forum is a nice low effort way to share results without eating time by fighting with breakout rooms.
    • Add time or an assignment that they need to respond to each other in the forum.  Sort of an asynchronous pair/share.
  • Have your notes printed out or on another screen when you are sharing your screen.
    • So you don’t have to move away from your screenshare.
  • Present on your smaller laptop or monitor, have your notes/email on your bigger monitor.
    • This reduces the size of your video and bandwidth.
  • If you are going to livecode, do it properly.
  • Gauging the temperature of a room can be difficult.  You can use textual indicators.
    • Example, we will use +1 for agreement, -1 for disagreement, and +0 for neutral feelings. Sometimes this becomes just ++,–,0 depending on how CS the audience is. But it does work well.  And invites the moderator to engage with any -1 or +0s.
  • Tools like Poll Everywhere (https://www.polleverywhere.com/) have a variety of feedback types and worth playing around with them.
  • Share your slides!
  • Take some time to play with any annotation tools offered by the platform you are in, or get something like ScreenBrush.

Recordings are not my expertise, but here are some other aspects to think about:

  • make them in short content chunks
  • add timestamp notes about content transitions when your videos run longer
    • students will try and go back for reference
  • prompt students to pause the video and experiment
  • repeat yourself a lot
  • prioritize getting captions/transcripts for your recordings.  Google slides has some options, as does YouTube, and Kaltura.  Depends on your campus.  Again, not my expertise area, but there are some options. Work with your disability resource office if you aren’t aware of the tools available for your campus. They usually have the good stuff.

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