Let me set the record straight. I don’t like online education and virtual instruction of any class I am teaching. It sucks the best out of the in-person classes, which, in my opinion, are the personal time with students and the instant feedback while teaching. Instant feedback is rather important for a healthy teaching environment. I can understand if students like/understand the topic and want more of it. I can also understand who is shy and can’t ask a question, yet they have some. I can approach them easily right after the class, which I can’t do it in any online or virtual instruction. However, I think online learning is suitable for a topic that you already know a little bit and want to improve yourself. For any new topic, in-person interaction time is the best. That’s my personal take. We might be on different pages, and I can respect that.
Nevertheless, we are forced to do things online under the circumstances. Luckily, computer science classes are among the ones that have the most advanced technical students and instructors. So, I didn’t have too many problems to adapt to the new situation. Lots of instructors around the world are sharing their experience in the transition process. Here is mine.
Of course, I had to do some modifications to the class structure. First, I converted everything to virtual immediately, meaning that I met with my students at the same time as regular classes but virtually. I was taking attendance, and the rest of the things were pretty much the same.
After I got more emails about the situation from the university, I agreed with them, and I decided to record my virtual classes as well and make it available for asynchronous studying. I recorded the classes at the same time as regular classes. I usually set a 5% attendance grade in the syllabus. I decided to make attendance optional and give them full in terms of this assignment grade. However, as a teacher, I still want some interaction time. So, I decided to give a bonus to whoever attends to my virtual classes while I am recording it. Luckily, more than half of my class still attend virtual classes, which yields to a more productive and interactive class.
I use WebEx for giving the virtual lectures and recording them. Because our university has a contract. Of course, like any other conferencing software, WebEx also had trouble at first. So, I kept Jitsi around for a quick fallback when I had trouble with WebEx. Now, WebEx works more stable.
WebEx can record both the webcam and screen share in a good way. After each class, I first save it to local and upload it to my youtube channel (even though not lots of students watch them). My experiences with WebEx Cloud didn’t go well, so I decided to try this approach. I also take the extra mile and instead of taking short videos, I put timestamps to make each part of the video distinctly clear to skip. See below:
I used SketchTogether a few times for writing and drawing something together with the students. It was decent. However, now, if I need to draw something, I use a physical board that I have at home and share it on webcam. See below:
Virtual office hours
I announced to my students that I would be available virtually on my regular office hours. I still didn’t get a single person attended, but I am hopeful. I set my office hours via WebEx again.
One small bit I want to share is about how I am taking attendance. We start with mics muted and webcams off. Even though, I see the names of the students, I still call their names at the beginning of the class and let them say “here” or “present” via their mic. I like to think that even this kind of small interaction makes a big change, rather than just sitting and watching a virtual class.