Covid-19 Teaching

The covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed the world. From what it means to be essential, to how we interact and learn. While the pandemic may have forced us online, it doesn’t mean that it can take away the in-classroom experience. I approach online teaching the same way I would if I were in the classroom, except I have a few more technological wizardry tools available.

Many students hear the term online teaching and associate it with a narrated Powerpoint to watch on the weekends. Personally I feel that may be one of the worst methods to teach online. The professor talks to their computer, the student listens and any questions, interaction, non-verbal cues from students or spontaneity to the lecture is lost. Likewise, any lessons using hands-on programming exercises is incredibly difficult to troubleshoot. Professors don’t like it, students don’t like it and everyone has a bad experience using this model.

How I approach it is to use technology to as closely mirror a classroom learning environment as possible using synchronous learning, improving online interaction and leveraging online advantages not available in the classroom.

Synchronous learning
Physical classes are at a set time and a set location. I believe online learning should be too. The difference is we meet online through Youtube or Zoom, depending on the amount of interaction needed for the lesson. We set aside time to go to class, so why not set aside time to attend class online? This allows for students to ask questions, direct the lesson through interaction and allows for spontaneity. I like to use streaming YouTube and provide my lectures fresh with up to the last minute changes to reflect industry.

Improving online interaction
During a typical semester, students have a variety of ways to interact with their professor, from asking questions before, during, after class, stopping by during office hours or sending an email. Many students prefer the quick question or the office visit in cases where they are unclear what to ask or how to phrase their question. It is also much more comfortable to do so rather than email. Covid-19 lockdowns have certainly taken away that ability and many students find sending an unclear email to be intimidating, thus an opportunity to learn is lost.

My approach is to leverage industry communication platforms such as Slack and Zoom to offset the loss of communication richness. Students are already familiar with texting and social media interaction, so Slack offers a professional extension of that experience. Students are able to communicate directly with one another, with the professor, or with a group. They can also share files, conduct video calls or even post a class-related meme. The advantages over email is synchronicity, where real-time conversations can take place and even videochat. For students that need to go that one step further to share their desktop, Zoom is the perfect tool. This is essential for hands-on programming exercises where the student may not be familiar with the language or software platform.

Leveraging online advantages not available in the classroom
While it is difficult to exactly match the in-classroom experience, I feel that some of the online tools can help provide a superior experience. Slack, Zoom, YouTube livestreams, my YouTube channel of prior lectures are all examples of tools I have now incorporated into my courses. I also record lectures so that students can re-watch and help their studying.

Technology needs and expectations
Online courses do demand a certain level of technological need. From the basics of a computer and stable Internet connection, there are a few other things to consider to improve your online learning experience. A good camera and microphone. Many people, professors included, use laptop cameras and microphones. Unfortunately for everyone around them, the quality shows. Laptop cameras are typically cheap and produce a poor picture resolution. Laptop microphones are worse, picking up key clicks, thermal fans and because of their proximity to speakers, typically produce audio feedback. If you have the means, please consider investing in a quality computer camera and microphone. Here is an example of my own setup.

Dell laptop camera Logitech c930e

They are not as expensive as you might think, my FiFine adjustable boom microphone was around $35 on Amazon. Especially if you are graduating soon, invest in them for your online interviews and who knows, you may be using them for remote work. If you are going all out, you might also consider a ring light, multiple monitors and a good set of speakers as well. If you are on a budget, Facebook Marketplace may have some deals. I can generally pickup a good monitor for less then $20 on there.