Last updated: Thursday, March 26th, 2020 at 5:22pm

Teaching Remote

Like everyone else, I1 am trying to figure out how to teach remotely next quarter. Below are the notes that I’m using to gather my thoughts and to coordinate with my co-instructors.

A few people have asked me to share them, so here they are. Hopefully, you will find one or two useful tips inside. I always love observing another teacher’s tricks; if you have a similar document, please send it over!

These notes will evolve as I hear what other teachers are coming up with and attend the workshops that the school is organizing over the coming weeks. I plan to update this document frequently until at least March 31st, so please check back.

  • Click on the icon in the top-left corner of this page to see a table of contents and overview.
  • I teach a programming class; much of the below may not apply to other settings.
  • My institution is using Zoom, Canvas, and Panopto; and I use a Mac and iPad. These notes are primarily written from that perspective but I try to mention alternatives where I can; you may have to connect some dots on your own.
  • I’m assuming you have Zoom installed, have been on a call before, and ideally have watched some tutorials and attended a training about how to use Zoom for teaching. These notes will not cover Zoom basics.
  • If you have any corrections, suggestions, or any other feedback, please drop me a line. Thank you.

My transition plan

  1. Set up my studio for the highest quality Zoom sessions / recordings possible.
  2. Figure out tools for whiteboarding, effectively sharing my screen, etc.
  3. Timeshift as much content as possible to recordings, with for-credit in-video questions to ensure timely completion and thus class attendance/participation.
  4. Use class time for activities that benefit from being synchronous — group work, discussion, guided exercises, etc.

Rationale

On a typical day in the classroom:

  • I am speaking at the front of the room.
  • I’m projecting on all three, huge, screens.
  • My laptop screen is split into parts, with different information in each.
  • I’m glancing around for raised hands.
  • I’m writing some things on various whiteboards and leaving them there for reference.
  • TAs are wandering around the room helping students keep up.
  • We’re passing out handouts at key moments.
  • Students are leaning over, glancing at each others’ screens, and helping each other.

In-person, students and teachers have a massive amount of sensory bandwidth.

Now, we’re going to have to try and compress all that through our itty bitty laptop screens. This is one of the main challenges we’re up against when remote teaching, in my view.

Flip it

To mitigate this bandwidth crunch, I think we’re going to have to timeshift some of the material. My basic plan is to run a “flipped classroom2.

Pre-record essential knowledge…

I plan to pre-record and/or write up all essential knowledge3 for asynchronous, self-paced learning. As much as possible, I plan not to rely on synchronous, Zoom lectures to deliver required material, because:

  • I don’t believe it’s possible to cover the same amount of material in the same amount of time that we could cover with the communication bandwidth of an in-person classroom.
  • When you pre-record material, you can edit; and students can increase playback speed, pause, and skip back if they missed something. This helps compensate for the inherent narrower communication bandwidth.
  • If a student’s internet connection is shaky, or mine is, or Zoom itself goes down, what then? Yes, you can record Zoom sessions and post them later but what if a student doesn’t have time other than the time they set aside for class?

… and enrich during class time

I plan to utilize synchronous class time for enriching activities, ideally ones that can only be done when we’re all together:

  • Which parts of the presentation really shine with interactive delivery? Some portions of the lecture really do benefit from real-time Socratic delivery, or theatricality (not that many, if I’m honest); I’ll save those for synchronous Zoom meetings.
  • Mostly, we’ll do discussions and group activities/exercises.
  • Motivation for and introduction of the next set of videos.

Wait… how am I going to fill 3 hours if I can’t lecture?

It’s intimidating, I know. But there’s a decent baseline option: spend class time doing what used to be homework.

Since much of what used to be lecture is now being pre-recorded and assigned for consumption at home, at least some of used to be homework can now be worked on in class. Ideally, in groups4 or with guidance. In fact, make the “homework” more interesting and challenging, since now they’re working in teams and you’ll be there to set up checkpoints and to help.

I don’t recommend only doing “homework” during class time in this new, flipped, world; that would be too monotonous. But, it’s a start.

Lessons learned about flipping

I’ve experimented with a flipped classroom before, made mistakes, and learned some lessons5. Mainly:


You must have for-credit in-video questions with strict deadlines, or students will fall behind and not be prepared for the in-class activities.


Otherwise, students might even be tempted not to attend class, since the material is recorded anyway. However, I’ve found that in-person interaction is crucial to maintaining the engagement and momentum necessary for the best learning outcomes.

Therefore, I plan to make videos for-credit, required, with a strict deadline; and also have in-class activities that are for-credit, required, and can only be completed during the class session. They’ll thank us later.

Please excuse us 🚧

I think at this point it’s important to remind ourselves that it's okay not to be perfect right out the gate.

We’re all learning how to navigate these strange times together, and I plan to make my first slide something like this:

Please excuse us while we learn to social distance.

I will apologize to the students in advance for the inevitable clumsiness and rough edges, and I believe that they will understand.

Getting your studio set up

Okay, let’s get down to brass tacks. First and foremost, you need to set up your environment to broadcast or record.

Include your face

I recommend including your face in any recording you make (a picture-in-picture in the corner), or turn on your video while conducting class over Zoom.

A disembodied voice over slides is incredibly difficult to not zone out to. A human face in the picture makes all the difference.

Virtual background

One of the biggest reasons people hesitate to include their face is having to make sure that the environment that they are in is presentable. What if my office is a mess? What if my kid wanders in and embarrasses me?

Fortunately Zoom includes a handy Virtual Background feature that can help with this. Click the little icon to the right of the and then select “Choose Virtual Background…”:

Go ahead, give it a try right now! Zoom includes a few default options for backgrounds, but you can also add your own — have fun with it!

I prefer a plain white background, which you can see in my whiteboarding demo. Here’s a plain white image you can use if you like.

Zoom does a surprisingly great job of removing your background environment from view, but the less uniform your background is, the harder it is on Zoom.

If you can have your back to a solid color, evenly lit wall, you’ll make Zoom’s job easier; which will give you the best results. Here’s Zoom’s documentation on Virtual Backgrounds.

Stand up if possible

I don’t have any research to back this up, but I believe that my message comes across more effectively when I’m standing up while delivering it, rather than sitting down; especially when mostly going through slides.

Consider the following:

  • Getting a lectern, podium, or stand for your laptop. If you’re whiteboarding with a tablet, then getting two or something wider might help.
  • Getting6 an external USB webcam, rather than using the built-in webcam on your laptop and mounting7 the camera on a tripod or stand a few feet away and at eye level.
  • If you’re doing stuff on your screen (like demoing in Excel or writing code), remember to glance up from time to time and make “eye contact”8 with the camera. Talk to and gesticulate at it. Give the video some life.

But, hey: if all you’ve got handy is a desk and a chair, it’s all good. At the end of the day, as long as you’re in the video, that’s all that matters.

Don’t neglect sound quality

For some reason, I see instructors neglecting sound quality all the time. Even in the classroom, when there’s a lapel mic sitting right there on the lectern, oftentimes teachers will ignore it and instead strain their voices for three hours; while students at the back of the room will struggle to hear, and eventually their attention will start to wander.

Having the ability to speak over everyone else is a powerful tool in your arsenal; I make full use of it in-person, and to whatever extent possible I plan to make use of it remotely as well. That starts with having great audio quality.

Microphone

Baseline: your phone’s wired earbuds

Bottomline: Don't use your laptop's built-in microphone. Your keyboard’s clickety-clacketing two inches away from it is annoying, and there’s too high a chance of echoing and feedback (assuming you’re also using your laptop’s speakers).

Baseline: The good ol' wired 3.5mm earbuds+mic that come with your phone will work fine. Just make sure the dangling mic is not contacting your clothes, otherwise it will produce annoying noises as you shift around.

If you lost them9, here’s an inexpensive but decent quality replacement.

Remove backround noise with Krisp

If you’re streaming from a place that has background noise (i.e. kids furloughed from school running around?), you can try an app called Krisp to automagically remove (some of) it.

Krisp is free for educators for the next 6 months due to COVID-19. It works surprisingly well; give it a try. I’ve been enabling it by default these days, even though I don’t have much background noise in my studio; just in case.

Ideal: Podcasting USB microphone

To improve how you sound to your audience by a lot, get a standalone podcasting USB microphone.

Here’s a good rundown of options at various price points.

(If, like me, you had to purchase a USB-C hub to connect your USB mic and web cam to your MacBook [since Apple saw fit to remove all ports from MacBooks 🙄] then please see my note below about hard-wiring internet; you’ll probably want to pony up for an adapter that includes an ethernet port on it.)

Headphones

Bottomline: Don't use speakers; use headphones. The output from speakers might bounce off your walls and go back into your mic, causing unpleasant echoing and/or feedback for your audience.

Your phone’s wired earbuds, or any wired headphones, will work just fine.

At the cost of a tiny audio delay, Bluetooth headphones (like AirPods, but note my warning below about using them as your mic also) will work; and that way you’re not tethered to your laptop by any wires, which is nice (especially if you’re standing up, as I encourage below).

AirPods warning

I don’t know why this is, but in all my testing: AirPods, when connected to laptops, are terrible microphones. It’s fine to use them as headphones, but I recommend not using AirPods as your input device; or at least try it out with a friend and see what they say you sound like (I bet they’ll say “tinny”), and whether there’s a lag (I bet they’ll say “yes”).

Selecting input and output devices

In Zoom, the little icon to the right of the icon in the bottom-left corner is where you pick exactly which device you want to use for input and output:

Empower your TAs to speak up

Make sure your TAs are comfortable alerting you to any A/V issues that arise, no matter how minor-seeming. Glare in your glasses? Noise in the background? Something in your teeth? Explicitly instruct them to do so, so that they are on the lookout.

Whiteboarding

Many of us make heavy use of whiteboards while teaching. How are we going to replicate that remotely?

Finger or stylus

I find it hard to write with a mouse or my finger, so I plan to use an iPad and Apple Pencil. I know others who use standalone drawing tablets, but I haven’t tried those.

Whiteboarding with Zoom

The simplest way to get started is probably Zoom’s built-in whiteboard. You don’t need an iPad or a stylus, and your audience can even whiteboard with you (if you let them). This is a solid option.

You can also annotate on top of your slides. Consider including slides in your deck as placeholders for moments when you intend to whiteboard, perhaps with prompts or some portions of the content (formulae?) already filled in. This can save a lot of time, and let you just emphasize the important parts; as opposed to writing it all up from scratch.

Whiteboarding with a separate app

For some types of content (diagrams, graphs) I plan to use a separate app for whiteboarding, rather than Zoom’s built-in whiteboard. My app of choice is Paper by WeTransfer. Here’s a quick demo of some ways I use it:

There are many whiteboarding and note taking app options; I encourage you to do your own research and find one that suits your needs.

How to share your iPad’s screen

If you’re using a separate app, how would you share your iPad’s screen?

Sharing iPad with Zoom

I recorded the above demo using Zoom. There are multiple methods of sharing your iPad’s screen in Zoom, but in my testing sharing with Screen Mirroring was the most reliable.

You might have to use a Wired Connection depending on how your wifi network is set up, so you should be prepared to do that too. If you do, when you plug your iPad into your computer via USB cable, it will ask whether you want to “Trust This Computer?” Be sure to say “Yes” or nothing after that will work properly, and you’ll have to reset all of your privacy and location settings to fix it. Even then, you may have to restart the iPad, the computer, or both to get things to work.

You can use this method both while conducting class, and for pre-recording content (if you record your own Zoom session as the only participant).

Sharing iPad with QuickTime

Alternatively, you can use QuickTime Player. Connect your iPad with a USB cable, go to File > New Movie Recording, click the small icon next to the Record button, and select your iPad as the source.

Now, if you’re e.g. sharing your desktop over Zoom, QuickTime (showing whatever is going on on your iPad) is just another window in it, which you can manage; maximize it, or put it side-by-side with other content (e.g. a Jupyter notebook). Neat!

You don’t have to click “Record”, but I suppose you could if you want to. It will create an mp4 file of your iPad screen, but you won’t have your face in the video. It would probably be easier to just make a recording of a Zoom session.

Ensure a stable internet connection

Use hard-wired internet if possible

If at all possible, connect your laptop to internet with a wire, rather than using wifi. In general, this results in a more stable, faster connection.

In my home I had no choice but to do this, because my Zoom calls were dropping too frequently over wifi. I have no idea why since I’m sitting right next to the wifi router, but hard-wiring it mostly resolved the issue for me, so it was a life-saver. I haven’t heard of many other people having this issue, but in case you are, try hard-wiring instead of wifi.

This isn’t always possible, though, unless your cable modem happens to be located nearby where your studio is. You’ll also probably need an adapter, since not many laptops have ethernet ports built-in these days.

Internet backup plans

I don’t trust my home internet provider, so to be safe, I upgraded my cell phone plan to unlimited data. Zoom seems pretty good about detecting when you’re connected to a phone hotspot and reducing the quality of the stream to be usable.

I’m considering getting a mobile data hotspot from a different provider, for even more backup; but so far my regular ISP + phone hotspot have been enough redundancy.

Upload bandwidth

Zoom does a pretty good job of moderating quality to compensate for lower or higher bandwidth. But, if you’re planning to stream from home, it’s probably a good idea to double-check how much bandwidth you have.

Usually when you shop for internet plans, they only tell you the download speed (how fast you can get data from the internet); but what we care about in this case is the upload speed (how fast you can send data to the internet).

I haven’t done testing myself, but this article recommends upload speeds of 3Mbps for 480p (standard definition), 6Mbps for 720p (high def), or 13 Mbps for 1080p (really high def).

Do you really need 1080p HD? Probably not, unless you’ve got lots of small text on your screen that your students need to be able to read (you should be using a ginormous font anyway).

But anyway, for reference, since upload speeds aren’t published anywhere that I could find and I had to call to find out — Comcast plans in Chicago:

Plan Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Performance 100 5
Blast! 200 10
Extreme 300 20
Extreme Pro 600 20
Gigabit Speed 1000 35

Share your screen like a pro

Okay! While you’re waiting for some of those items to arrive, let’s get your computer itself configured. Remote teaching will necessarily involve video conferencing / screen sharing. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up after years of having many, many people watch my screen in public:

Make a secondary account

Create a secondary account on your computer to use whenever you are presenting your screen10 for your students. Mine is called “Instructor”.

This is not the included, out-of-the-box Guest User with limited privileges — it’s a full-fledged account11.

Sign in to Dropbox so that you have access to your slides and other documents on this account as well. All your documents are in Dropbox (or Google Drive, or GitHub, or some cloud backup), aren’t they? If not, you’re braver than I.

Why make a separate account?

Look: When screensharing with 75 students, do you really want your cluttered Desktop, whatever you were working on last night, the contents of your Downloads folder, and your browser history to be visible? Oh and by the way, don’t forget that we’ll be recording our Zoom sessions and posting them for posterity.

‘Nuff said.

Use a password manager

Use a password manager like 1Password so that you can quickly sign in to services on your guest account when you need to12.

Otherwise it’s easy to make a mistake typing a password due to nerves, re-typing it, not being sure whether it’s your hands shaking or you’re remembering it wrong, resetting your password, having to check your email, showing your inbox contents to the 75 people watching, etc.

  • The Beginner’s Guide to 1Password
  • A recurring theme of these notes is going to be: you need to get better at using keyboard shortcuts.

    1Password is no exception — the important one, to fill passwords automatically (after installing their browser extension), is Ctrl+\ (Windows) or +\ (Mac).

  • Not really relevant to remote teaching, but a super-handy recent feature: AutoFill passwords on phones.

Clear browser history daily

Before you start teaching every day, clear your browser history. It’s your secondary account, so it shouldn’t matter, right?

When you clear your history, to make your life slightly easier, you can keep your cookies:

This will make it so that you don’t have to sign back in to all of your websites (although that should be easy since you should be using a password manager).

Avoid signing in to your browser (i.e. don’t sign into Chrome with your Google account), otherwise it will pull in your browser history from across your other devices.

Prune open tabs

Close all unnecessary app windows, browser tabs, etc, before class/recording begins. Seeing your million open tabs is a little extra cognitive load that your students don’t need.

Maximize screen real estate

We have such a tiny window, our laptop screen, through which we must communicate with our students. It’s very important to make use of every square inch of it.

Hide your dock (Mac)

The Dock on Mac takes up way too much space. In your System Preferences, make it go away when your mouse is not hovering at the bottom of the screen:

Use a window manager

Wonderful — now that the Dock is out of the way, you should make whatever app you are presenting occupy the whole screen13.

I set global keyboard shortcuts to snap a window to fill my entire screen, the left half, or the right half. The keybindings that I chose were:

  • Maximize: +++
  • Left half: +++
  • Right half: +++

Filling the entire screen with your active window is the most important thing. Don’t waste space around the edges.

Snapping windows to left half/right half is handy sometimes for when you need to leave a lot of information on the screen at once, e.g. instructions on the left side and and an example on the right side during a lab.

Use a ginormous font

Now that we’ve freed up all this extra screen real estate, let’s use it up! I use a hilariously large font size for both my slides and when I’m e.g. writing code.

Students have their own screen real estate woes, and they might have to stash the video of me on only a half or a third of their monitor; and then have to try and read my slides. Or, they might be watching the video on their phone while following along on their computer.

So don’t use a font size that’s barely legible to you on your own native resolution — use one that’s 3x bigger than needed. I try to use the largest font size I can manage without having things become unreadable from wrapping too quickly.

I usually hover between 24pt and 36pt, resizing on the fly with:

  • Increase font size/zoom in: ++
  • Decrease font size/zoom out: +-
  • Reset font size/zoom level: +0

Extra mile for hiding clutter (Mac)

If you’re really picky about not having any clutter visible in your presentations, like me, then here are two more tips (Mac users only):

Permanently hide desktop icons

Do you ever really need to see the icons on your Desktop? Can’t you just look at them in Finder if you want to, like all of your other files?

If you agree, you can hide the Desktop icons forever, so they never mar your precious vacation photos again.

Organize menu bar with Bartender

Bartender is an app that lets you control exactly what icons and other things appear in your menu bar.

Recording a video at 2:17am? Your students don’t need to know that! Hide that clock 🙈

Turn off notifications

Not keen on having your email/WhatsApp/iMessage notifications pop up on screen during your presentations?

Turn on Do Not Disturb (Mac) / Quiet Hours (Windows).

Zoom in to areas of interest


Note: I’m sad to report that zooming in and out on areas of our screen does not show up for our audience while sharing our screen over Zoom (ironically enough). I am leaving this section here for reference; it’s still a great trick if you’re recording with some other software, or when you’re back in your physical classroom and connected to a projector.


Even with a huge font size, it can still be very hard for students to read what’s on our screen. Also, it can be hard to know where they should direct their attention.

To solve both of these problems, you can zoom in on an area of your screen. In System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom, check the “Use scroll gesture with modifier keys to zoom:” box:

Now, hold down Ctrl and scroll up and down:

You will zoom in and out14 on your screen, centered wherever your mouse cursor is located.

Voilà! It’s now very easy to call attention to some part of your screen, while also making it easier to read.

I use this trick a hundred times a day; it’s probably the most useful thing you’ll get out of these notes if you don’t already do it.

As noted above, this trick doesn’t work while screen sharing over Zoom 😔

Become a keyboard ninja

Presenting content via Zoom is inherently slower than in-person, for many reasons. The more adept you are at navigating around, the better.

Use Spotlight to launch apps

If I can’t see my Dock15, how can I launch apps?

The answer is, again: don’t use your mouse. You should use Spotlight (Mac) or the Start menu (Windows) to search for and launch apps.

Hey! I saw that. Don’t you dare use your mouse to click the Spotlight icon16 — again, use the keyboard shortcut:

+Space

This will bring up Spotlight, which is a global search bar for everything on your computer. Start typing the first few letters of the app you want to launch:

Hit return and away we go! No more hunting through Finder or Windows Explorer.

Use the App Switcher

Wait! If I maximize one window, blocking all the rest, how can I switch to other running apps?

For one, you could use Spotlight again, which will switch focus to an app if it’s already been launched.

But even better — you can use the App Switcher:

If want to toggle between open apps with the App Switcher, use the following keyboard shortcuts:

  • Toggle between apps: +tab. This is the biggie. Some other nice, related ones include:
    • While holding down, keep tapping tab to cycle through open apps.
    • While holding down, tap shift and tab to step backwards.
    • You can also press Q while an app icon is selected to Quit that app. Prune your running apps often.
  • Much less frequently used, but you might want to be aware of:
    • Switch between windows within an app: +`
    • Switch between tabs within a window:
      • ++
      • ++
      • Or jump straight to a tab number, e.g. +4

(There are equivalents on Windows of most of the above, with Ctrl instead of . Look around.)

No more dragging windows around to find something. Your audience will thank you 👏🏾

Asynchronous pre-recordings

Phew! We are so prepared. Now all we gotta do is, y’know, teach.

Let’s start by pre-recording what used to be our lectures, but are now going to be even better — enhanced with in-video questions, with all of our mistakes and filler words edited out, and speed-up-able/pause-able/skip-back-able.

Which software should I use to record?

What software should you use to pre-record content?

Pre-recording with Zoom

I’m of the opinion that, since we all have no choice but to learn Zoom to conduct class anyway, using Zoom to also pre-record our content is a great choice to start with.

Take all of the skills you’re learning and practicing to get ready to teach class (how to share your screen, go through slides, whiteboard) — and just turn on recording for a Zoom session where you’re the only participant17. I also like that we can use Zoom’s chat as way to easily add markers. At the end we'll have an mp4 file that we can still upload to Panopto.

If you go down this road, save the recording to your own computer rather than to the cloud. Automatic recordings to the cloud are a good choice for real-time class videoconferences; but when you’re recording a video meant for asynchronous consumption, that you want to edit and add in-video questions to, save the recording to your own computer. Also, in your settings, select “Optimize for 3rd party video editor”:

Then, upload the mp4 file to Panopto (scroll down to the section entitled “Upload an Existing Video to Panopto”). Yes, even though we’re recording with Zoom, we’re still going to use Panopto for hosting, editing, adding in-video questions, and embedding in Canvas.

Another good solution: use whichever software your institution recommends so that you can get support from your IT team when you have questions. For UChicago, that’s Panopto.

Panopto’s recording software does have some neat features that Zoom doesn’t, like extracting slides from your deck. I don’t know if this is really useful or not to students; I’ve never tried it. But if your asynchronous content is PowerPoint/Keynote heavy, then maybe recording with Panopto might be a good choice.

Give it a whirl and see what you think, but I might start with Zoom to keep the number of new tools to learn small at first.

Use other tools

Since people have asked: I usually record with Screenflow; but it’s Mac only.

If your school doesn’t provide video hosting, I usually host with Vimeo Plus.

If your school doesn’t provide a video player like Panopto, with in-video questions, you can use Mindstamp and embed your videos in your course website (or anywhere else). Mindstamp is an impressive startup that provides much of Panopto’s functionality (in-video quizzes, automatic searchable speech-to-text conversion), and some cool extras to boot. Chat with Brett and he’ll walk you through how to use it effectively for teaching.

Try to keep it to twenty minutes or less

You’ll read varying things about how long each video should be. Some people say no more than twenty minutes, some say fifteen, some say ten, some say seven.

Right now, I’m of the opinion that you should take as long as you need to tell whatever story you want to tell; but also, most stories should fit in twenty minutes or less. Otherwise, you need to ask yourself whether it’s as tight as it could be, or whether you’re rambling a little.

We’re going to be breaking it up with in-video questions anyway, so in my opinion it’s not crucial at this juncture to kill yourself trying to rewrite everything into seven minute chunks. Maybe next year.

My main tip for pre-recordings: add markers

Okay, you’ve got your twenty-ish minute arc ready? Now, try to remember all of the tips above (maximize your windows, use a big font, etc), load up your slides and presenter notes, and break a leg! (Don’t forget to record your Zoom session!)

But: here’s my #1 tip for producing pre-recorded content:


Add markers while you’re recording whenever you cough, mess up, or want a do-over for any reason.


When I use Screenflow to record, I have a keybinding that lets me instantly add a little visible flag that appears in the timeline of the recording:

This makes it a breeze to cut out all my sneezes and mistakes later. Or if I think of a slightly better turn of phrase, I can drop a marker and do a quick re-do.

Unfortunately, when recording a Zoom session18, there’s no way to add markers with a keyboard shortcut, because it only saves a flat mp4 file.

Instead, I plan to type into the chat whenever I make a mistake or cough. The chat entries will be automatically timestamped, and there is a setting that you can turn on to have the video also automatically be timestamped:

With my chat log (which does not appear in the recording) as “markers”, and with the video timestamped, I can later remove the offending clips in Panopto19.

That’s it. If you get into the habit of adding markers while recording, you will save yourself tons of time in post-processing, and your videos will be much tighter and higher quality than most off-the-cuff lectures.

In-video questions

A common scene: we’re lecturing, we’re leading our students through a brilliant Socratic dialogue, we ask a question to the crowd, and one student answers. Guess what: 80% of the audience did not have time to process and follow.

Only the person who raised their hand and answered your question (who is the often the same person over and over), and perhaps a few others, really got the benefit of your carefully planned dialogue.

I always wished that I could freeze time at that moment, engage in dialogue with each and every student, and see all of their eyes light up with that “A ha!” moment before moving on.

But alas, in a lecture format, we only get to engage with one student at a time.

Well, guess what? If we flip, we can engage every student — via in-video questions (IVQ). This is the one thing that I actually, truly prefer about delivering content through videos, versus presenting it in-person.

Whenever you are recording a lesson and feel tempted to ask a question to the audience — write that question down20. That question is going to become an in-video question, which are crucial to engagement with this format.

Try to avoid “gotcha” questions that are just checking if the student is watching (“What color was the slide I showed a minute ago?”).

  • Ask questions that we naturally would ask in the course of a lecture anyway.
  • Ask questions that reinforce key points that are essential for students to have caught.

How many IVQs per video

Coming up with good IVQs is a difficult (ultimately fun and rewarding) art. For now, in this harried rush to move to remote teaching, I would advise not killing yourself trying to come up a whole brilliant quiz with ten questions of varying types for every seven minutes of video. I plan to aim for at least one or two questions every fifteen minutes, to start with.

How to add IVQs to a video

After you’ve uploaded your video to Panopto, add your IVQs like this.

Add the video as an assignment in Canvas

Once they have IVQs added, you can make these videos count for credit (scroll down to the section entitled “Add Your Video Quiz to Canvas”), and it’s important that you do so; and set a strict due date (before class begins). Otherwise some students will, inevitably, let them slip. And then the in-class group activities are diminished for everyone. A vicious cycle will emerge.

How much asynchronous content to assign

I plan to assign around two hours of recorded video for every three hours of in-class lecture+lab that I used to get through; I’ve found that, with rewinding, pausing, and working through the exercises and IVQs, this translates into roughly the same amount of material.

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to flipping your classroom.

Synchronous class via Zoom

I have not taught class over Zoom before, so I don’t have much wisdom to offer on that. There are a ton of workshops happening right now about conducting class via Zoom, so you should attend one or multiple of those (each instructor has different tips to share, I’ve found).

Here are a few things that I’m planning to experiment with:

Breakout rooms

Breakout rooms. Lots of breakout rooms.

I plan to use much of class time for labs/exercises, perhaps with brief demos to motivate them, and split the students into groups of 3-4 using Breakout Rooms to work on them together.

Instructors will either be floating from breakout room to breakout room to check in, or they will have their own dedicated Zoom rooms that students will know that they can pop in to for help.

I’m actually looking forward to the true randomness of Zoom Breakout Rooms, as opposed to students working with the same 2-3 people that happened to be nearby them on the first day of class and that they continued to sit next to for the remainder of the quarter.

Q&A / Audience interactivity

Push To Talk

Teach students to press and hold Space key to unmute themselves; this makes it much more seamless to pipe up with questions.

Beware: it’s easy to forget that you have your cursor in the chat bar when you are pushing and holding Space; then you’re just typing a bunch of spaces instead of unmuting yourself.

Raise Hand

There’s a Raise Hand button in the Participants tab. Teach students how to use it and encourage them to do so. You’ll get a little notification when hands are raised and you can call on them.

Zoom Chat

Some students will inevitably post questions, comments, links to resources, etc, in Zoom’s built-in chat. I do not plan to watch the chat while I’m teaching; instead, I plan to deputize my TAs to be on top of reading the chat, and if anything there is worthy of me addressing, then the TAs will interrupt me and read it to me.

Zoom Nonverbal Feedback

I ask a lot of questions when lecturing to get a feel for whether students are keeping up. Many of them can be formulated as Yes/No questions (“How many of you think this code is going to work? Raise your hand if yes. Raise your hand if no.”)

In Zoom > Settings > Nonverbal feedback you can enable Yes/No/Speed up/Slow down responses as reactions in addition to the default 👍/👎/👏.

Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is an app that allows you to quickly create a variety of different poll types:

You then get a URL that you can throw into chat, or Canvas, or wherever. The way I most commonly use it is to create the Q&A type poll and prompt the students to type in their own questions. Importantly, students can upvote each others questions:

That way I know which questions to answer first.

I only plan to use this if the other, simpler methods above (Push To Talk, Raise Hand) become overwhelmed; or if e.g. I don’t have TAs that day to read me questions from chat.

Poll Everywhere can also be used to create other neat kinds of polls — word clouds, 2x2 matrices — that can lead to interesting discussions.

Your institution may already have an integration with Poll Everywhere (UChicago does, but you have to request it). Otherwise, it’s free for educators for 90 days due to COVID-1921.




More to come…

  • If you’d like to see anything added or expanded upon, please let me know.
  • More Zoom settings
    • Auto-save chats
    • Keyboard shortcuts — Mute everyone else — +control+M
      • Mute/unmute self - +shift+A
      • Make the keyboard shortcuts global.
    • Set TAs as co-hosts — there’s a setting to enable this.
    • Side-by-side vs overlay recordings.
  • After class
    • Office hours
    • Piazza for Q&A and discussion

References



Many thanks to all the teachers out there who are sharing their knowledge with one another.

Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions. We’re all in this together.

Good luck, and be safe out there!

  1. Hi! I’m Raghu. I teach at Chicago Booth

  2. For some of you, a flipped model might not be possible. Negotiations class? Using the case method? Very discussion heavy?

    In that case, you might want to skip straight down to the tips on Getting your studio set up or Preparing to share your screen

  3. I’m assuming you’ve already scoped out what the essential knowledge that you want to convey is. If not, I’d recommend first and foremost consulting with the instructional design team at your school.

    If you’d like some inspiration: there are a few principles that I always try to keep in mind, whether I’m designing one slide, an individual lab, a whole day, or an entire course (warning — long reads ahead).

  4. We’ll talk about how to facilitate group work with Zoom breakout rooms below. 

  5. Much gratitude to my former students for their patience and feedback! 🙇🏾‍♂️ 

  6. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, webcams look to be selling out at many retailers. 

  7. Double-check the webcam/tripod to make sure there’s a way for them to connect to one another. Or, there’s always a bit of sticky tape, I suppose. 

  8. Extra mile: If you have an external monitor available, it’s handy to set it up just below your external webcam. When you’re pre-recording content, it can work as a confidence monitor. When you’re videoconferencing, it makes it much easier to make “eye contact” with your audience while addressing them. 

  9. Beware: The 50¢ earbuds that the airline gave you are terrible. Come on, now; have some dignity. 

  10. I use my secondary account when teaching in a regular classroom, too, and just connected to a projector. 

  11. Actually, it’s an administrator account, in my case, which is useful for doing programming sorts of things. 

  12. You should already be doing this for your own security! Please tell me that you’re not re-using passwords in 2020, are you? If so, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’ve probably been pwned

  13. I am obviously not referring to things like an active Keynote presentation, which automatically fullscreens. I mean things like browsers, Excel, code editors, RStudio, etc. 

  14. Don’t forget to zoom all the way out when you’re done; you don’t want to teach the rest of the class at 104% magnification.

    Scroll slowly when zooming in, but scroll fast when zooming out; slam it back out to 100%. 

  15. Well, first of all, if you hover your mouse at the bottom of the screen, your Dock will re-appear. But don’t do that. 

  16. Which, for the record, is the magnifying glass in the top-right corner of your screen. But don’t click on it! 

  17. Or, heck, maybe with a TA for some dialogue? Have a guest or two call in? Go nuts. 

  18. If you’re using Panopto or some other system without this timestamped chat trick, then consider starting a stopwatch when you press record and keeping a notepad beside you to write down the time when you need to “add markers”.

    Another technique I’ve used in the past was to hold up a piece of red construction paper in front of the camera for a few seconds whenever I made a mistake to make it easier to find when scrubbing through. 

  19. If you want to prune the clips from the mp4 file before uploading to Panopto, you can use Mac’s built-in app QuickTime Player: Edit > Split and delete. Or any number of any other video editing apps. 

  20. Or you can just say it into the recording, and add a marker

  21. After signing up as an educator, use this link to upgrade — or if that doesn’t work, contact support and they’ll get you set up.