CovidCampus #9 – The Ultimate Combo for online teaching

My Teaching Assistant

This blog post is part of a series of reflections on the Coronavirus / Covid-19 crisis and the transition I had to operate from my face-to-face courses to online classes.

Fellow professors, look no further: here is the ultimate combination (in my opinion) for teaching online from your computer. For less than a hundred euros (see budget details below), you can regain much of the fluidity of the face-to-face classroom, while still enjoying the benefits of distance learning.

The advantages of the face-to-face course are well known:

  • better interaction with the students, thanks to a greater proximity.
  • greater fluidity in the change of medium (Powerpoint, questions-answers, whiteboard…) In two previous posts (here and there), I showed that a simple situation in the classroom (answering a question by writing on the whiteboard) corresponds, in the online world, to a succession of at least half a dozen actions – with the corresponding lag.

But we tend to forget that distance learning courses also have advantages. They are not just a downgraded version of face-to-face courses.

Here are some advantages of online courses over their face-to-face counterparts:

« Sam, can you unmute your microphone? »
  • The online course is done on a computer connected to the Internet. It therefore allows the use of a number of collaborative tools or platforms, for example:
    • shared documents on which students can work collectively and in real time (e.g. Google Docs, or Padlet), with the possibility of downloading the final document at the end of the session. In comparison, in the classroom, some students take pictures of the whiteboard, which is less practical and less ‘portable’ (in the sense of being easily re-integrated into another medium).
    • the possibility of accessing all kinds of resources such as videos or images much more quickly than in the classroom. Indeed, in the classroom, the teacher is above all a human being: if he wants to show a video, he has to go to the computer, load the page, check that the sound is correctly transmitted to speakers, etc. In contrast, the online teacher is in an exoskeleton, which is her computer. Everything goes through the computer: the teacher’s face, her voice, and litterally every other resource that you can find on the Internet. Indeed, there is only one teaching channel, which is video with sound. In the same way that a railway can carry passengers as well as helium or cows, here the computer can transmit both the teacher’s messages and other resources.
  • Dedicated tools can be used to make certain sequences more dynamic and faster. The most telling example is probably that of voting with instant results (Klaxoon, Wooclap) or quizzes (Kahoot). In a classroom, you have to ask for a show of hands, count the votes, take into account the reluctance to vote (impostor syndrome). All of these limitations are overcome online, resulting in faster and more comprehensive results.

Two major disadvantages of distance learning

Lack of fluidity

Anyone who has tried to share a document in Zoom will understand what I mean by « lack of fluidity ». There is always a lag time, and this is amplified when you have to juggle several documents. For example, in Zoom, it often happens that you have to switch between a Powerpoint presentation and the Zoom whiteboard – especially to illustrate concepts. If you add a third document (e.g. a text, a spreadsheet), each change will further reduce the fluidity. Not to mention the questions, which force you to go back to a previous document: cancel the current share + share the old document = a lot of time spent on manipulations.

Dehumanisation

« Whatcha doin? »

On the student side, many leave their cameras off, which confronts us with black screens. But on the professors’ side, it’s not very human either, when the students only see a slide show with a « voice-over » commenting from afar. I challenge my colleagues to pay attention to a slide that doesn’t move for 10 minutes, while someone (sometimes without seeing their face) comments on the important points, before moving on to another slide and another commentary. This problem is combined with the first problem of fluidity: to restore a minimum of dynamism, it should be possible to change media quickly (e.g. switch to the professor’s face on full screen). But the screen-sharing manipulation does not allow for quick switching back and forth between documents.

The ultimate combination: a broadcast software + a second webcam

Mid January 2021, I was lucky enough to discover this article (in French) on The Conversation France, and since then, I’ve been able to refine the method described in its first tip. But a quick (and dirty) video speaks more than words:

Quick video to demonstrate the Open Broadcast Studio software

The budget = 99€.

Studio at home

The camera costs 74€; I count 4 coloured markers at 5€; this leaves 20€ to contribute to the OBS project while staying under 100€ (there is a mistake in the video: the initial donation was 25€, thus bringing the budget a little above 100€). Indeed, it is an open source project whose product (the Open Broadcast Studio program) is free and without advertising. In this case, it seems to me legitimate to make a financial contribution on this page, which allows to pay either for the project or for Jim, the full-time developer/contributor. It would even seem fair to me that institutions (universities, colleges…) contribute as well, given the great interest of OBS.

As usual, all comments and reactions are more than welcome !

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