My instruction setup has been stabilizing after two weeks of online teaching CS 5740. It does have a few glitches, but I easily address them on the fly. The class size is approximately 70 students, and almost 60 has been attending live.

I do live teaching via Zoom, with local recording and uploading to a FERPA compliant service internal to Cornell. The recordings are available only to the students enrolled to the class. While I was worried about my computer crashing when converting a large lecture, Zoom addresses this. They have a way to re-do conversion if something bad happens (which so far didn’t). They also create relatively compact files, so I get 200-300MB for a 75min lecture, and it’s high quality. The attendance for live lectures is high so far, almost 60 students, even though there’s no penalty on just watching the videos.

Audio

I use Bose Headphones 700 for both output and input. The audio quality is very high. Because the headphones are wireless, they do expose me to wireless failures. This happened once, but they re-connected automatically immediately. Their microphone is designed to block background noises at the level of public cafes, so the students get a very clear signal. I comapred them to the two-microphone array built into my Dell soundbar. The headphones work better, but the array is also pretty good.

Camera

I use a Logitech Brio webcam. It’s a bit pricey, but the video quality and light balancing are impressive. It also has a 2-mic array, which I don’t use. I use Zoom’s virtual background feature for privacy. Small NYC apartments. The Brio has a pretty wide field of view, which is great to include my body. I do my best to be extra animated when explaining things.

Content Sharing

I share content via an iPad (12.9” iPad Pro) connected to Zoom via Airplay. While I can connect with a cable, Airplay allows me to use PowerPoint on the iPad, where on the iPad I get a presenter display, and the students see only the slide. The same works for Keynote and some note apps, such as GoodNotes. The presented view in PowerPoint on the iPad doesn’t show the next slide, which is unfortunate. It does have pretty good Apple Pencil support, so I can annotate the slides easily. The annotations are saved, and I post them online after the class. I have a film on my iPad display for better texture. It helps with the writing quality. The iPad can be easily replaced with a simple document camera (I had great experience in the past with IPEVO cameras). Zoom supports sharing a secondary camera, while keeping the main camera on yourself.

Student View Layout

I recommend the students to use a split screen layout, such that they see me on half the screen and the content on the other half. I have no way of controlling this though.

Blackboard

If I need a board, I switch to GoodNotes on my iPad, which is a simple note taking app. I use the Apple Pencil with it. It works great. I post the board as PDF after class.

Desktop Layout

I have two monitors. I use Zoom with the multiple monitors option. When you enable this, Zoom opens multiple windows. I put the window with all the student videos on a secondary display. On my main display I have the participants list in a separate window, the chat window, and a my shared content. You can pop out the participants and chat windows to separate windows using the small down-facing arrow at the top of the panes.

Student Engagement

Zoom has a few interesting features, including hand raising, non-verbal reactions, and polls. I find the hand raising feature frustrating because it doesn’t float participants raising their hands to the top, and I have too many students to fit on the screen. So if I miss Zoom’s notification, whihch is very likely, I don’t see they raise their hand. I asked the students to raise their hand and to ping me on the chat window. I find some students like asking questions in the chat window. I just read them out loud and answer them. It’s also nice that I have everyone’s names. All the students are automatically muted upon joining the class. This is controlled by the meeting configuration. I ask students to unmute and jump in if (a) I ask for general questions; or (b) I call them once they raise their hand or ping on the chat window. After that, they are expected to mute back. This is important to keep the audio channel clear. I prefer the non-verbal feedback over polling option because I don’t prepare most questions in advance.

Quizzes

Before we switched to online teaching, I used to start every class with a quiz that is included in the grade. There are many benefits to this quiz system, and students generally appreciate it. I continue with the quizzes because it’s a forcing function to go over the material. I don’t count the quiz grade in the final grade though because I have no way to monitor quiz taking. I use Socrative for the quiz, and the students get the grade immediately on completion. I then go over the quiz in class. This is a great opportunity for the students to engage and start the lecture in an interactive way.

Pace

In general, I find this mode of teaching much slower. Partially because I priortize live engagement and understanding. I expect I will need to cut some material from the semester.

Existing Issues

  • One thing I didn’t figure out how to turn off is the entry/exit sounds. There’s an option in the participants pane, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. This causes random entry/exit sounds during class. I can definitely see how this can be much more disturbing with a larger class.
  • As mentioned above, I find the hand raising feature promising, but useless because of lack of visual cue in the participants pane with a large number of participants.
  • PowerPoint on the iPad sometimes stops updating the slides displayed to the students. This requires stopping and restarting the presentation.