Reflections on two days of online teaching

A couple of weekends ago I delivered one of my yearly modules for Belgrade's University procurement masters. Instead of going to Belgrade and enjoying good food, rakija and turbo-folk I delivered two days of teaching out of the comfort of my home office. This is an attempt to organise my thoughts around the differences of online teaching.

When delivering a regular, in person lecture I tend to get into character. I speak in a certain way, work the room with my eyes and a good degree of roaming. My slides are sparse as they're there to help me deliver the session, not to replace me. On an online lecture all those tricks go out of the way.

On an online lecture, the slides are the lecture. They carry a lot more relative weight in terms of content delivery than the voice. For me that means they need to have a lot more information than usual and we effectively are narrators more than anything else. They are the lecture. As I use Microsoft Sway instead of Powerpoint or Keynote that is not particularly problematic for me in terms of production, but it is still a challenge for the delivery.

We used Zoom and it worked ok. Its tools certainly seem more geared for online teaching than say Microsoft Teams, particularly the possibility of dividing students into groups. Having said that, I had a few gripes with it.

Although you can share only an app window instead of a full screen, you cannot overlay the Zoom client on top of the window being shared. That meant I had to have the controls and participant video thumbnails on the smaller laptop screen instead of the large one. It was very disconcerting to keep looking down searching for visual cues/feedback from those thumbnails *and* seeing myself at the same time. I think one of the changes I will be doing next time around will be switching off the student's video feeds.

Overall I felt less tired than on a normal full day of teaching, perhaps because I had included plenty of breaks and group activities which allowed me switch off time during the day (and occasionally throwing myself into my daughter's bed next door). Plus, I have a very comfortable chair and set up to work from.

Adapting to a different set of constraints

Overall, it seems to me online teaching requires adaptation to a different set of constraints in comparison with a regular lecture. The tricks of the trade we have picked up over the years do not translate well into online lecturing.

There are thinks I might explore next time around in mid-June. I may stand instead of sitting down the whole day, so that I'm further away from the camera and won't feel the cognitive dissonance of trying to speak and looking down to the laptop screen as much. For video I use a Sony Alpha 6000 camera with a decent autofocusing lens, so it doesn't have to be re-arranged every time I switch between sitting and standing. Ditto for my Rode Podcaster microphone that sits on a boom arm.

I missed doodling/sketching so I need to find a way to sort that too. Probably the easiest option will be to buy a Wacom tablet since my iPad has been commandeered by my four year old.

Oh, I and certainly prefer to handle my own computer and equipment over the madness that are lecture PCs and 'livestreaming addons' these days…