Online teaching

In 2020, we were forced to start teaching online. Is this good or bad?

The promise of the Internet was that we could reach everyone in the world. Instead, we immediately learned to hide or Zoom links from anyone except the people who register in advance to hide from trolls. We directly translate in-person to online, and wonder why we don’t have as much engagement. It doesn’t have to be this way. CodeRefinery has developed a vision of this teaching that can take the best of both worlds.

What is different about online?

Online teaching requires a certain mindset.

First off, it is different, and different is not better or worse. You must rethink your existing assumptions and design for the current world.

Some differences in mindset include:

  • If the material is online, why pay attention now. Why not find the same or similar material when you need it? If the course isn’t online, still you realize you can do a web search and find something equivalent later.

  • Why dedicate myself to this now? Why night attend a course passively now, get the basics, and come back later when I need to really understand something?

  • How to best use the tools? I might have only one screen to take the course (and no projector to watch), but the instructor material is also closer. Why type things myself, if my normal work is copying from StackOverflow anyway?

  • Related to the above, you can’t use attendance as a proxy for engagement. You have to actually engage people, or accept that passive attendees are OK. Do you measure the benefit of people watching the course later?

  • Everyone knows how to way of attending in-person courses. But there are different ways to attend online courses, and you don’t get as much feedback from others. You need to be explicit.

Once you learn to take advantage of online formats, you might never go back!

Taxonomy of online teaching

This isn’t a strict division, but here is a rough vision of steps to take, from simplest to more advanced.

(1) By yourself, in a meeting

It’s you and a group of students in a meeting (e.g. Zoom). This can reach people, but it’s easy to lose the attention of attendees. Because you need to avoid trolls and protect privacy, you may have a private registration and you may not publish recordings. This gives limited usefulness in the future.

Key aspects:

  • Set up a good screen share ({doc}/instructor-tech-setup)

  • Be explicit on how to attend. Plan for not only attention during the course but something that has a lasting usefulness.

  • Possibly use HackMD for discussions/questions ({doc}/hackmd-mechanics, {doc}/hackmd-helper, need new info)

(2a) Group teaching, in a meeting

One of the advantages of online teaching is it doesn’t require full-time physical attendance, so you can more easily bring in a diverse set of helpers, which greatly reduces your load.

  • Definitely use HackMD instead of chat ({doc}/hackmd-mechanics)

  • Separate roles more, so that the instructor only needs to focus on teaching. Other helpers can come and go or attend part-time. (general info: {doc}/instructor-intro)

    • Exercise/breakout room leaders

    • Expert helpers, helping students

    • Zoom host

    • HackMD watcher

At the same time, you can start grouping learners together into small groups. This is the equivalent of different tables in a physical workshop.

  • Zoom breakout rooms can group people together

  • You need to be explicit about how the groups work. Even in person, many learners work independently even when forced into a group.

  • Add “Exercise leaders” (helpers, former students) to guide each group.

(2b) Higher production values

Now we reach the real promise of online teaching: by using streaming platforms, you can reach everyone in the world. No registration is needed and anyone can take part. The disadvantage is that you don’t have close interaction with the learners (by design: removing these close interactions how you can accept everyone).

This focuses on technical setup

  • OBS Studio for producing good recordings/stream

  • HackMD for questions from the audience (??)

(2c) Multiple ways of attending

One no longer has to limit yourself to interactive watching

  • Streaming

  • Encourage in-person “watching parties”

  • Make videos available

  • Make videos available immediately, for catch-up purposes

(3) High-accessibly zen-level courses

Finally, we get to our final state: You can combine the contradictory options: privacy for learners, but anyone can attend. Interactive course, but people can refer to it later.

This is more a mindset thing, and combines everything from above.