In the context of my college’s closure for in-person classes, I’m working on adapting my teaching to an online structure. A variety of people have already linked to some great ideas online, such as at Stanford, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, and for K-12 teaching online. What is my expertise with this stuff? Mostly, I’m a tech-engaged faculty member and I’ve been elected to Smith’s Committee on Educational Technology and I was appointed to the Ad Hoc Working Group on Learning and Technology (which I’ve served on for three years). So what tools am I using and what will my practices look like?

  • Zoom: Like almost everyone I’ll use Zoom to take my classes online synchronously. I will use it in combination with my iPad as a whiteboard and with PowerPoint slides for images and slide-based content. I will also use Zoom for break-out room discussions and for online office hours.

  • Polling Software: I will need to get instantaneous feedback about student understanding and either PollEverywhere or Kahoot can help me do this with students.

  • Slack: I use Slack to communicate with my students already, but I’ll be using it even more intensely as our in-person classes shut down. I have the standard channels, plus channels for each team in my class (they have team projects) as well as for problem sets and the take-home midterm (which they will do after Spring Break, fingers crossed).

  • Social annotation: I will be using perusall and assigning students to groups to read and annotate different readings. I will recommend they upload their own team-specific readings and annotate them jointly too to make their team projects more feasible.

  • Screencasts: There are many, many ways to make screencasts these days, I recommend getting used to one of Panopto (syncs with Moodle) or QuickTime (created locally on a mac) or ExplainEverything or Educreations to create screencasts on an iPad/Tablet.

Zooming into a Synchronous Classroom

What will I do with Zoom?

  • I will have my AT2020 USB+ Microphone plugged in while I teach to improve sound quality. I like both this microphone and the Jabra microphone. I haven’t tested any USB-C microphones yet, but I would welcome recommendations.
  • I will have my iPad Pro plugged into my laptop via a USB-C-Lightning Cable. Using Goodnotes on my iPad, I can then treat my iPad like a white board using my Apple pencil and I can share it as a screen through Zoom. I can upload the notes as a pdf after class (I’ll likely do this weekly rather than after every class).
  • I will use screen sharing to share basic powerpoint slides.
  • I will record my classes locally with Zoom and upload them to my Moodle page (space permitting) and (more likely) to a private YouTube page.
  • Consider taking attendance using the ‘hand up’ feature on Zoom. Windows: Students can use the Alt+Y keyboard shortcut to raise or lower their hand. Mac: Students can use the Option+Y keyboard shortcut to raise or lower their hand.
  • Use the Chat in Zoom to allow students to ask questions (or Slack, which has emoji responses; I’ll likely use a combination).
  • I will teach my classes in their normally scheduled times and I will record them in case students who travel home (another time zone) can’t make the normally scheduled time.
  • I will force breaks in my classes; more than I usually would for a standard in-person class. I suspect I’ll have at least two five-minute breaks for each of my standard class times.
  • My students need to read papers for both of my classes and they need to work on their team projects. I will use Zoom’s “breakout rooms” feature to facilitate discussion of papers and I will assign students to breakout rooms for them to discuss their team projects as they need to. I also use Marty Olney’s “reading guide” as a way to facilitate discussing papers in these classes and students will share their guides with each other in Slack.

Polling Software and Quizzes

  • I want to be able to see whether my students understand what we’re covering, so I shall use chatting & Slack (below) to answer questions, but I also want to see whether students grasp basic ideas we cover in class. An excellent way to do that is with in-class polling for MCQs, True/False questions, and more (also, the evidnece is on our side here, see Brown, Roediger and McDaniel ( 2014), and Lang (2016); I’m also going to be taking a look at Darby and Lang ( 2019) over spring break.)
  • PollEverywhere and Kahoot are two really easy to use tools for creating polls and facilitating interactivity for your class. I like PollEverywhere because my institution has an institutional log-in, but Kahoot is also great.
  • Here is a presentation I gave on using PollEverywhere with some step-by-step examples at the end.
  • I like Polling for multiple choice question (MCQ) examples, for word clouds about ideas recalled from a previous class or sentiments about a current topic, and for annotating images (this requires using the browser/app version; especially useful if you ask an image about an economic graph).

Communication: Slack, Piazza, or similar

  • I will use Slack heavily in my class. Why? It’s better than email because I can get one message and multiple people can respond (positive externalities people!). Also, students feel less pressure with slack because they can be more informal than with email.
  • Take a look at this presentation by my superhero colleague Albert Kim in Stats & Data Science on using Slack in classes.
  • Students can respond to a message with an emoji (really helpful to identify whether they’ve seen something or understand something).
  • Students can start threads in channels that are specific to, say, a problem set, reading, or midterm.
  • I have assigned students to Slack channels specific to their teams for particular team projects. They will chat in each of these channels and I will see Google docs that they link to, articles they share with each other, and similar.
  • Do encourage your students to download the Slack app to their laptops and their phones given how important communication will be when classes go online.
  • Piazza is an alternative to Slack. I’ve used Piazza a lot in the past few years. It’s an online forum where instructors and students can post questions/information. Crucially, students have three modes in which they can post: 1) anonymous to everyone; 2) anonymous to fellow students, but their name revealed to the professor; and 3) public to everyone. I found Piazza really useful when I used it, but ultimately wanted something more dynamic and chatty and so I switched to Slack. Each has it’s benefits and costs (I wish there were a way my students could post anonymously to Slack, for example).

Social Annotation

  • For my upper-level class, I will use Perusall for papers for the rest of the semester.
  • I will upload PDFs of the papers to Perusall.
  • My students can log in with their Smith College accounts and access their readings in a way that is consistent with copyright policy (praise be).
  • They can then annotate and comment on the papers in a way that allows them to respond to their fellow students (and in my tweaking of grades this semester, I suspect) get participation points for doing so! Yay!
  • It will also indicate to me the hotspots for their understanding and I’ll be able to ensure that I can go to the readings to make sure that the’ve grasped the main ideas or identify what they’ve struggled with.
  • Alternatives to Perusall include Hypothesis and nb, among others, I’m sure.

Creating Screencasts

  • I have mostly used ExplainEverything to create screencasts using my iPad.
  • To do this, I upload a set of presentation slides in powerpoint and combine these with using EE as a whiteboard (again using my Apple pencil).
  • Because a good microphone helps, I also plug my microphone into my iPad using a USB-Lightning adapter.
  • I create screencasts and upload them to a private YouTube channel for my students.
  • If I am only going to voice over ppt slides, then I tend to use my laptop with QuickTime Player. Very easy, just click on File -> New Screen Recording and go for it! I upload the file it creates to YouTube.
  • You can also just record with Zoom and upload that, or, if you have access to Panopto (as we do at Smith), then it’s easy to create a screen recording with Panopto that automatically synchronizes with Moodle (add the Panopto “block” to your moodle page, download the app, click on “Create New Recording”; see here).

Broad ideas

  • For some suggestions about a variety of tools see a presentation I gave with Randi Garcia on technological tools we use in our classrooms. Randi is also a tech in the classroom champ!
  • I’ll also be using github, trello, Google drive, and Moodle, but I’m not going into those here.

How many tools?

I’m going to be using a bunch of different tools to improve my students’ online learning experience. Students will adapt. They want to learn. It will take us all some time to adapt, but because they are motivated and I am motivated, we’ll all learn and I’ll know better what to do next time I have to teach online. All of which said, I plan to cut down my overall coverage of topics. I don’t believe I’ll be able to cover as much as I’d originally hoped to cover. And that’s OK. If the worst thing that happens to my students because of COVID-19 is that they take some classes online and miss an extra chapter or two in a class, that’s fine. They will also have learned some new skills. They’ll have learned to improve their ability to collaborate and articulate questions and concerns in Slack. They’ll have learned how to use video conferencing software (and, importantly, to mute themselves!). They’ll have learned how useful collaborative software of various types can be and how they can become more productive as free-lancers or people who have to work remotely in the future.

My class context?

My classes this semester are relatively small. Behavioral Economics is an upper-level elective that involves a lot of reading and programming work in R (n = 16). Development economics is a lower-level elective with a textbook, readings, and a team project (n = 20). All of which said, I’ve used some of the techniques outlined above for classes of >50 at Smith College and for classes of a few hundred at institutions I taught at before Smith College.

I’m fortunate because I do not have in-class exams for my classes this semester and I would recommend that folks try to think through a class without exams. What are alternative assessment methods that might work? I don’t mean “work the best ever”, I mean “work well enough.” Think very short writing assignments. Think about asking your students to create MCQs that you can ask the rest of the class with extra credit given to the “best” MCQ. Err on the side of generosity rather than worrying about cheating. Will cheating happen? Almost certainly? But, if you want to base your policy on an expectation that all students are knaves (thanks Hume; thanks Machiavelli), you’re going to have an awful rest of your semester. Rather, plan for your students to be pro-social and intrinsically motivated and you might just nudge them to be more so.

Edit log

  • 2020.03.11 08:00: Add link to Marty Olney; Correct typos; add paragraph on class context.
  • 2020.03.11 11:24: Add links to Piazza.