
# Ideas for going online

The purpose of this page is to share some ideas and tips about teaching online: tools, options, how to get started quickly, lessons learned, and links to useful things.

The suggestions herein come from: (1) my experience putting together a few online courses; (2) taking an online-course workshop from GW; (3) following the SIGCSE discussions on teaching online.

Caveat emptor: (1) I'm not an expert in the "tech tools", nor have the experience of teaching across a variety of online modalities. (2) My experience is on Mac OS. So, most often I'll try and point out what others, more experienced, have told me (including Windows tips).

## High-level things to remember

First:

• We're in a forgiving environment now, which means you don't need to worry as much about polished materials as communicating with students and attending to their concerns.
• Don't fret about making slick videos. They are hard to do, and anyway, studies show that students don't passively watch videos beginning-to-end as we'd imagine; they skip/skim and will focus on parts they believe relevant to immediate deliverables.
• Don't underestimate the value of having students read. The rate of "text processing" is quite high with reading.
• For some concepts, a good (and simple) diagram with some talking over can make a big difference.
• It's perfectly fine to re-use existing materials. Many people have opened their videos for all to use, and of course, the whole world has been linking to videos by the likes of Khan Academy and others.
• A useful mindset to have is this: "what can I have students DO after they read/watch/whatever for 10 minutes?". What this means:
• Avoid the "dump and test" of a long video (or read) followed by an assessment/homework.
• Instead, aim for short reads/videos, immediately followed by something the students can DO (an example, a small coding exercise, a tiny problem).
• You will see that Blackboard and other tools offer all kinds of ways of "souping up" videos with inserted quiz questions. However, studies have shown that these "I'll test if you've been paying attention" quizzes aren't as engaging as concrete mini-exercises.
• There is a continually evolving zoo of online tools, each trying to out compete the others. The one thing to be careful about: if you "buy" into one such system, you may not be able to easily extricate yourself from it in the future.

Some options for high-level organization of your course:

• Fully asychronous. This means having all your materials online, with any student able to do this at any time independent of the others.
• Fully synchronous. This means you lecture/interact "live" via webex or something like that.
• A combination of the two. For example, in my linear algebra course, students have asked me to post videos, so I'm doing this:
• Asychronous part: students read, watch my videos, do exercises.
• Sychnronous part: I'm going to review key ideas, and hold group office hours.

Third, some examples of "easy" to "hard" (which I'll get into later):

• Easy:
• Post the slides you have for your regular lecture.
• Add written materials: something you write, or excerpts from books/tutorials.
• Look over the homeworks to make sure they are do-able with the above.
• Hold synchronous long-ish office hours or even teach synchronously.

• Medium:
• Add: Learn the most basic ways of making videos.

• Math-y courses:
• Use a tool that lets you write math while you talk and record.

• Learn video-enhancements: editing, writing on screen as you talk, post on sites that let students comment on video.
• Learn other sophisticated online tools, for asynch and synch.

My general approach is to mimic flipped-classroom with active learning in class:

• I ask students to "Read/Do, then Watch, then Review" for each section of one week's material. A typical week has 8-10 sections.
• The "Read/Do" part is my written materials that are interspersed with small in-class exerises. So, I'm expecting them to read and work on small programming or written problems.
• Then I ask them to "Watch" my video of the section, and come back and review. The idea is, they've invested a bit by reading and trying the exercises and so, are better primed for the video. This is somewhat the reverse of what I do in class (talk for 10 minutes, then have students do an exercise).
• The "Review" is where the real work gets done because students are of course not going "get it all" in the first read through.

Lastly, a few thoughts on getting started:

• Start small! For example, make a few silly 1-minute videos, just for the sake of making something.
• Don't go overboard with getting too fancy with tools at first. Your time is better spent on pedagogy: remember, have students DO things and OFTEN (at least every 10 minutes).
• If you're like me, you'll squirm hearing your own voice. Unfortunately, you just need to get used to it.

## Making and editing videos: the basics

Making videos:

• Research has shown that there is little point in showing one's face, certainly not throughout the video, so I will focus on Khan-style screencasts.

• Simplest approach on a Mac: use Quicktime
• Minimize your windows, clean up the desktop.
• Go to "new screen recording", click the red buttong, and off you go.

• A slightly more sophisticated screen recorder: Open Broadcaster Studio (OBS), which is what I use.
• Available on Mac/Windows/Linux
• One of the most recommended (by others).
• Let's you configure your screen, adjust audio levels, has built-in noise filtering, and lets you stream to youtube if you want.

• How much time to budget:
• Making a video takes time!
• I'm finding that it takes me 6X time: for a 10 minute video, I need 10 mins prep, 15 minutes recording, 15+ minutes editing, 10 minutes processing (by the editor), 10 minutes upload to youtube.

• Suggestions for getting started and getting set up for recording:
• First, make a few random videos just to get the hang of it.
• Find a quiet spot in your house (remember: students will use high-quality headphones and can detect all kinds of sounds).
• Talk over your materials and record as if you're in class, except that you pretend you're talking to someone about three feet away instead of 30 feet away. Aim to sound conversational as opposed to a lectern speech.
• Save your recording in an appropriate format. I use MP4, but there are other popular formats such as: MOV, WMV, M4V, MKV, FLV.

• Note: I haven't tried GW's Echo360. It does have basic editing, and the convenience of direct upload to BB.

• Where do you want to have your videos hosted?
• Suggestion #1: youtube. This is what I'm using (in the non-public option so that the link is not posted by youtube, nor is searchable) because I think it's the most accessible and likely to scale to survive the upcoming national surge in video usage. Also, youtube has automated captioning, which might be useful for those who need to read.
• You'll need a non-GW gmail account (because youtube uploads are not part of our GW gmail).
• Sign in, go to "create video" at the topleft, drag your MP4 file in. Then youtube walks you through a few steps. The upload takes time, because youtube processes the video frame by frame.
• Copy the URL into your materials, and you're done.
• Suggestion #2: Blackboard. I'm not a fan of BB, but it is supported by GW and you have access to a helpline.

Editing:

• First ... if you have only a few glitches, you probably don't need to worry about editing. Students are very forgiving and it even makes you look human. You can also recover "live" by saying "whoops" and making light of it.
• But let's say you want to edit. Keep in mind that video editing is a profession and so you can get deep into this, or as I'd recommend, avoid getting deep into this.
• The most basic things you need to do in an editor:
• Add a title slide (they all provide samples you can edit).
• Snip out segments that did not work out.
• Adjust the volume if needed.
• Slightly more advanced: layer text on top of video, add special effects (like a text balloon), insert images/other videos.
• There are many free editors, and nearly every one of them is excessively feature-rich and initially overwhelming.
• I use one that I paid for, Wondershare-Filmora, because I found it really simple and intuitive to use when I researched this a few years ago. These tools have evolved and there are new ones.
• Echo360 offers basic editing.

Math-y courses:

• I use the Sony Digital Paper device. It's not cheap but it's terrific - it feels like writing on paper, and you can mirror its display on your laptop (which is how I use it in-class or video).
• If you have an iPad, two popular writing apps for math are:
• ExplainEverything. This will also do recordings for you. It has a very intuitive interface and the pen feels good.
• Xournal and Xournal++. I haven't used these but the SIGCSE community has recommeded these.
• How I use the Digital Paper or iPad:
• Attach the device to your laptop via USB
• Mirror the display of the device. For an iPad, use Quicktime ("new movie recording" then select the source as the iPad). The Sony has its own (easy to use) app that has screen-capture mode.
• Either way, I have my regular materials up (one window), my demos (programs, terminals etc), and the Sony window. I go back and forth while talking.
• Friends who've used the Microsoft Surface tell me the feel is superior to that of an iPad. One advantage of the Surface is that it runs Windows so you can attach a keyboard and that's all you need.

Other video tools I've found useful:

• One tool I've really come to like is Ink2Go. This lets me draw anywhere on screen to highlight text, or emphasize something with a box or arrow. It's super easy to use (takes 2 minutes to learn). Ink2Go costs \$20 and has its own screen-recorder (but I've had problems with the audio before and prefer to use OBS).
• And of course, VLC is considered the best tool for dealing with a variety (and converting) of audio/video formats.

## Exams and cheating

Here are some options:

• Take-home exams.
• Advantages. A take-home exam that's complex and deep enough creates a barrier to answer-googling, and makes it highly unlikely that two students working honestly will submit very similar exams.
• Disadvantages. They take longer to grade and one has to carefully examine them pairwise for cheating, not possible in a large class.

• Blackboard randomization. Blackboard lets you create a bank of questions, from which students get a random selection (you determine how many), and within questions, you can set it up so that multiple-choice answers are randomly permuted.
• Advantages. It's easy to grade, scales well, and if timed carefully, makes it difficult for two students in the class to compare answers on every question.
• Disadvantages. Students could potentially complain that their particular questions were harder/unfair. A student can still consult other students or tutors. It takes an instructor a fair bit of effort to create lots of questions, especially to create well-crafted multiple-choice questions that force thinking.

• Full-on remote proctoring. Solution providers include RPNow and Proctor-U, among others. A real person watches students by video.
• Advantages. While not foolproof (because a student can hide a cellphone), it is a high deterrent.
• Disadvantages. There is a per-student expense. Students find this highly intrusive, and some students from disadvantated backgrounds may not want to show their spaces.

• Oral exams. Two options to consider:
1. Full oral exam. This is like the Italian system where most exams are conducted orally, or like some American PhD qualifiers. The entire exam is conducted one-on-one, with follow-up questions to see if the student really knows what they're talking about.
2. Oral follow-up to written exam In this version, there's a standard written/online exam and the oral follow-up is to ensure that the student knows why they answered questions the way they did. In this case, the oral part is more like an interview to assess the authenticity of the written part, and can be brief because you don't have to interrogate every answer on the written exam.
The advantages of an oral exam are: it's easy to tell what a student really knows, and you can even give valuable feedback. The disadvantages are that it takes time and skill, and students may challenge the results. However, the second version is brief (less time than it takes to grade a non-multiple-choice exam).

• Alternatives to exams. One popular alternative is to require individual and group projects, whose grading can be made easier by asking students to "demo" and present. Then you can grade a brief demo/presentation, creating teams for large classes to reduce the overall time. However, students often don't like working in teams because they know they have to cover for the team's least contributive individuals.

## Suggestions from others, and advanced tools

Please send me your tips and suggestions. I'll include them here. Here are some I know of:

• Gabe uses Twitch (the popular game-viewing platform) to do office-hours, which allows shy users to open up (it's anonymous).
• Many in the department (Gabe, Pablo) use Piazza.
• Tim recommends Slack as an asychronous/synch tool to communicate, with the advantage that, unlike email, the whole history is available to see.

Suggestions from the SIGCSE community:

• Tips for synchronous:
• Frank Vahid (creator of Zybooks, and who teaches CS1 online to 1000+ students at UCR) calls "chat" the unsung hero of online-synch. What he means: invite students to be commenting and questioning all the time during synch lectures. I tried this on Friday last week, and I could see students communicating who never say a word in class.
• Open a public google-doc and allow anyone to type in, or paste code snippets, screenshots. Students love seeing the work of others.
• Use a polling app to increase engagement. But this means you have to prep the clicker questions ahead of time.
• (Advanced) If you want students to comment on video and track their video usage, people have recommended Techsmith (their Snagit/Camtasia screen-recorders and their Video review tool) and Scalable-learning for students commenting over videos (and to let you do the same).
• (Medium) Voicethread for sharing all kinds of media with students. Recommended by GW's IT (and supported by them).
• (Easy) An inexpensive document camera if you like chalk-and-talk, such as this one
• (Easy) Some people have also suggested buying a cheap whiteboard for your home and simply pointing your laptop's webcam while doing a synchronous lecture. A LOT of math on youtube is done this way, and some of it is pretty good.
• Audio Technica microphone.
• In lieu of Webex, I see more people recommend Zoom or BlueJeans. Zoom has polling.