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Posts Tagged ‘tips

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This video on student “hacks” and tips on doing assignments, homework, and online learning will upset some teachers the wrong way and other teachers the right way.

The wrong way to get upset is to be defensive about current teaching practices and to push against what some students are already doing.

The right way to get upset is to reflect on our collective practices and to adapt to what is possible. This is not a war between teacher and learners. It is an opportunity for teachers to learn from their students. 

A bit over a week ago, I offered some video conferencing tips for students who need to meet online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Lifehacker offered tips for workers who need to telecommute with conference calls. So I thought I should share a few tips for instructors who have synchronous online sessions with students.

My previous tips for students apply to teachers, but here are a few that are geared to the latter.

Dress for success. As someone who needs to lead, you need to look the part. You do not need to wear a suit or gown, but you do need to look like you are the instructor or lead learner. Dressing like you would for a classroom puts you in the right frame of mind.

Good lighting is key. If you have a good source of natural daylight from a window, position yourself near it. But do not create a backlighting situation because the camera will darken your face as it struggles with contrast. If the natural light is from the side, bounce the light back from the opposite side with a white cloth, board, or large piece of paper.

If you need artificial lighting, do not rely on just one source, e.g., ceiling light, corner lamp, laptop screen. Try to position two small lamps (with bulbs of the same colour temperature) on either side and in front of you to provide an even light. You do not want shadows that make you look tired, like a monster, or like a tired monster.

Good audio is even more important. If you do not have a high-quality microphone, use a headset with a built-in microphone (even those near ubiquitous white earphones with the dangly mic will do). These are still generally better than the microphones on your computer at reducing echoes or hollow-sounding audio.

Elevate your laptop webcam to eye level.

Elevate your laptop  so that the webcam is at eye-level (see my example). If you leave it on the table at normal height, the camera will look up at you. That will highlight your chin (or chins) and possibly showcase your nostrils*. You want your students to focus on the learning experience; you do not want to distract them with your exaggerated appearance.

Your backdrop matters. You do not want a distracting background, e.g., one that reveals you are a hoarder, drug dealer, or kidnapper (my, that escalated quickly). Your video conferencing software might mask your background, but this can create odd visual artefacts. You can either “cocoon” yourself by putting a big white sheet behind you or you can choose a background that encourages learning. I conduct my sessions from my study and there are bookshelves in the background.

Test everything (EVERYTHING) beforehand. Do not use the ‘live’ session as a test of your computing device, Internet bandwidth, webcam, microphone, teaching resources, etc. If you can, conduct a dry run with your learners in class so that you can troubleshoot together. If you cannot, conduct a test online session with a colleague or a few reliable students.

*I made a mistake in my latest session of sitting too close to the computer. As I needed tilt my head up to use the “reading” part of the lenses in my spectacles, I looked down my nose and presented my nostrils. I should have simply removed my spectacles to remedy the situation.

I prepared seven slides as part of a preparatory briefing for a group of students. Instead of attending a face-to-face class, they need to go online as a COVID-19 precaution.

As some might not have done this before, I decided to return to basics. I share the slides under Creative Commons license: CC-BY-SA-NC.

Note: I created the slides with Google Presentations and used the flash cards template. I modified the content of each template slide to fit the theme of each online conferencing tip.

 
I will be facilitating a synchronous online portion of a class next Saturday. We will be using Zoom.

I am recycling some tips I have for video conferencing. I have added to my list following this excellent piece from Beth Kanter.

  1. Use headphones/earphones, preferably with a built-in microphone. This will prevent the audio feedback that creates echoes during the session.
  2. Mute your microphone (via Zoom software) when you are not using it. This prevents audio leaks which might interrupt the session.
  3. Use the texting tool as a communication backup.
  4. Choose a quiet place with strong and reliable Internet connection. Refrain from relying on a library or coffee shop.
  5. Set the physical space up so that you are not interrupted. It might help to create a sign for the door to inform other occupants of a shared space. Make your physical space comfortable for a few hours.
  6. Be camera ready if you are to appear video. You might be at home, but you are still attending a class in a social setting.
  7. Do not multitask. Stay on task whether it is asynchronous or synchronous. Use the suggested time-on-task in the instructions to guide your effort.

As I have the benefit of meeting the class in person this week, I intend to dedicate about an hour of our session to prepare for the Zoom-enabled class. We will:

  1. Download the Zoom client.
  2. Install the Zoom client.
  3. Join the Test Session.
  4. Use reactions* (e.g., thumbs up).
  5. Test the text chat.
  6. Set up your video* camera and audio.
  7. Test the breakout rooms (small groups) and screen sharing.

*Note: Might be disabled by the institute’s IT administrator

Yesterday, I conducted a Google Hangouts (GH) version of my face-to-face module. It was for eight students who had to take a COVID-19 leave-of-absence.

I had to make substantial modifications because the module was optimised for blended learning, not online-only interaction. The changes would take too long to explain here, but I reflect now on the simpler technical and social tips that make the pedagogical path smoother.

Ensure that everyone has a Gmail account first. Everyone being in the Google ecosystem first prevents problems later.

There are several ways to invite participants to GH. For me, the fastest way was to invite everyone was via a Google Calendar update with an automatic Gmail notification.

Do not use the video call option as this limits the number of users to five for those outside the Edu or Enterprise plans. A normal hangout via Calendar or Gmail invitation hosts 25 users and includes the video call anyway.

Google Hangouts screenshot of screen sharing in progress.

GH automatically switches to the user it thinks is speaking. This means that a user’s background noises can switch focus to that user. If you are screen sharing, tell users to mute their microphones. This keeps the focus on your screen share by preventing audio leaks from each user.

Highlight the texting tool at bottom-left corner of the video conference window. This is not normally in view and requires a rollover of the cursor to the bottom-left corner. It is a handy emergency tool should audio or video cut out.

Advise users to wear ear/headphones. For users of laptops, this prevents audio feedback from the speakers to the microphone. If they do not, the entire session can sound echo-y to everyone. If the ear/headphones are noise-cancelling, all the better for reducing ambient sound.

Tell users to find a quiet place with a strong and reliable Internet connection. Duh.

Use laptops, not phones or tablets. Functionality is limited on the latter by design.

I changed my mind. Here is one pedagogical design principle: Simplify the tasks. GH is not a full-blown conferencing system with hand-raising or group discussion spaces. Those features require paid subscriptions to platforms like Zoom or proprietary systems in LMS.

It takes a thief to catch a thief. By that reasoning, a computer hacker might be the best person to suggest some tips on securing online privacy.


Video source

The hacker in the video above had these three tips:

  1. Do not geotag posts
  2. Direct message companies privately
  3. Keep account settings private

We do not own many things in life. One of those things is your word. Another is your privacy. We can choose to give it away or have it taken away from us.

When I read this tweeted teaching tip, I sniggered and shuddered.

When I was a student teacher I learnt about black and whiteboard tips and strategies. I became a part-time teacher educator just one year into my full-time teaching and passed on the same tips. But I did not share anything about shaking hips.

Most student and beginning teachers seem to appreciate practical advice from those more experienced than themselves. But there are issues with when and how they learn these tips:

  • Tips like the board-erasing one are as much about professionalism as they are about image. Some teachers focus on the latter instead of the former.
  • Young teachers learn such tips and strategies at the beginning of their careers or jobs. The learning is not continuous because there is no continuous professional development.
  • The tips and strategies are contextual, but teachers are not always taught when and why. The tips and strategies might not be relevant in other contexts or they cease to be relevant over time.

Yesterday I shared some wifi-related tips for the road warrior. Today I focus on hardware peripherals.
 

 
If wifi is like the air, then electrical power is the food and water of your devices. Since you cannot guarantee yourself a power point when you are on the move, an external battery that can charge a phone, slate, or even a laptop is a must.

I do not recommend skimping on quality when buying a battery and the cables that feed your devices. You do not want to risk damage to either the battery or your devices.

A good (but expensive) brand is Anker. (Disclosure: I am not paid to promote the brand.) If you choose to buy external battery packs and charging cables from Anker, I recommend you buy them online from the supplier instead of a store. A SGD24 cable online can cost between SGD5 to 10 more in store.

If, like me, you need to conduct seminars or facilitate workshops, you need a laptop charger and a dongle to connect to a projector. I recommend buying a spare charger from the maker of your laptop or go for a reputable brand.

If you have a Macbook Pro, you might only have USB-C ports and need to get a multi-purpose dongle that provides power, one or more USB-A ports, VGA and/or HDMI output, and a LAN (cabled Internet) connection.

If you can afford to, get one dongle and a set of cables for home and one for the travel bag. This avoids the inconvenience of disconnecting and reconnecting cables at home while ensuring you are prepared for whatever a new room throws at you.

My last tip is an expensive one: Noise-cancelling headphones. These drown the world out while allowing you to make clear phone or video calls. While some might baulk at the cost, noise-cancelling headphones are an investment for your sanity.

Oh, and get the over-the-ear headphones and not the stick-in-your-ear earphones. The headphones send others a visual signal that you are not to be disturbed.

I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. -- Thoreau

It took a few semesters of sensing and planning, but I eventually implemented something that helps future faculty write better.

Every semester I provide feedback and grade electronically-processed assignments. Every semester I am reminded how brilliant graduate students do not necessarily know how to communicate properly in writing.

I have suggested to administrators that a writing course be a prerequisite to the one I am involved in. But this doing this is neither easy nor a priority.

What is a priority is graduate students reading a resource and taking an automated quiz on plagiarism. This is important and it is easy to do in an institutional learning management system (LMS). But an LMS, no matter how advanced, cannot show graduate students how to write better and provide timely feedback on authentic writing.

Knowing that institutional change takes an inordinately long time, I provided a series of tips in my blog. I reminded my classes to refer to them before writing and embedded URLs to the same in my online feedback.

I also made a concerted effort this semester to highlight the resources in class and set aside time to talk about the importance of writing ability.

The ability to write clearly, logically, and critically is vital to future academics. They might not only need to prepare teaching philosophies and curricula, they also need to write reports and apply for grants.

The future faculty I have met seem to forced to play writing gambling game. If they get a supervisor who is nurturing and cares about how they write, they hit the jackpot. If not, they struggle from course to course or they reinforce bad writing habits because no one tells them otherwise.

Studying at the doctoral level requires an immense effort and truly independent work. However, this does not mean that graduate students should do work blindly or without scaffolding.

I have already discovered how effective my simple resources are. I have not torn out as much hair this semester as previously. Many of my learners have followed basic reminders like shaping a premise and writing in paragraphs.

I did this without doing anything contrary or disruptive to the course I facilitate. If anything, the tips add value to it. This could be an example of how not asking for permission first is a good thing.

Change is not about asking for permission first. It is about asking for forgiveness later.

 
I only have myself to blame…

I wrote “10 tips for crafting a teaching philosophy” a year ago with the intent to share it with new batches of learners. I forgot and have to deal with poorly organised statements.

It is not that the tips would guarantee good writing. They would have simply provided a scaffold for inexperienced writers to craft a challenging piece of writing.

I am not forgetting this time around. The pain of providing repetitive feedback on disorganised essays has reminded me to create a link in the Google Site that is my workshop resource.

I have two more tips for future faculty or anyone who has to write academically.

One, avoid passive voice. This tweet might help you spot passive voice:

So write “Students perform task X” instead of writing “Task X was performed… by zombies”.

Two, when learning to prepare lesson plans, write for someone else to teach it. This means stepping outside yourself to see what someone else might not understand about your learners, intent, content, strategies, assessment, etc.

Just as you try to teach in a student-centred way, you should write in a reader-centred manner. Aim for clarity, not complexity. You must convince, not confuse.


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