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Quickly Transitioning to Teaching Online Due to COVID-19

  • #1
vela
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Main Question or Discussion Point

There's a good chance that the spread of the COVID-19 virus will cause colleges and universities to suspend on-ground class meetings. I know that UC Berkeley and UCLA have already done so to some degree, and the schools I teach at have suggested instructors prepare the possibility by getting ready to teach courses online.

On a mailing list I'm on, an instructor reminded us everyone needs to cut everyone else some slack. We may have only days to prepare for the switch. Many instructors don't want to teach online but are now being forced to. Many students don't want to take an online physics course but are now being forced to. It's a difficult situation for everyone.

Nevertheless, we're stuck with it, so I thought it would be useful to have a thread where people with experience with teaching online can point out potential pitfalls and can offer suggestions and tips for quickly switching to teaching online.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
ZapperZ
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There's a good chance that the spread of the COVID-19 virus will cause colleges and universities to suspend on-ground class meetings. I know that UC Berkeley and UCLA have already done so to some degree, and the schools I teach at have suggested instructors prepare the possibility by getting ready to teach courses online.

On a mailing list I'm on, an instructor reminded us everyone needs to cut everyone else some slack. We may have only days to prepare for the switch. Many instructors don't want to teach online but are now being forced to. Many students don't want to take an online physics course but are now being forced to. It's a difficult situation for everyone.

Nevertheless, we're stuck with it, so I thought it would be useful to have a thread where people with experience with teaching online can point out potential pitfalls and can offer suggestions and tips for quickly switching to teaching online.
Ask your school if they have a site-wide license for video-conferencing software such as Zoom or WebEx. If they do, then I suggest that you still hold class session by broadcasting during the exact class session. WebEx, for instance, allows you to transmit live of you, your screen, and your ppt/presentation slides. So this is a class session, except you are not in a physical room together. It involves quite a bit of preparation, and of course, being familiar with the video-conference tools, but to me, that is the most effective form of online lessons that resembles closest to what I do in class.

Zz.
 
  • #3
Andy Resnick
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We've just gotten 'official' word that face-2-face classes are suspended, but we've been working on the logistics for a while already.

A few useful links:

https://www.chronicle.com/article/Going-Online-in-a-Hurry-What/248207?fbclid=IwAR3hEocHfOxbs0rCYOaWJvS3gDtgEEZwJ1ggetl9Pi9DYGoe4P6W0r-eIzE


A few points have generated considerable discussion:

1) Not all students have internet access from home, and those that primarily use a phone to access content may not have unlimited data plans.

2) Testing. We are (likely) going to use Respondus (https://web.respondus.com/), but there is also ProctorU (https://www.proctoru.com/).

3) Labs. Some departments are going to have students analyze pre-generated data, while others don't have a good solution (for a variety of reasons). I'd be interested to know how other institutions are handling Intro lab sections.

4) Our 'default' online content will be either through Blackboard Collaborate or Panopto, with those people interested in Zoom encouraged to do so for things like office hours or small-group discussions. We are currently scheduling a block of rooms for non-tech-expert faculty to record lectures in Panopto with an IT expert present for help.

5) 'Reasonable accommodations' are still required to be offered, but it's not clear what still counts as 'reasonable'.

I think those are the main sticking points, at least for us.
 
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  • #4
Dr Transport
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Truman State in Kirksville MO has extended spring break one week. I am aware that, University of Buffalo is considering giving an extra week of spring break along with Washington University in St Louis.

Also, SKYPE is a wonderful resource to have online meetings, we use it all the time at work. Not only can you share your screen, but people can request control to add to the discussion and ther is also an IM feature so thast the meeting sees your questions in real time without having to be disrupted.
 
  • #5
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My university has done so through a technology on the myblackboard platform. On a personal level (student), I don't feel like it is much of a change. In fact, I am more comfortable this way. I've noticed, though, that students in one of my classes are participating more through the live text chat.
Both my programming teachers (lab & lecture) seemed pretty laid back, understandable for tech guys.
My math teacher had some internet problems his first time, I hope it doesn't happen during the next lecture. I guess this is an important point for the professors to take care of, i.e don't stream from home, for example, if your internet is not top notch to both screen and camera sharing.
My physics teacher didn't contact us :DD
My physics lab teacher uploaded for us data he collected and asked us to carry on the analysis ourselves, then take an online test with different values (but same experiment, i.e if you did the first correct then you just replace the values).
I say teacher but I mean professor or dr.
 
  • #6
vela
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3) Labs. Some departments are going to have students analyze pre-generated data, while others don't have a good solution (for a variety of reasons). I'd be interested to know how other institutions are handling Intro lab sections.
One of my schools is planning to allow on-campus meetings for lab sections. The chancellor is leaving it up to the deans and department heads to decide which classes still need to meet on campus.
 
  • #7
ZapperZ
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3) Labs. Some departments are going to have students analyze pre-generated data, while others don't have a good solution (for a variety of reasons). I'd be interested to know how other institutions are handling Intro lab sections.
I've designed a couple of "virtual experiments" that they will do online, including one from PhET. At this level, it is more important that they get the concepts of the physics, and gain more skills in data analysis, so having a virtual experiment that will work all the time without having them deal with equipment issues isn't completely bad.

Of course, this will require that they have internet access, but when I surveyed my students, none of them have issues with this, especially since the virtual experiments can also be done on the browser on their mobile devices.

Zz.
 
  • #8
vela
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Andria Schwortz at Quinsigamond Community College shared her plans for lab sections.

 
  • #9
symbolipoint
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Most "laboratory" sections require, in some way, the students actually handle materials and equipment because this is the real meaning for "laboratory". To not be allowed to do this, is very unfortunate. The value MUST be put into place (into the students) at some later date or time. Being delivered electronic data for students to manage is a very poor substitute for the laboratory components of instruction.
 
  • #10
Andy Resnick
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One of my schools is planning to allow on-campus meetings for lab sections. The chancellor is leaving it up to the deans and department heads to decide which classes still need to meet on campus.
I've designed a couple of "virtual experiments" that they will do online, including one from PhET. At this level, it is more important that they get the concepts of the physics, and gain more skills in data analysis, so having a virtual experiment that will work all the time without having them deal with equipment issues isn't completely bad.
We had some extensive discussions about certain labs that simply can't translate into an online experience- gross anatomy (human dissection), for example. Right now, those 4 or 5 courses (in the entire College of Science) are listed as 'we will figure out how to do this'. Through gritted teeth, we acknowledge that unusual circumstances require unusual approaches- nobody is enthused about this.

Some (Physics) labs require use of MatLab, Mathcad, or other software that requires a license, so we are getting VPN access to students... and of course, some of the software runs only on WinBlows machines.
 
  • #12
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Andy Resnick said:
We had some extensive discussions about certain labs that simply can't translate into an online experience- gross anatomy (human dissection), for example.
The gross anatomy lab work is not usually called "human dissection" -- it's not vivisection -- the humans whose bodies are being dis-sected are deceased, wherefore it's usually called 'cadaver lab' -- but regarding the possibility of exposure to a potentially lethal virus, as Mister Miyagi says, "best defense -- no be there" . . .
 
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  • #13
ZapperZ
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Most "laboratory" sections require, in some way, the students actually handle materials and equipment because this is the real meaning for "laboratory". To not be allowed to do this, is very unfortunate. The value MUST be put into place (into the students) at some later date or time. Being delivered electronic data for students to manage is a very poor substitute for the laboratory components of instruction.
Remember, this is not under IDEAL circumstances!

I'm an experimentalist. If anything, *I* value the act and skill of the actual doing of an experiment. So you don't have to tell me all this. However, this thread is about trying to salvage a course that has been transformed from a "normal", face-to-face, on-site classes into a purely online one, and in a very SHORT amount of time! It is time to be pragmatic, and not the time to espouse some rigid idealism!

Zz.
 
  • #14
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Ask your school if they have a site-wide license for video-conferencing software such as Zoom or WebEx. If they do, then I suggest that you still hold class session by broadcasting during the exact class session. WebEx, for instance, allows you to transmit live of you, your screen, and your ppt/presentation slides. So this is a class session, except you are not in a physical room together. It involves quite a bit of preparation, and of course, being familiar with the video-conference tools, but to me, that is the most effective form of online lessons that resembles closest to what I do in class.

Zz.
This is what I am doing. We use WebEx. There is even a online lab that we can do using virtual machines.

It will be hard to gauge comprehension without seeing my students faces.
 
  • #15
vela
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I'll be using Zoom. I'm wondering if the company will be able to handle the sudden increase in load as schools around the nation suspend on-campus instruction. I tried setting up an instructor account on Friday but I have yet to receive a response.

My experience with Zoom is very limited. One school is still going to have lab sections meet on campus, so my plan is to have the class learn about Zoom together when we meet.

Is there a good way to implement think-pair-share over Zoom? Or should I remove those questions from the lecture?
 
  • #16
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Scott Galloway is a professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business and has been presenting courses online for years. At the tail end of the last Pivot podcast (a podcast he does on the Vox Media network about tech, business, and politics), he had some tips for educators who have not had to conduct their courses online before.

 
  • #17
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Dale said:
It will be hard to gauge comprehension without seeing my students faces.
I think that it's true that the best teleconferencing isn't as good as physical presence, but in a quarantine situation, maybe we just have to make do. I've taught a little of some martial art, and I think it would be hard to do that without any hands-on contact -- I can only imagine what it would be like to e.g. try to coach basketball without going to the gym. Let's hope that we can find a vaccine and get the quarantine over with.
 
  • #18
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but in a quarantine situation, maybe we just have to make do.
Yes, clearly. I would much rather do it this way than get me or my students sick. I just have to use alternative means to gauge comprehension.
 
  • #20
robphy
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Our school is going to use Zoom, which they have used for various things in the past.
I used it once as an end user (for an interview elsewhere)... so I'll be getting a little training on being a content producer.

Some (Physics) labs require use of MatLab, Mathcad, or other software that requires a license, so we are getting VPN access to students... and of course, some of the software runs only on WinBlows machines.
A possible alternative to using licensed software is to use browser-based tools like
https://trinket.io/ which supports Python (which has Matlab like libraries) and Glowscript/VPython.
I'll be using trinket.io for a physics lab activity that will use computation.
 
  • #21
Andy Resnick
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Is there a good way to implement think-pair-share over Zoom? Or should I remove those questions from the lecture?
I don't think think-pair-share translates well- at least that's our assumption. The three instructors I spoke with that use peer teaching extensively are basically removing that part of classroom instruction for now. We are relaxing the assumption of 'synchronous communication' with students, so any sort of real-time learning activity may not be viable.
 
  • #22
Dr. Courtney
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Good online labs are not that hard. I developed an online lab series last year for homeschoolers. My approach was reading the menu right to left and focusing on real quantitative physics experiments that can be done at home with equipment already in the home or that can be acquired inexpensively. I approached it with the questions, "What equipment is widespread in homes?" and "How can that be used for physics experiments?"

Video cameras are ubiquitous in American homes, and with a suitable length scale, quantifying position vs. time is straightforward for a number of experiments. The video-based experiments included: a bouncing ball, determination of burn rate, ball velocity vs ramp height, acceleration of gravity measurement, analysis of projectile motion, testing for air drag, Mentos and Diet Coke height vs. Coke temperature, simple harmonic oscillator, and simple pendulum.

Many homes already have a thermometer or can acquire a suitable one for about $10. This allows several experiments, including testing the thermometer accuracy, freezing point suppression, boiling point elevation, and exothermic reaction. You can probably think of more.

An inexpensive electronic balance allows several more experiments including: balance accuracy, relationship of mass to volume, and buoyancy. Though some suspension apparatus is needed for buoyancy. A law of the lever lab can either be done using the electronic balance or even without it balancing quarters at specific points on a meter stick resting on a suitable fulcrum.

The only truly virtual labs I included were a Boyle's law lab re-analyzing Boyle's original data and a Kepler's third law lab re-analyzing both Brahe's original data as well as modern data for the solar system and a planetary moon system.

In short, filling out the remaining semester with one quality physics lab per week should not be too hard. I'm sure a bit of brainstorming could provide decent real experiments in most Physics II courses also (mostly E&M). In addition to the ubiquitous video camera, the ubiquitous sound digitizer will be important here. Lots of ways to study waves with the sound card and lots of ways to study optics with a video camera. Some topics in Physics II courses are harder, but the present need is NOT complete topical coverage, but wisest use of the available time providing one quality lab per week for the remaining term. Online Physics II lab courses with better topical coverage usually require students to buy an supplies kit costing $200 or so.
 
  • #23
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This is what I am doing. We use WebEx. There is even a online lab that we can do using virtual machines.

It will be hard to gauge comprehension without seeing my students faces.
My first day using WebEx worked well. Everyone had a webcam so I got a decent feel for comprehension. Not perfect, but good enough
 
  • #24
Dr. Courtney
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It is time to be pragmatic, and not the time to espouse some rigid idealism!
My idealism is pretty simple - that students actually earn the grades and credit they are awarded with the capabilities documented in the course descriptions and syllabi presented to accrediting agencies and other stakeholders. I consider failures in this area (grade gifting) to be fraud. Is that too rigid?

Sure, some allowances regarding how the lab credit is earned may be reasonable. But I recall one university at which I taught had already shortened the lab portion of the course from the 14 lab course meetings they promised the accrediting agency to 11 lab meetings. Another institution I taught at (a high school) had gotten to this time of the year and had only completed a single laboratory experiment in their physics class when I was brought in as the lab coordinator. Yet they were awarding credit for a lab science course. Fortunately, we remedied the situation quickly and got in 10 additional high-quality, in-person lab experiments by the end of the year. If the switch to on-line teaching happened that year under time pressure, they might not have gotten enough lab work in to justify awarding credit in a lab science course. But getting to mid-March with only a single experiment performed in a year-long lab science course was the underlying failure.
 
  • #25
symbolipoint
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Dr Courtney about post #24, your response to what ZapperZ said:
He was trying to justify a point of view in the current very unfortunate conditions. These conditions are just what currently exist right now.

One way or another, the students' lab course sections need to be delivered, in a practical actual LABORATORY way. Lab time - Somewhere - actual observations with hands on materials, equipment, instruments.
 

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