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I'm in the midst of creating a series of videos to teach statistics online. Do any of you have a list of common do's and don'ts that can make a big difference?

Also, how does one assess how much to explain a topic, since you do not get instant feedback by looking at facial reactions to a given concept?

In real classroom scenario, it's quite easy to course correct if someone didn't understand the original thought, but in video, you have just one shot. The student either gets it or he doesn't.

Any way to minimize this?

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Do's:

  1. Do your best to pretend there are students in the classroom. Obviously, don't ask questions to the void, but scan the room, move about as you might in a real classroom (but don't go off camera), and take "normal" pauses if you're writing on a board. This is an example from a short video I made for some of my pre-algebra students, and there weren't any students in the classroom at the time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=est2X6-BVkw

  2. Write big enough and clearly enough so the video picks it up. In the video I linked to, I realized that the pen I was using was pretty crappy, so I switched to a better pen (although I probably should have redone the entire clip). Even better is the way Khan Academy does it, with a digital board that he writes on during the lecture.

  3. Make sure you have a good microphone, preferably one that is wireless that you put on your shirt/lapel. There is nothing worse than trying to watch/listen to a video that has poor sound.

Don'ts:

  1. Don't block the board!
  2. Don't be afraid to make a few mistakes that remain on tape. You can spend too much time re-doing videos for simple mistakes. If you make a mistake and recognize it immediately, fix it as you would in a real classroom. If you find a mistake in post-processing, feel free to overlay the video with a text box that fixes the error -- no one will care. Obviously, you can re-record if you wish, but keep in mind what your time is worth.

How does one assess how much to explain a topic?

This is one of those times you have to do the best you can and try to elicit feedback from the students after they watch the video. The reason I posted the video I linked above is because I realized that a number of students didn't get it when I first taught the topic.

In real classroom scenario, it's quite easy to course correct if someone didn't understand the original thought, but in video, you have just one shot. The student either gets it or he doesn't.

Well, that's one difference between face-to-face instruction and online video instruction. This is what email correspondence with the professor is for. You can also consider posting response videos to frequent questions you've been asked via email.

  • Good list… though looking at your video, I would add: make sure the whiteboard is readable, avoiding direct reflexion of the lights – F'x Nov 5 '13 at 14:04
  • Yeah, good point -- that was a big problem in that classroom! – Chris Gregg Nov 5 '13 at 14:06
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Wow, I am on the same boat! Way to go!! Anyway, I'm slowly experimenting as well and am happy to share what I know.

Synchronous or asynchronous, or both?

Foremost, you'll need to decide if your online module is going to be synchronous or asynchronous.

Synchronous module involves real-time interaction. For example, online conference where students can type in comments into a twitter-like platform or directly ask you through microphone. The pros about this format are that you can clarify any problem instantly and the format mimics class-room interaction; the cons are that one technical error can throw the whole class into chaos, and multi-tasking in talking, reading, typing, and clicking through slides require some skill. It'd be better to have a teaching assistant to comb through the incoming messages and give you a synopsis of students' question.

The number of enrollment matters very much as well. If there are a few students only, you can afford to tune up the interactivity (e.g. more discussion, Q&A, etc.) If the enrollment is high (from my experience, more than 20 or so,) then the format may have to be less spontaneously interactive: perhaps a relatively longer lecture, coupled with break-out group discussion, and a big wrap up as a whole group.

Asynchronous module is a bit more like learning anything online. For example, online presentations/workshops through which students can learn the materials at their own pace. Comments and evaluation are usually done through blog post, e-mail, or forums. The pros of this formats are that students have a lot of flexibility, and the lecturer usually has to devote one large fixed chunk of time to set up the workshop, and it can run itself (more or less.) The cons are that the preparation is extremely intensive and assessments have to be carefully chosen and planted here and there to make sure the course is working.

Hybrid or fully online?

Some online course would mix in-class lecture and online together. For example, students may meet at a classroom for the first two weeks to learn about the requirement and format of the class plus some fundamental background lectures. And then they'll go back home and switch to online. Some other hybrid model may involve coming to class every alternate week, etc. The pros are quite apparent as the lecturer can establish a real presence, and it also provides some opportunities for networking between students, which is a crucial component especially in graduate schools.

Another sub-genre of hybrid online teaching is called "flipped classroom," through which students will watch the lecture in advance, complete the assignments, and come to class for more challenging group exercises, case studies, or journal critique. I am actually planning two classes using this format and hopefully I can get a real sense of what a difference it may make.

You may also conduct your course fully online... that way no one have to travel, leading this format to have probably the lowest carbon footprints, if limiting such is part of your aspirations.

Microlectures

For video lectures, length matters. I'd suggest breaking up your lecture into one-idea, one-bite chunks. Formats like microlecture will be a good place to start. For me, I usually try to explain an idea within 10 slides in 20 minutes, which is usually the attentions span for someone sitting in front of a computer. Never make hourly videos; they are a pain to download and very tedious to sit through. Pausing and coming back later is possible, but it's better to capitalize on the online features and make learning (esp. technical subjects like statistics) more modular.

One good way is to incorporate some Interspersed exercises. For instance, after the microlecture on normal distribution, build in some exercises asking the students to check the z-score table, or answer some online quizzes about application. What exercises to put in there depends on your class objectives and competencies to be taught.

You also mention that:

In real classroom scenario, it's quite easy to course correct if someone didn't understand the original thought, but in video, you have just one shot. The student either gets it or he doesn't.

which is not totally true. As long as your script is clear and correct, students can always replay the video to listen again. They can also try the exercises to evaluate themselves. From the exercises you can detect problems and misunderstanding to some extend, and provide feedback accordingly. I would like to emphasize that this is a pretty different generation we are looking at, gen Y and after are actually much better as a communicator online than in person. In the tool paragraph I'll talk about some ways to let student provide feedback or ask question about the video.

Combine self evaluation + formal evaluation

As mentioned above, build in plenty of self evaluations within and between students: online quiz, blog post, comments for others' post, exercises, etc. Let the students know in advance that how they will be formally evaluated for grades.

Be present and don't be always present

One "curse" of being an online teacher is that students think you're as convenient as the materials you put online. This can be bad cause you may get an e-mail at 3:30 am and you happened to have forgotten to mute the phone that night. Be very upfront about your availability and honor the promised office hour. You can use online communication such as Skype, Google Chat, etc. to communicate with students. Also, make sure to give them an expected time for your response (I have been using one office day, which seems doable.)

Use the right tools

Looking for the right tools has been the biggest deal for me by far. I broke my class into three major components:

  1. Lecture: I use a few ways and they all have their own advantages. MS Powerpoint with voice recording is amazingly easy. Users can also correct and re-record on each single slide if you're not happy about it. Adobe Presentation has been wonderful, you may even edit the soundtrack and record over with the corrected script. Both are quite friendly to multimedia such as embedding videos. Invest in a good microphone, for recording lecture on screen, a headphone with built-in microphone (around $30) and a quiet room will work fine. For recording real lecture, have some school IT unit hook you up to a wireless microphone. Video lecture + speech submerged in echo + difficult subject = withdrawal.

  2. Software demonstration: I use a software called Snagit to take screenshot video of all software demonstration. The software allows users to export it as movie files, which can be linked to the lectures.

  3. Other materials: I use a wiki platform to host all materials. I also authorized all student as editor so that they can maintain a project page in the wiki and collaborate.

Some teachers start going online by videotaping the lecture and upload that online. I feel slightly negative about this approach because it does not exploit the pluses of going online. However, if someone so wants to do that, I'd suggest investing some time to identify a software that allows picture-in-picture. One camera can focus on the lecture, one zoom onto the board or show the slides. Having said that, I have to admit that in most of the "online" lectures I have watched, the board writing is mostly illegible. I haven't incorporate writing into my work, but if I have to, I'll consider to:

  1. Use a 3-D project to show my writing onto the board. There you can use thicker pen or play with the zooming to make sure all space on the white screen is used. An added benefit is that projecting on screen does not cause glaring on the video, while a white board may show glaring that obstructs the text.

  2. Use a drawing pad and a very simple drawing software (even MS Paint) as your writing tool.

For students' feedback, I have been having some luck with online forum and tweeter-like bill such as Todaysmeet. Todaysmeet allows your to open a chat thread in which student can post questions or comments. You may even archive them if you wish to. Most online meeting software (such as Adobe Connect) also builds in some "raise hand" button; users can click that to initiate a question.

As for video, look for some video markup tools so that student can bookmark a certain section of your video, generate a link and send it to your with related questions. They can, of course, mention the video link and time stamp as well. E.g. "I have a question about a point at 12:45 of the video on [link to the mp4, etc.]."

Provide ONE and ONLY ONE official announcement site where students can get the most up to date announcement. Because online teaching involves a lot of software and different forms of communication, it's easy to fall through the schedule not knowing some is due or a new lecture has been released. Make sure all announcement can reach the students' official e-mail address.

Lastly, I cannot stress enough i) pilot run, pilot run, pilot run!! Try all modules and make sure they work on at least Mac and PC. You may want to check the course shows up correctly on iPad and Android pad as well. For a very similar reason, don't use any Adobe Flash to make animation. ii) have a plan B, plan C... plan K: Isolate your critical control points and prepare a second plan if the control point falls through. For example, if you decide to use Skype for an online talk, but Skype's server goes down, think 1) how to contact the students? 2) Where to re-establish the meeting? etc.

Study guide

Because you're not there to guide them in person. It's crucial to have a very protocol-based syllabus. I adopted the idea from Smith's Conquering the Content. For every single session, list:

  1. Learning goals and outcomes: After the session, what will the student know and learn to do?

  2. Learning resources: List all resources including the required and optional reading, supplementary websites, journal articles etc.

  3. Learning activities: Describe the flow of learning, provide due date or schedule.

  4. Self assessment: Lay out how the students can assess their learning.

  5. Formal evaluation: Lay out how you'd assess their learning.

I like this approach very much. Smith particularly emphasizes not to put time-sensitive information in your video, instead, put them on this learning guide. For instance, in the video you can say "refer to the suggested journal article" instead of saying the exact title. That way, you can just update your learning guide without the need of re-recording your video, saving some time to renew your lecture every year.

Closing remark

Sorry for this really long post. I still have a lot to say but I guess I have long passed the socially acceptable length of SE responses. Teaching online is a fun challenge, and all I have described here are just a fraction of this domain. There are online interaction, engagement, etc. which are other cans of worm. If I were to do it again, I'd start simple by switching 2-3 classes to online as an experiment, and build from there. It's dangerous to go online in a semester, I'll invest a good 6-month period to be familiar with all the tools. I'd also suggest planning the whole course before putting anything online, because that helped me eliminate a lot of irregulars, and make the format a lot more uniform.

Hope these comments would help, and have fun!

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