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The title of the question pretty much says it all: starting Fall 2020, my university should resume face-to-face classes, requiring that

all faculty, staff, students, and visitors […] wear an appropriate face covering while inside campus facilities/buildings where six feet social distancing may not always be possible

Assuming that social distancing will not be possible while I'm teaching at the white board (we may have to use the first row, which is fairly close to the white board), what are the best practices to teach while wearing a mask?

My main concern is my voice may be muffled, but there may be other issues that I've overlooked.

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    It's a pretty good question. For instance, using a normal lavalier microphone connected to speakers will lead to quite bad sound quality unless it's specifically made for usage under a mask. This is due to the explosive sounds ("p") because they are captured by the mask. Are clear face shields allowed as mask substitute? They should not muffle your noise.
    – DCTLib
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 15:37
  • @DCTLib, over the mask is another possibility, I'd think. I don't think face shields are considered equivalent to masks by the experts. Mask + shield is superior, i'd think. But the bigger current problem is whether the scientists who say that transmission through aerosols is possible are correct or not. That would make the problem even more difficult.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 16:15
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    There are two issues. Protecting yourself and protecting your students. Normal masks are better at protecting others, than protecting the wearer.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 16:17
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    Note that the virus and its transmission are not, yet, well understood. Much of what you hear, even from experts, is guesswork, not science. It is a novel disease. Thirty people in a closed space with a heating/cooling system not designed to filter viruses (very hard) seems to me like a recipe for disaster.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 16:19
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    Some people help their understanding of spoken material by lipreading, often without being aware of it. Consider either a face shield or a mask with a transparent insert for the mouth area. Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 16:47

1 Answer 1

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+250

I grew up in Canada and was a PhD student and lecturer in England, before moving to Japan from 2013-2016. Before 2013, like most Westerners I did not wear a mask during flu season, and couldn't imagine wearing one while teaching. When I arrived in Japan in 2013, there was no COVID-19 or SARS-2003 going on, but people everywhere were wearing masks: On day 1 people were wearing masks at the airport when I landed, at the convenience store where I asked for directions when I was lost, and in the audience when I gave my first talk at Kyoto University.

"My main concern is my voice may be muffled"

Don't worry: People have been teaching with masks for decades in East Asia (I witnessed it myself for 3 years in Japan and know from my colleagues that it was nothing new).

My advice for best practices:

  • First try to get used to wearing a mask. If you're like me, I had never worn one before 2013 and wasn't used to it right away. But it's like wearing glasses: it's a bit annoying to see the side arms of the glasses at first but after wearing them everyday for years you don't notice that anymore. Maybe wear a mask when you go out to the store, between now and Fall 2020, so that when you start teaching you are not uncomfortable.
  • Get a mask that's comfortable for you to be speaking loud for long periods of time. When teaching we often have to project our voice so that people can hear us in the back, which means we speak louder than normal, and might be moving our jaw more than normal. A lose mask that falls off or moves around if you move your jaw bones too much, might be a bad idea. You can try various masks before Fall 2020 to find which one you'll be comfortable in. This is the type I use and it's the type they were wearing all the time in Japan:


(source: homedics.com)

I got 50 of them for $30 in Canada with inflated COVID prices (they were cheaper before). I don't find myself needing to speak louder, and my voice is pretty much the same as without a mask (if you stick with this classic mask instead of trying to use an N95 or some t-shirt fabric turned into a mask, I think you'll be fine and don't need a visor).

  • The first comment pointed out that if you use a microphone between your mouth and mask your letter "p" can sound bad. I agree and I never wear a microphone when teaching, and in fact I ask the conference chair to turn down my microphone when I'm giving recorded talks at conferences, because early in my career people told me I was too loud. For centuries we didn't have microphones and lecturers like Richard Feynman didn't use one in lectures like the one in this link, so getting used to projecting your voice is part of teaching (even at conferences they don't always have microphones). If you do still prefer wearing microphones for some reason, I think you are teaching at a rather huge lecture hall where the students will be more than 1 meter away from you, so you are likely not to need a mask. Your question says "Assuming that social distancing will not be possible while I'm teaching at the white board" which makes me assume you're in a small enough room that you don't need a microphone.
    • If you absolutely must record your lecture, notice that the microphone in Ilya Kuprov's 900+ youtube lectures is nowhere near his mouth/mask. You can use a body-microphone or put it on a microphone stand somewhere.
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    For COVID purposes, many people may need to have a microphone no matter how well they can project, to stream or record the lecture for the benefit of students who cannot safely attend in person (immunocompromised or quarantined or what have you). So "don't use one" may not be possible for everyone. Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 18:41
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    Well of course there has to be a microphone somewhere if you're going to record! So then maybe it would be better to suggest "use a body or tabletop microphone", if you have reason to think that those will pick up a masked speaker okay. Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 18:48
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    The linked example of recorded video lectures actually proves that not having a microphone near the mouth significantly degrades the audio quality of the recording, to the point that the speaker is frequently barely understandable, especially if one is hearing-impaired or not a native speaker (and these days the probability of having foreigner students that may have to attend the lectures remotely is quite high). Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 19:15
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    @user1271772 You have to distinguish between the content of the lecture and the result of the recording: I'm not criticizing the lectures. Kuprov's lectures might be the best of the best, but some of those recordings are barely understandable: listen for instance at the beginning of this lecture. Those lectures were delivered in a way which is not suitable for recording without a body microphone: the lecturer walks and speaks orthogonally to the microphone giving the impression of mumbling to himself. Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 19:38
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    I am not sure if the Feynman video is a good example. I think it is quite likely that some professional audio engineering was involved in making that recording. Possibly even a boom mic or multiple microphones and someone behind a mixing console adjusting the levels at all times.
    – mlk
    Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 6:50

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