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Monday, August 31, 2020

I want you to know what I did last summer!

This post has 2 parts:

Part I: at the end of this part you find the link to shared developed materials, including online labs.

Part I:
Well, technically, it is still this summer.

I taught two remote courses my first fully remote, fully off-site, 100 % internet based, distant courses.

They were not online courses, they were remote courses with the elements of online one. The differences is described here, but the main idea is simple,

a remote course is a course with the ultimate goal to give students learning experience “the same”
(meaning – as close as technically possible) to a regular on-site course.

I used to include online components in my regular courses, so it was not something absolutely new – except labs!

Online Physics Experiments: two semesters

Of course, I had to develop a brand new strategy for teaching physics labs for a 100 % remote physics course.

My first intention was doing labs live; an example is semester 1, lab2
(there was no lab 1, the title was reserved for an FCI survey).

And this is how I did my very first lab – live.

It did not go well, for many reasons, one of which was that students had a hard time to watching me and follow my instructions – too intense. Plus, of course, at the very beginning of the lab my tech failed and I had to spend 20 minutes on fixing it, while more than hundred student were waiting (in the first semester I created one huge lab section for 90 % of students and another small one for students who could not attend the first one; in the second semester I broke the class into ten small lab sections).

So, I’ve changed the approach.

All other labs were pre-prepared (pun intended), and students did those labs in groups under the guidance of the TFs (via Zoom).

The results were good (at least according to some students).

The same lab experiments could be used as parts of lectures.

I decided to share all the materials – videos, instructions files, lab files, and software I used (at the time – free for students).

During the lab students had to work in groups of 4 completing a  shared file, and also entering their answers into an online system (I used WebAssign – easy to grade).
I tested different software

but ended up using only Zoom, Tracker, LoggerPro and Screen Recorder (you can find instructions in the shared folder – the link is below).

I did not have a team, no sound managers, no editors, etc., and naturally that affected the quality of the videos.

I wish I had more time and more sources – in that case I could develop all those (and more) labs in a solid product (interested in cooperation? check this link!).

Without further ado, this is the link to the share folder – probably, you need to have google account to access the folder, but maybe not.

This is what I see when I follow the link to the folder: some instructions files and then two folders – one per each semester (you should see something similar).

You can download any file or folder.

However, I have to say upfront that my labs are intense and force students into a lot of thinking. For example, you can take a look at my first lab for the second semester, and this online lab I came across some time ago (also the first lab for the second semester; in the lab file I also placed some notes to pinpoint some issues I found in the lab). On the other hand, some of my labs have found its way to the wider audience. For example, since 2012 I was using this lab in my Summer II course. And recently I found that my manual was used - verbatim! - as an online lab for Pivot Interactives. It's nice to know that other instructors appreciate my material. But it would also be nice to be noted - as the author.
If you are looking for experiments that could be used as a demonstration, you can check theses resources.

1) Descriptions of common physics demonstrations:

Links to videos:

2) About 150 videos; most show a specific experiment named in the title

3) About 400 videos, about 150 of them are lectures, but about 90 % of those lectures also show demonstrations.

Sorry, there are no catalogs for the videos, and when browsing, you can also stumble upon something not related to physics.

Please feel free to leave comments (at the bottom of this page).

Please feel free to contact me if you need a consultation.

Part II: Some notes on course organization.

All lectures were live using live streaming tech ECHO360, and at the same time all lectures were recorded. As a backup, I always had with me a second PC system with Zoom. On several occasions mine main system failed, and I had to use a backup system, and I had to deal with IT, but that story would take much more space than one web-page.

Students could choose to watch live or a recording. In any case they were required to asnwer my lecture questions using WebAssign (so far it was the cheapest solution around $60 for two semesters). 
My students would have to pay only for the WebAssign access. They didn't have to buy a text book because for many years I’ve been using a free online textbook from OpenStax. It's not perfect, but sufficient enough (since physics has not changed much for about a hundred years any textbook would do fine). Plus, I always try to develop my lectures in such a way that students would not really need a textbook at all. I used free versions of software, and instead of using other platforms (like FlipIt or Pivot) I was developing my own materials.

All homework was also delivered via WebAssign. 

Office hours were done via Zoom, and for a day-to-day communication we used Piazza. 

I used a touchscreen monitor for writing on the top of my slides and then uploaded the slides for students. 

When I did a demonstration experiment, I would switch to Zoom and used my web camera to project experiences. In order to see what students see I used a tablet to join the meeting as a student, and also I was watching myself via ECHO360. 

The tech was very cumbersome, switching between different tech modes took extra time and effort. When one uses only a PowerPoint presentation, then all attention can be focused on the content. But trying to achieve the best view for students I had to pay attention to multiple actions, switching  between different modes and devises, and that wasn't easy – teaching a remote course requires from a teacher additional skills. And, of course, regular switching of the focus between the content and the tech has led to more mistakes in the content (more things like a missing coefficient, etc.).

This also demonstrates a simple fact - if you want to deliver good distance education you need to invest in it, you need to invest in technologies, and then you need to train people how to use those technologies (that also requires serious investments).
I also experimented with teaching from home.

Anyone, everyone on this planet gets bored really really quickly watching a PowerPoint presentation for more than ten minutes without seeing a lecturer – only slides (with a lecturer it’s twenty).

But I don't have at home a projector and a screen or a wall-sized TV set to stand in front of them while broadcasting my lecture (I’m not that rich).

Hence, I had to find a way to project my slides and myself at the same time.

Zoom allows that using a screen sharing option.

In the end, to provide students with the best learning experience, I've built this remote teaching station.
 But my laptop was not powerful enough, and I needed more fast USB ports, so I made an upgrade.

When performing a live lecture with this setup, I used a touchscreen monitor to write on a top of my slides (to post them after a lecture).

One camera faced me and the second camera faced the table which I used for some small demonstrations. When I need to do a demonstration, I didn't have to move my camera manually, I can't just switch from one camera to another and then switch back.

The second monitor I used for Zoom and other windows. And I used another computer to see what students would see.

Technically, the second monitor does not have to be a touchscreen, but using a pen saves time (instead of moving a mouse cursor between two screens).
In the summer, when I was teaching from the campus, I was also broadcasting my lectures using a Periscope (I also used those recordings as backup recordings when ECHO360 system failed – twice).

But at home, without a screen behind me Periscope broadcasting was useless.

If you record your Zoom meeting with a shared screen, then stopping sharing and pausing sharing affect your video in different ways – you can play with settings and find the one you like more. I use the settings when students can see in one video both views at the same time – the slides and me.

But I wish Zoom would develop the third mode: freeze sharing.

For meeting participants freeze sharing mode would act like pause sharing mode, but in the recorded video it would act like stop sharing mode.
It would be also cool if Zoom would add to the annotation panel some tools, like a ruler and a protractor.

Unfortunately, there is no company that would create an integrated tech solution for remote science courses.

In the end, the tech part was doable and effective enough.

I do not expect many online teachers would have students saying: 

Demonstrations are also entertaining and help for visual learners with difficult concepts.

Good use of demonstrations.

“Does a lot of visual demonstrations.”

More from student evaluations, and also links leading to the actual files (with everything negative students tell about me) is on this page.

P.P.S. my blog

Please feel free to contact me if you need a consultation.

Some examples of Zoom lecturing I came across in the past (including some of mine) 

A presentation with a laser pointer

A presentation with notes over slides
 A presentation with notes over slides and a view of the lecturer

A presentation with notes over slides, a view of the lecturer, some communication and an experiment

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