On this page, I would like to share my first-time experience in online teaching and lessons learned in the spring quarter of 2020 at the University of Chicago. Given the sudden closure of the university due to Covid-19, I had only two weeks to prepare for online teaching. I read several resources online and tested a few different methods. I imagine that many teachers across the world have encountered a similar situation. I acknowledge that what works best for online teaching depends on the subject, style, and level of the course. Yet, I hope that some of my experiences can be helpful for teachers who need to prepare for remote teaching.
To provide context, the course I taught was Applied Econometrics for Master’s and PhD students at University of Chicago (syllabus). I had about 45 students. It was a lecture style course with quantitative materials. There were 18 lectures (2 lectures per week). In a regular quarter, each in-person lecture was 80 minutes, along with an office hour. As you can see below, I changed this structure to the combination of synchronous and asynchronous teaching to accommodate students who may not have been able to attend synchronous sessions for reasons related to Covid-19 such as time-zone issues, childcare, and health problems, among many other reasons.
In the syllabus and the first lecture, I explained the following weekly schedule to students. For every lecture, I uploaded a lecture video and slides in advance. To incentivize (yes, I am an economist!) students to watch each video before they came to synchronous sessions, I included a “quiz” question in each video. Students were required to submit their answers along with their questions on the lecture video via a Google form. The Google form automatically created a Google spreadsheet. I created another Google spreadsheet to show their questions only, without their names. I answered these questions as much as possible, and made the sheet available before synchronous Q&A sessions (example).
In this way, both the students and I have been able to do some Q&A asynchronously before we met in the synchronous Q&A session. In the Q&A session, I met students using Zoom. We typically spent between 30 minutes and 60 minutes to do Q&A. Here is an example schedule for two lectures per week.
An example schedule for a Tuesday lecture
- Saturday 4:00 pm: Professor Ito uploads lecture videos (50-60 min) and slides
- Monday 4:00 pm: Students submit quiz answers & questions via Google form
- Monday 5:00 pm: Professor Ito answers questions on a Google spreadsheet
- Tuesday 9:30 am - 10:00 am: Q&A session (synchronous teaching)
An example schedule for a Thursday lecture
- Monday 4:00 pm: Professor Ito uploads lecture videos (50-60 min) and slides
- Wednesday 4:00 pm: Students submit quiz answers & questions via Google form
- Wednesday 5:00 pm: Professor Ito answers questions on a Google spreadsheet
- Thursday 9:30 am - 10:00 am: Q&A session (synchronous teaching)
Based on the feedback from students, many students liked this structure. What they liked was to be able to watch lecture videos on their own, think about questions in advance, and ask the questions on the spreadsheet asynchronously and in the Q&A session synchronously.
This structure worked for me as well in the Covid-19 situation. I had to teach from home with my little kids jumping and screaming during the day. I was able to record my lecture videos at night without interruption. Because the synchronous sessions focused on Q&A, I did not feel so stressed about some potential risks that may have interrupted the synchronous sessions (unstable internet connections, interruption by kids, etc.).
It is important to think about what can be done asynchronously to keep good communication with students. The Google sheet worked well. In addition, I was fortunate to have great teaching assistants who were available to answer additional questions from students in Piazza on Canvas.
In my opinion, I would not go for 100% asynchronous teaching. Students appreciate interactive environments. As an instructor, I would like to see if students understand material or struggle with it. Synchronous teaching is superior to asynchronous teaching for this purpose.
In this new structure, I had to spend slightly more time for preparing teaching relative to regular in-person teaching. Part of it was because it was my first time to teach online. Another reason was that it required more time and effort to keep good asynchronous communication with students.
- Here is the Google form I used for my course
- Tip: To save my time, I used one form for all lectures. To prevent mixing up the lecture quiz questions, I required students to reference the lecture number when answering the question.
- The Google form automatically creates a spreadsheet, but this one includes student’s names etc.
- I made another Google spreadsheet that includes their questions only (this is an example)
- I answered these questions before class time. Here is a screenshot of the spreadsheet.
Q&A session (synchronous teaching)
- A computer with a large screen (or a second monitor) is useful to view all students’ faces in Zoom.
- I used my iPad & Apple Pencil to draw equations and figures to answer questions
- I recorded each Q&A session and made it available to students who cannot attend the session
- A USB external microphone (like this) makes a difference in sound and is highly recommended. I did not like using headsets and could not find headsets that can provide good quality microphone.
- A tablet with a stylus pen makes a difference. In Zoom, I screen shared my iPad. Students could see my slides and handwriting. This made the teaching environment comparable to classroom teaching.
- Here is an example lecture video, where I use an iPad with a side-by-side screen mode (lecture slides on the left hand side and handwritten notes on the right hand side):