This week, I finished teaching my first remote class for General Assembly’s Frontend Web Development Immersive. Usually the class is on campus in the Melbourne CBD, but with COVID19 getting serious, it was decided to run the 10 week course fully remote.
I searched for plenty of advice before teaching remotely, and did wonder if it would be as good an experience but I have to say it’s been awesome - just as fun as in the classroom!
I’ve got some tips to share from what I’ve learnt. Some are software specific, though I’m sure other tools have similar functionality.
My 3 main tools for teaching:
One of the most popular video conferencing tools. We use the same meeting room every lesson, where I screenshare so students can follow along with my slides and class activities.
Our chat room of choice. We have a class channel created, where links and resources are shared. I also use it to communicate with students directly outside of class time if they need help or have any questions.
Visual Studio Code
Where the magic happens! Before class, I make sure everyone has VSCode open with class exercise folders set up and ready to go.
With that in mind, here are my top tips:
Log in to Zoom early
It may be an obvious one, but make sure you sign in to Zoom before class and get comfortable with controls in a meeting room.
Make sure you can seamlessly share screens, mute/unmute yourself and that students have the correct meeting link (and password if required) to join with no issues.
Allow students to join at least 10 minutes before so you can fix any setup problems and kick off on time.
💡 Save the Zoom meeting link in your class’s Slack channel topic so it’s easy to find.
Make sure screens are set up
For your student
If a student has one monitor, I recommend a 50/50 split of a text editor and of the Zoom meeting window. This way, they can code along with any exercises whilst watching your screenshare / other students on the call. The browser can then be minimized / maximized when needed.
If they have two monitors, VSCode and a browser can take up one whole screen, with Slack and Zoom open on the other.
Pretty much the same as the student, I’ll screen share the monitor with VSCode and browser. I have dual monitors, so have Slack open on the other screen.
Swap to “Gallery” view
Once you’re all on the Zoom call, suggest everyone switches to Gallery view. This is located in the top left of the Zoom window.
Gallery view allows everyone to see each other in a grid view, regardless of who is talking. This gives more of a classroom-y feel, and a change of scenery from just watching the primary speaker talk.
Cameras on, microphones off
With a remote class, ask every student to put their camera on. It helps recreate that in-class experience, and definitely feels more personal than looking at a coloured square with someone’s intials on.
Also make sure students are on mute while you’re talking / showing slides etc. This can help avoid any background noises and distractions. No one wants to listen to crisps being eaten as you describe how functions work.
Use Zoom Reactions
I use Zoom reactions to gauge how students are tracking. When at the end of a set of slides I ask my students to give me a thumbs up reaction in Zoom if they’re good to carry on, else unmute for any questions.
When we code along together, I also ask for a thumbs up at intervals to see that they’ve reached the same check point. This lets me see clearly who is still going and needs more time.
💡 If you don’t use Zoom, your students can give you a real thumbs up instead!
Record each class
The beauty of remote classes is that you have the opportunity to record them easily. I share the recording after each class, so if students need to revert back to what we covered or have to miss a class, then it’s only a click away.
You can do this by clicking on the Record button in Zoom, or do a screen recording with something like Quicktime Player.
Use breakout rooms for group tasks
If you’d usually split a classroom for group work, you can imitate this with Zoom’s Breakout Rooms.
- Choose how many rooms you want to create
- Assign students manually to each room, or let Zoom do it for you automatically
- Join a room at a time
- Close the rooms when finished and bring everyone back to the main meeting room
Throw in quizzes to break up slides
It can be easy to lose the class’ focus if you have too many slides and no interaction. They call it death by powerpoint.
Break up content with a Quiz slide, with 1 or 2 questions to keep the class engauged and test their knowledge as you go.
💡 Encourage students to come off mute during this time to discuss.
If a student gets stuck during a class exercise, ask them to share their screen with the class. Often it’s a common problem that others may come across, and you can help debug it together.
This is a great learning experience for the student who is stuck, and the rest of the class as you don’t necessarily get to debug together in a real classroom environment.
There’s a green Share Screen button at the bottom of the Zoom window to allow screen sharing:
Ask lots of questions!
Usually you’d expect the students to ask a lot of questions, but it’s easier for them to be less talkative in a remote class.
Make sure you’re the one asking questions to encourage joining in. It helps students to think about what has just been covered and to work through exercises as a team.
If I’m doing a step by step exercise, I’ll ask one student at a time to help while the others follow along. This makes sure everyone is involved and that questions aren’t answered by the same person each time.
💡 Ask questions like “how would you do this?" or “what tag would I need for this?"
When VSCode is open, make sure you zoom in! The code can be very hard to read and follow along to, especially if your screen share is taking up only half of their screen.
Ask them to give you a thumbs up if the code size is good for them before starting a task.
That’s it from me, hope these tips help & let me know if you have any more that work well for you!