Tech Notes

Teaching from Home: Three Reflections After a Week of Teaching Online

Last week was my first full week of teaching online. Like virtually every other teacher in the world right now, I learned a lot about what works for my course and what does not. There were many realizations that I had about the logistics of my class: for example, I learned it takes much longer to do almost anything than it does in person, and also that I should delegate more responsibilities to my teaching team than I had originally planned.

But the biggest realizations have been in the realm of student engagement. Here are three high level takeaways from my first week which I’m taking into Week 2:

Reflection 1: There are many more ways for students to engage with the class online than in person.

When teaching residentially, the primary mode through which a student can interact with the class is verbal. They can raise their hand and ask a question or make a comment; they can talk to the students sitting next to them; or they can have discussions in small groups. Of course, some classes use other methods, but for the most part students speak to each other and to you.

When teaching online, in contrast, it feels like there isn’t really a “primary way” for a student to interact with the class. Here’s a brief list of modalities that students can use to engage:

  • Raising their hand physically or virtually. When the instructor calls on them, they unmute and speak.
  • Using “nonverbal feedback” to indicate understanding, mood, or preference the instructor.
  • Using Zoom’s chat function to leave a comment or question for (a) the whole class, (b) a peer, or (c) the instructor or other co-hosts.
  • Responding to a poll that the instructor activates. After voting, the poll results may be shared back to the students.
  • Working with one another in breakout rooms on a discrete task, and coming back together for a report out afterwards.
  • Typing into a collaborative document or presentation (e.g., a Google Doc or Slide) alongside their peers/the teaching team/the instructor.

Reading this list should make your heart beat a little bit faster, both out of excitement and anxiety. On one hand, teaching online makes it easy to get the kind of engagement that many residential instructors aspire to (I’ve seen some really nice uses of Google Docs in residential courses, but those examples are few and far between). Students can collaboratively generate content, make their feelings known without the pressure of raising their hand and speaking to the entire class, and seamlessly share insights or concerns with each other and with you.

On the other hand, each of these modalities has problems associated with it, and doing them all at once is a recipe for chaos. What if students flood your chat room with side conversations? What if you’re halfway through your lecture and you suddenly see that half the class is signaling “Go Faster” while the other half is signaling “Go Slower”? What if the process of calling on someone, having them unmute themselves, ask their question, then mute themselves again shaves off a few seconds of class time every time, to the point where you’re losing 5-10 minutes of class time just on microphone management?

Luckily, I’m finding that the issues of one method can be addressed by the strengths of another. In my class this week, I left the chat window open to everyone, and quickly found it to be a distraction for myself and a large number of my students. Instead, I’ve decided to generally restrict students to chatting with co-hosts (my teaching team) and relying on hand-raising/verbal communication. However, during discrete times in class – question times, or when I ask for a large number of examples of some concept – I can open the chat to everyone. Suddenly the chat becomes a rich source of information for me that would take way too long to solicit via verbal responses. In short, I find myself asking when a certain modality should be employed more often than I ask if it should be employed.

Reflection 2: Unlike residential teaching, students’ interaction with your course is mediated entirely through a single small rectangle on their laps.

While teaching online opens up a host of possibilities for students to engage, it’s also limited by a seemingly obvious problem. While students in residential classrooms can easily switch between looking at you, looking at slides/visuals, and looking at each other, when online they must do so through the porthole of their computer screen. This has a few implications:

  1. There are time and energy costs to moving between your shared screen, their notes, your video feed, their peers’ feeds, the chat, etc. The more switching they have to do, the higher the risk of fatigue and confusion.
  2. Inertia can easily kick in, resulting in students just watching your shared screen and not their notes, their peers, or you.
  3. Every tool that you use outside of the videoconference – Poll Everywhere, Google Docs, bit.ly links to reference material – is subject to the two problems above, reducing its effectiveness.

With these issues in mind, I’ve had to make some adjustments to how I teach (again, these are things that are working for me, not necessarily prescriptions for you):

  • Whenever possible, use Zoom functions instead of third-party services: I love Poll Everywhere and the rich set of polling tools it provides. However, unless I’m asking for free-response questions from students, I’m using Zoom polls instead. Similarly, despite the many advantages of a dedicated chat service like Slack, I’m sticking with Zoom’s more rudimentary chat feature. In short, unless I have an important reason to do otherwise, I’m keeping things in Zoom for the sake of student sanity.
  • Reduce the amount of content students need to process: As I’ve written before, while teaching residentially I make use of a main screen (for the handout) and side screens (for supplementary slides/animations/polls). When switching to online, I was largely able to replicate this two screen setup in Zoom (though I needed a bunch of screens to do so). However, I quickly learned from students that having to view two simultaneously broadcasted screens on their computers while also taking notes was too challenging, even if the content was shared in high resolution. The problem wasn’t blurriness – it was cognitive load.
  • Mirror handouts directly: In my class, I provide students with a guided handout (with lots of empty space and questions), and then project a “slide-ified” version that I create which emphasizes certain parts of the handout and breaks up with the content. For the same reasons as my previous point, I’m now projecting exactly the same handout that the students have to make it easier to follow the class. I can still emphasize certain content by zooming in and out of sections as needed, but projecting the handout that they also have and writing on that appears to be a big help to students.

Reflection 3: As we transition to teaching from home, students are transitioning to learning from home.

As we scramble to successfully move our classes online, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that our students are having to make significant cognitive, physical, and emotional changes themselves. For a moment, let’s put aside the obvious distress of COVID-19 and social distancing and think about the transition to online learning. Students who are taking 3 classes a day are now sitting in front of a videoconference for 4 or more hours, sometimes straight! That means not walking between classes, not chatting with peers, not going outside for a few minutes before class, and not talking with their instructors before or after class. Even without a global pandemic, this is a tough transition.

Here are a few small suggestions I’ve tried in order to be a positive force in my students’ lives during this time:

  • Commit to ending class on time, always. I put the most important one first. Transitioning to online has meant that I’m not always getting to the content that I planned to cover, and it feels like a disservice to not get to those topics when time has run out. But the fact that students don’t have to walk to their next class doesn’t mean that the transition time between classes isn’t important to them. In short, I want to make sure I respect the contract that I made with my students way back in January.
  • Build in stretch breaks. I aspire to give my students 30 seconds to stretch every 30 minutes. I find this much harder to do in practice given all the time constraints mentioned above, but this is a nice way to re-center the class when attention starts to drop.
  • Play music before class. I saved the best for last. When I started the Zoom conference on Thursday and shared my introductory slide, I also shared my computer’s sound and played some fun music while they waited. It was just wonderful to have students roll in looking tired and frazzled, perk up a bit because something was different, half smile as they realized there was music playing, then start to bob their head back and forth. By the time class actually started I even had a few students dancing in their seats! I’ve since made a collaborative playlist on Spotify and asked students to add to it for the remainder of the semester. It feels silly, but maybe silly is what we need a bit more of these days.

Conclusion

I’m interested in returning to this post in a few weeks and seeing how much I’ve changed my approach, and how wrong some of this sounds in retrospect. I hope that’s the case – most of us are new to this, which means there’s so much room to grow.

Be physically and emotionally well. Let me know if you have thoughts in the comments.

Teaching From Home (TFH): Writing on a Tablet

No matter what we teach, many of us make use of handwriting when in the classroom. We write on a whiteboard/blackboard, or write on handouts using a document camera, or write on slides being project on a screen. Writing helps guide learners toward the ideas that you consider important, and it helps organize thought processes and discussions. Plus, it lets you do something with your hands besides fidget.

When teaching online, there are lots of ways to approximate the benefits of writing without a stylus. Instead of a whiteboard, for example, you could have a Google Doc that learners can follow along with or even contribute to. But many of us need the flexibility of handwritten words and drawn diagrams. For that I suggest using a tablet (in my case, an iPad).

The two main decisions you have to make when using a tablet are:

  1. What app should I use to write?
  2. How should I project?

In this post I’m going to outline these choices and your options. I’ll try to describe the pros and cons of each option, and articulate why I do things the way I do.

Question 1: What app should I use to write?

There is no shortage of apps for the iPad that allow you to write or draw. With the advent of the Apple Pencil (a tool I highly encourage you to use in lieu of a traditional chunky stylus, provided that your iPad supports it), writing on an iPad has reached new levels of ease and comfort. So which app should you use?

When deciding which app is best for you, I prefer apps that have a “presenter mode” – that is to say, when the iPad is projecting onto an external screen, the app’s UI and other apps on the screen are hidden from the external screen (see my old post on Keynote for examples). This is especially useful for teachers, since it (a) ensures that the students only focus on your content and not the details, and (b) allows you to have additional reference material on your iPad that students don’t see.

I’m going to go through the most popular options below. Each of these has its own type of presenter mode that you should experiment with:

  1. PowerPoint (.pptx): The People’s Choice. If you use slides in your class, there’s a very good chance that they’re PowerPoint slides.
  2. Keynote (.key): For the Aesthetically Minded. Keynote has, in my opinion, an unparalleled ability to animate and show context.
  3. GoodNotes (.pdf): Flexibility and Power. If you prefer a blank whiteboard, or use Beamer, or like to zoom in and out, or simply like to write a lot, PDF annotation apps are nimble in ways that more traditional slideshow apps are not. There are many options out there, though the two most popular are GoodNotes and Notability. I used to not recommend Notability for teaching because it lacked a presenter mode, but the developers have finally added it (just a week ago at time of writing). My love for GoodNotes is no secret, so I’ll focus on that in this post, but Notability seems to be roughly the same in terms of features for our purposes.

Let’s take a look at how each performs, both in terms of handwriting and presenter mode.

Writing/Drawing

  • PowerPoint: Not great, but not bad either. A very basic set of colored pens, highlighters, and erasers, with no ability to adjust the thickness or use other colors. The pens aren’t especially “realistic” feeling either. One feature of note: when you exit a presentation that you’ve been writing on, it asks if you want to keep your annotations. If you tap “Keep”, they become embedded in the slides as shapes.
  • Keynote: Truly terrible. A couple of colors, zero ability to adjust thickness. Heck, you can’t even erase (just undo)! Writing on Keynote feels clunky and fragile; if you stop presenting your slideshow, you lose all annotations that you had made. All of that despite the fact that iOS has a built-in handwriting engine that works wonderfully. Sigh.
  • GoodNotes: Exquisite! Infinitely customizable pens and highlighters; a customizable eraser that can automatically snap back to your previous pen after you use it; shape recognition; and a lasso tool to move handwriting around. If you plan on writing a lot and want precision and flexibility, GoodNotes is the way to go.

Presenter mode

For each screenshot, I tried to show as much information as each app’s presenter mode allows:

  • PowerPoint: Solid! Shows your current slide, presenter notes, and thumbnails for your presentation. There’s also a button to black out the screen if needed, and the ability to zoom in and out of slides.
  • Keynote: Lots of customizations in terms of seeing the current and/or next slide, presenter notes, current time/elapsed time, and thumbnails.
  • GoodNotes: In addition to hiding the UI, GoodNotes allows you to either mirror the each full page (similar to a full slide in PowerPoint or Keynote), or zoom in and out of your slides (“Mirror Presenter Page”). You can get to thumbnails etc., but you have to tap the four squares in the top left corner to access a grid of thumbnails.

Question 2: How should I project?

Zoom offers three ways to project from your iPad, two using the Desktop client and one from the iPad itself. I’ll say now that I don’t recommend projecting from the iPad itself. It will turn your iPad into its own “Participant” in your Zoom room, which complicates how you interact with your students (e.g., it’ll get assigned to a Breakout Room if you use those). The stream itself is also of lower quality in my experience. So, onto the Desktop options:

Option 1: Plug your iPad in directly. The advantage of this method is that it’s easy. Plug your iPad directly into your computer, click “Share Screen” in Zoom, and click “iPhone/iPad via cable”. You may have to enter your iPad password the first time, but then you’re all set! Your iPad is being mirrored to your computer and to your students.

Option 2: Airplay to your iPad. The downside to Option 1 is that it doesn’t take advantage of presenter mode. That is to say, whatever is happening on your iPad is being mirrored entirely to your students. Option 2, however, will use the presenter modes that I mentioned earlier in this post. For example, here’s what I see versus what students see in Keynote when using Airplay:

The downside, though, is that projecting is a two step process. After clicking “Share Screen” and “iPhone/iPad via Airplay” in Zoom, you then have to go into your iPad’s control center, select “Screen Mirroring” and connect to your computer:

If you’re comfortable with these steps, I recommend Option 2, but only if presenter mode is especially useful to you.

[UPDATE July 9 2020] Option 3 (Keynote only): Project from your Mac and annotate with your iPad. Keynote has long had the ability to remote control/annotate on slides playing from one device using another device. This means that you can run a Keynote presentation from your Mac then, using your iPad as a remote control, annotate on the slides. I used to not suggest this approach because Keynote on the Mac took over all monitors while a presentation was running. However, as of Keynote version 10.1, you can now choose “Play Slideshow in Window” to have Keynote run as a standalone window on your Mac. If you use Keynote as your primary way of presenting, this is now the setup that I recommend.

What I Use

So what am I using when teaching on Zoom? I use Airplay Mirroring (Option 2) with both GoodNotes and Zoom.

In class, I show two screens to students, one showing a handout in GoodNotes (that they also have) and one showing supplementary screens in Keynote for animations. While online teaching, I’m learning that projecting two screens onto students small laptops is not a great learning experience, so instead I’ll be switching between them manually. iPad makes it easy to quickly switch between apps, and it looks pretty seamless from the student’s perspective as long as I’m using Airplay Mirroring:

There’s of course a lot to consider here, but in the end I suggest you pick the app that you’re most comfortable with and work from there. It’s possible to make any of these combinations work – what matters is that you feel comfortable with the setup you choose so that you can focus on teaching.

Teaching from Home (TFH): Hardware

First, to whoever is reading this: I hope this finds you safe, healthy, and (relatively) happy.

While this is very far from the first thing on folks’ minds, I’ve received a lot of feedback on my online teaching setup and online teaching strategy, and thought I should share my ongoing process of adapting to an online environment.

I’m lucky to have some experience teaching online as one of the faculty leads for the Kennedy School’s Public Leadership Credential. In addition, I’m a big advocate of blended learning both in my residential courses and in my work training policymakers abroad. Much of this work is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous content. For now, I’ll be focusing these posts on delivering content synchronously using Zoom.

This first post will be about my tech setup when teaching online, and tips to ensure that it goes smoothly. Subsequent posts will be about pedagogical choices, but I thought it better to break them up rather than publishing an online novel.

My online teaching setup at home

Here’s an image of my current setup:

And here are the details (with lots of links), and why I think they’re important:

  • Ethernet: None of your teaching matters if students can’t see or hear it. Having a stable internet connection is absolutely critical. WiFi can work, but make absolutely sure you have a good connection where you’re sitting. I prefer physically wiring my computer via Ethernet.
  • Two monitors: I connect my laptop to my LG UltraFine display and keep both of them on. For my purposes this is vastly better than a a single screen, simply because there’s a lot going on during a Zoom session: I’m sharing a presentation, I’m looking at my students’ video feeds, I’m monitoring the Participants list for raised hands, and I’m checking in on the chat (I know, this is a lot. More on this in a subsequent post). Luckily, Zoom has a dual monitor mode that lets you make use of both screens to display all of this. I like to keep my shared screen on the smaller laptop screen, and students’ faces/raised hands/chat front and center on the large screen.
  • An iPad: If you’ve read this site before, you know that I really enjoy teaching and recording from my iPad. This is especially true when teaching online. In addition to the annotation capabilities of the iPad, projecting from my iPad instead of sharing a presentation from my computer allows me to keep the shared screen in Zoom confined to a single window; otherwise apps like Keynote or PowerPoint will take over both screens to show you a presenter view. To project I use Zoom’s iOS Screen Sharing function. You can either connect the iPad physically to your computer (easier, more stable) or Airplay to it (more finicky, but lets you keep a “Presenter View” on your iPad while projecting the presentation to students). I tend to use Airplay since I like using Keynote’s presenter capabilities without students seeing them.1
  • Headphones: I cannot stress this enough: use headphones. If you use your computer speakers, there’s the risk of a feedback loop where your voice comes out of the speakers and back into the microphone ad infinitum. Zoom and other applications try to prevent this via software, but you’re better off removing this possibility.
  • Microphone: Your laptop microphone is probably fine (though you should check to make sure that it is). That said, if you happen to have an external microphone it can really help your audio quality which students will appreciate. I use a Blue Yeti which I have mixed feelings about, but which gets the job done.
  • Webcam: Your computer’s built-in one is fine, but I’m putting this here to stress that you should look into the camera as much as possible when teaching (this can be easy to forget when you have a laptop, since the webcam is below eye level. You’ll naturally want to look at your content or somewhere else, but the last thing your students want is to stare at your chin for 75 minutes.
  • Lighting: The general advice is to not have bright lights behind you, and to instead keep a consistent light source in front of you (behind your monitor). Experiment with different positions and see how they look.

Of course, don’t forget your water and espresso:

Phew! That’s enough for today. Please let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions. My  next post will be about my thinking with respect to running online sessions.

Stay safe!


  1. Note that you could also use an iPhone or other device as a secondary remote control for your presentation, but I digress. ↩︎

Producing, Recording, Editing, and Sharing Animated Videos on iPad


A significant part of my pedagogical approach involves the creation of short, animated videos that convey statistical concepts. Students watch these videos and answer a few quiz questions, which I can then use to make better use of the time we have in class together.

Initially, I would record these videos using Keynote on my Mac, edit them on my Mac, and post them online on my Mac. Over the past year or two, I’ve shifted the entire process onto my iPad – recording with an external mic, editing it in its entirety, and uploading it using Safari. I’m documenting that process in this post for my future self and for anyone else that is interested in doing this too.

Recording

Video

Recording a Keynote presentation has become possible since iOS 11 introduced screen recording to Control Center. Now, I can tap record, go through a Keynote presentation, write on slides as I go1, and end up with a high quality recording of my presentation.

One thing to keep in mind is that I always use presentations with a 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio. This way the annotation tools don’t show up on the presentation as I go, and when I export the final video in widescreen all the UI is hidden from the viewer (more on that later).

Audio

iOS’ screen recording feature also allow you to keep the microphone on while recording, so that you can narrate over your slides. However, if you’re in a noisy environment or have a very hot mic (I’m looking at you, Blue Yeti), you might want to add a noise gate and some gain control. Luckily, if you use an app that can send your mic input through your headphones while in the background, iOS screen recording will pick up the processed audio!

I use GarageBand for this. It’s free, it’s reliable, and it integrates with third party apps.

Here’s what my GarageBand file looks like. It’s a single, flat audio track taking in my mic input and feeding it through the monitor (which is set to on). You’ll notice that I keep the gain level pretty low on the left.


Now for the fun part. If you tap the track control buttons on the top left and tap “Plug-ins & EQ”, you can add a noise gate, change the EQ, or utilize any number of third party effects.


One app I highly recommend is Brusfri. Once you record a few seconds of silence, you can let Brusfri listen to your recording and filter out background noise for when you record your video.


Editing

Video

Once your recording is complete, it’s time to edit.

Editing video on the iPad has become pretty easy since the introduction of LumaFusion. To begin with, LumaFusion allows you to create a video in the 16:9 aspect ratio, which immediately gets rid of all UI elements from my video (if you want to use a simpler solution like iMovie, I suggest Video Crop as an inexpensive app that will impose the aspect ratio that you need). Once your video is in LumaFusion, the world’s your oyster. You can create crossfades, add titles, or do whatever chopping and screwing your heart desires.

Audio

Two things worth noting about audio editing. First, iOS apps sometimes take a screen recording video and play it back with no audio at all. After a helpful exchange with the developers of Ferrite, I learned that this is because the video file actually has two tracks: whatever sounds the iPad itself produced via software, and the microphone input. Some apps simply ignore the mic input. I’ve found that using the “Detach” button in LumaFusion fixes this2:


Second, if you didn’t do any noise reduction/voice boosting before recording, you can share your video to Brusfri or Ferrite to clean up the audio, and then drop the audio file into LumaFusion alongside the video.

Uploading

Once this is all done, you’re ready to upload. While LumaFusion integrates with many video services and services, I need an actual file to upload to Kaltura, the video hosting platform that my institution uses, so I choose iCloud Drive and save the video in the Files app. Once I go to my media uploader in Safari, I simply select that file using the Browse option (any website with a standard file uploading interface should let you choose your video file via Browse):


A fully functioning system

At this point, 100% of my needs with respect to this workflow are satisfied by my iPad. This means that I have a fully mobile recording studio, and it’s quite easy to make a high quality video in a relatively short amount of time. Hope others will find this useful and, as always, please let me know if you have questions or thoughts.


  1. Though I really wish Apple would beef up these annotation capabilities ↩︎
  2. I’ve also noticed that any app that compresses the video will mix all the audio to one track, which also fixes the problem. ↩︎

iWork gets LaTeX equation editing

In April of last year, Apple released an update for Pages that supported rendering equations entered using LaTeX or MathML. I was really impressed that Apple chose to support not one but two standards for entering equations1, but was pretty bummed to learn that equation rendering was specific to Pages.

Today that changed. All three iWork apps now support equation rendering (even Numbers!). This is a big, big deal for me; it’ll be a huge timesaver2 and enable for much richer math-based animations in my presentations.

If you combine this with handwriting apps like MyScript Nebo, you can hand draw equations, copy them as LaTeX code, and paste them right into your iWork document.

On a different note, iWork on iOS is really growing up. Keynote now supports the editing and creation of paragraph styles and master slide layouts. I still work with Keynote most efficiently on MacOS, especially when editing animations in bulk, but the iOS apps are becoming more and more self-sufficient with each update.

  1. Especially in comparison to Microsoft’s equation syntax, which is just close enough to LaTeX to be infuriating to use.
  2. I used to create equations in a Pages document, then pasted them into Keynote as images. It worked, but it was kludgy as heck.

15 Minutes on Two-Stage Exams

I delivered a short presentation on two-stage exams1 at the Harvard Initiative for Teaching and Learning Annual Conference back in September. I’ve talked about these in the past, but this time (a) there’s more of a focus on quantifying collaboration, and (b) there are some neat visuals that I couldn’t show on a podcast. Video below.

  1. I’m increasingly calling these collaborative exams. We’ll see if that sticks.

My Tech Setup in the Classroom

I’ve talked at length about the technological details of my teaching setup, and I frequently get questions about exactly how it works. This post is an attempt to document my current setup1.

Before reading on, it’s important to note a few things:

  • This is a two screen setup; I’m lucky enough to teach in a room that has a main projector screen and two (identical) side screens, so much of this setup involves controlling two screens as seamlessly as possible;
  • My teaching style involves writing on an iPad that is displaying a PDF that closely mirrors the handout that I give to students. I use handouts that have lots of empty space that gets filled in by students as the class progresses, so my iPad writing is essentially following along with them;
  • The side screens display supplementary content on Keynote slides that reinforces, organizes, enhances, or extends the handout content that we’re working on together. These include section headers, animations, and Poll Everywhere polls.

Alright, enough caveats. Here’s my entire setup in a single diagram:

In short, I wirelessly project my iPad to the main screen via an Apple TV, and control my MacBook (which is projecting the side slides) from my iPad using Keynote for iOS’ remote functionality.

The Tech

Here’s what I use to make this happen:

Hardware

In addition to needing two screens in the classroom with two distinct inputs, I use:

  • An Apple TV2 which is plugged into the main screen;
  • An iPad Pro3 which is AirPlay Mirroring to the Apple TV;
  • A MacBook4 which is plugged into the side screens.

Software

The reason this system works so seamlessly is the software. Here’s what I use:

  • GoodNotes to annotate the handout being projected from the iPad;
  • Keynote running on both my MacBook (to project the side slides) and iPad (to control the MacBook remotely);
  • PollEv Presenter running on my MacBook and Poll Everywhere’s presenter view loaded on Safari on my iPad.

I also keep OmniOutliner running on my iPad with notes that I reference throughout the lecture such as answers to practice problems and information on who to call on.

I could theoretically use other software to get all of this done, but here’s why this particular constellation of apps and services works so well or me:

  • GoodNotes goes into presentation mode when it’s Airplay Mirroring, which hides both UI elements of the app and any other apps that are in Split View or Slide Over on the iPad. This means that all the other apps that I’m using on my iPad are hidden from the students;
  • Keynote’s remote functionality involves magic from a dark dimension that is a big help while teaching. It essentially gives you a presenter view interface on the iPad that can switch to an annotation mode if needed, making it indistinguishable from the experience of running the presentation from the iPad itself. Better still, it connects via peer-to-peer networking, so it doesn’t matter what kind of network you’re connected to. I’ve used this on a university network in the United States, on a captive network in India, and on a shaky network in Nepal, all without problems.
  • Running the Keynote slides from my MacBook allows me to embed polls in Keynote without having to switch apps.
  • Poll Everywhere’s presenter view allows me to view results of polls before I reveal them to the classroom. This means I can choose my next step (which may or may not involve showing the class their responses) based on the distribution of responses. I can also hide/lock/unshare the poll from the presenter view on my iPad, which propagates to the poll displayed on the MacBook.

Adding/Reducing Devices

This setup can get more or less complex depending on your needs and resources.

If I’m stuck using a one screen setup, I usually choose between GoodNotes (if I have a lot of writing to do) or Keynote (if my class plan has lots of animations in it). I could (and do) switch between the two apps occasionally (e.g., if I have mostly handwriting to do but have one animation to show later in the class), but it’s not a particularly smooth transition. For polling, I recommend Perfect Browser pointing to your Poll Everywhere polls, since it has a UI-hiding presentation mode as well.

I’m currently experimenting with  adding another device to this setup in the form of an always-on iPad that only I can see. On this iPad I run my OmniOutliner notes and the Poll Everywhere presenter view in Split View, so that I don’t have to use Slide Over on my main iPad (which can accidentally advance my Keynote slides if I’m not careful). That said, I think I can do more with this additional device; if you have any suggestions, please get in touch.

Stay Focused

This setup has worked very well for me, but only because I genuinely believe that it improves the learning experience for students. Having supplementary animations and interactive polls has well established benefits, but these materials are often accompanied by increased friction as the instructor switches inputs, activates the poll, and troubleshoots errors in the middle of class. The setup in this article minimizes that friction and, once you get the hang of it, maximizes the time in the classroom spent on learning.

That said, my parting advice is to weigh the costs and benefits of complicating your teaching setup before trying out something like this. Hopefully the benefits are clear, but the cost in the form of an increased cognitive load as you teach is nontrivial. Keep your eye on the real goal of improving learning and, if this post helps you get closer to that goal, have fun!

  1. I do mean current; it’s constantly in flux and will likely be a bit different soon after this is published.
  2. Generation 3 Rev A or later, so that Airplay Mirroring happens peer-to-peer, which is a godsend for those of us on university wifi networks.
  3. could be a non-Pro, but the Apple Pencil is swell.
  4. I could project the side slides using an iOS device and the system would still work, but using a Mac allows me to run PollEv Presenter so that polls on the side slides are embedded in Keynote and automatically activate when I switch to that slide.

Collaborative Exams on the Teach Better Podcast

My journey through the world of podcasts continues, this time on the Teach Better Podcast (an excellent podcast that you should check out if you have any interest in pedagogy and higher ed). This one has (almost) no technology in it. Instead we discuss a collaborative exam structure called Two Stage Exams, and the pedagogical benefits of adopting it in my courses. Later on we get into more general questions of collaboration and student participation in large classes, a conversation that I’m still thinking about.

Enjoy!

Summer Podcasts

This summer I was lucky enough to guest on two podcasts.

MPU

The first was a return visit to Mac Power Users. We got into the nitty gritty of the teaching workflows that I’ve developed in the past year, including:

  • How I set up reminders that alert me during class when it’s time to move on to the next section;
  • How I automate the creation of teaching reflections after every class;
  • How I combine PDF files to post to my class via Workflow.

We also got into some music nerdery towards the end. All in all it was great fun, and hopefully interesting to listeners. the

Teaching in Higher Ed

My second guest appearance was on the Teaching Higher Ed podcast, hosted by Bonni Stachowiak. This one was much more pedagogy-oriented, and focused on presentation techniques that I have found to be useful as a teacher.

Hope you enjoy them, and please get in touch if you have feedback.

Interview: Live Annotation of Student Work with GoodNotes

I was recently interviewed on ABLConnect, a Harvard-based “online database of active learning efforts in post-secondary classrooms.” I talk about my use of GoodNotes to take pictures of student work in class, embed them into a GoodNotes document, and annotate them without skipping a beat. It’s a great tool to get students to engage with the material in a collaborative way.

Enjoy, and please get in touch if you have any feedback.