Life at a distance: week 4

POSTED: April 11, 2020

Working and teaching online seem to have fallen into an acceptable routine. I use Zoom and Teams as my teaching tools of choice, although the course that I intended to run online (Interactive Storytelling) uses the learning path mechanism in Its Learning.

I have used Zoom for all my tutorials and live classes, and Teams for file storage, notes and asychronous comenications.


I have followed the brouhaha about Zoom with some interest. My opinions about the questions raised vary according to the credentials of the questioners and their reasons for raising them. Many of them seem trivial, or underinformed, and some of them seem to act as though none of the other players in the video conferencing and social media areas had any of the same issues.

For me Doc Serls raised the only really concerning arguments in a series of posts on his blog at Harvard. You can find the latest post here. This links to the previous posts and, for the moment at least, concludes them.

He reports that Zoom has issued a new privacy policy and that

the changes clarify the difference between Zoom’s services (what you use to conference with other people) and its websites, and (which are just one site: the latter redirects to the former). As I read the policy, nothing in the services is used for marketing. Put another way, your Zoom sessions are firewalled from adtech, and you shouldn’t worry about personal information leaking to adtech (tracking based advertising) systems.

I take this to mean that the main points of the uprising of controversies around the platform have now received satisfactory answers.

Online teaching

I have got the online workshops to work to an extent that I and the students find broadly satisfactory. (See section below)

Having said that I have done this by dramatically increasing the amount of preparation that I do for each session. I have prepared the equivalent of shooting scripts for each workshop, which detail what I will do, the order that I will do it, a key phrases that I will use to impart the information and underline the red thread running through it.

I have started doing this because I get much less feedback from the students using Zoom that I would expect to get when in the same room as them. Some take the distance learning as an excuse to not engage, some get camera shy and some worry in a way that they wouldn’t in class about talking over other people.

Using the script, which I have on an iPad next to my computer monitor, enables me to engage with those students I can see, and respond to questions in the chat window, without losing my way in the workshop.

One problem that has emerged concerns students who refuse, for their own reasons, to switch on their video. I find that this lowers the amount of engagement that I feel, while encouraging other students to switch off their video too. When too many do this one of two things happens. Either I feel as though I have woken up suddenly to find myself delivering a radio lecture of no importance, or I find myself concentrating on those students who I can see, and whose reactions I can therefore judge.

I have yet to find a solution to this.

Gauging student reaction

I have taken Mentimeter polls at the end of each session of the Structuring Information course to check the extent to which students experience it as equivalent to, or a satisfactory substitue for, sessions in A303.

The results to date suggest that they do find it a reasonably satisfactory substitute. The answers to the three questions concerning how the lectures worked all scored 3.6 or 3.7 which equates to a positive score of 72 to 74%. I also asked “how did this session work as a ‘place’?”. The three questions related to this scored an average of 72%.

I regard these figures as broadly encouraging. Obviously I can work to improve them, but they form a reasonable baseline on which to build more experience, both as learners and teachers.