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We taught a class using Zoom yesterday. Here’s what we learned.

Like many schools, Columbia is moving to online teaching for awhile to minimize the potential for virus transmission, so Merlin, Pablo, and I used Zoom for our class on applied regression and causal inference. Yesterday’s topic was chapter 11, Assumptions, diagnostics, and model evaluation.

Some things about the class went well, some things could be improved.

I’m sharing our story in the hope that some of you can learn from our experiences when holding videoconferences or remote classroom teaching.

– To get in the right frame of mind, I dressed for work and went to my office as usual and set up the videolink from there.

– Getting Zoom working wasn’t too difficult. But the first Zoom link didn’t work, so we had to try again and then email all the students to let them know about it.

– Turnout was excellent. The students had the time already available, of course, and they’re all online. Just about all of them joined in.

– Getting started was difficult. In retrospect, I wish I’d prepared a start-of-class activity to avoid the initial awkwardness of the online interaction, in the same way that I prepare first-day-of-class activities to avoid the waste of time that often occurs in the first meeting of the semester.

– After a few minutes, things went more smoothly. But I spent just about all the time talking. I think I must have been shouting at my computer, because when the hour and a half was over, I had a bit of a sore throat.

– What did we actually do? This wasn’t too hard, because much of the course already exists online. Students submit their homeworks online, so they didn’t need to come to class to hand anything in. Also, before each class all students are required to contribute to a Google doc which has space for questions about the homeworks and the readings. Students can type in their questions on this document or respond to other students’ questions. There are about 20 or 25 students in the class, which is enough that we have lots to talk about but we’re not overwhelmed. I guess in a larger class you’d want to do this sort of thing separately for each section.

– Anyway, the remote class went pretty smoothly because I just answered the questions one by one. We set up a separate shared Google doc which served as a scratchpad for the discussion. There I typed formulas, prototype R code, etc., and students put in their questions from the discussion.

– The main difficulty was that it was mostly me talking. Me talking is better than nothing, but I don’t think it’s the best way for the kids in the class to learn. They learn by doing. In a live class I can walk around the room and look and listen to what they’re doing as they work in groups. Online is tougher.

What will we do next?

– For next class I plan to prepare some activities ahead of time—I do this anyway for the course—but this time I will type the activities into a shared sheet, rather than saying them.

– How can students work in pairs? They’ve all networked, so we paired them up and asked each pair to set up their own shared google doc, which they can use as a scratchpad when working together. Then we can screenshare some of their solutions.

– I’ll also ask Merlin and Pablo to extract some relevant pieces from their homework solutions and then we can screenshare these and discuss them in class. I feel like we’ve been spending too much time lately discussing the readings and not enough time on the homework. And on drills.

I’ve probably missed a few things. So far I’ve been happy with the remote teaching experience. The challenge will be keeping the students engaged. I have a horrible feeling that half of them are texting or reading the news on the web while half-listening to the class. I appreciate students’ patience with our technology struggles, but going forward I want them to be even more engaged. I don’t want to be wasting their time and attention. Any suggestions?


  1. Kevin Cummins says:

    Ya. zoom audio for the whole group. student pairs use their phone lines for group communication.

  2. Anon says:

    Excellent idea to use online teaching. However, I hope it is also possible for faculty to deliver the lecture from their homes. Making them go to the university (as some schools prefer) does imply that faculty are taking a risk, while students are not. Not fair.

    • Andrew says:


      The office is not crowded, and I don’t think I’m taking any big risk by coming there. As I understand it, the point of canceling in-person classes is not so much to reduce individual risk but rather to reduce opportunities for mass spreading of the virus.

      • Sure, but this also reduces individual risk right? I mean. If you contact fomites (objects with virus on it) that have contacted 1000 people in a day, your chance of contracting the virus is much higher than if you are in your home. Such fomites include things like cafeteria tables where you eat, or the door handle to your building.

        Biggest risk is people over age 65. Kids are at low risk, so it seems to people like closing schools is not necessary. Then every kid who goes home from school and is taken care of after school by their grandmother spreads the virus to grandma who has a high risk of dying 15 days later.

  3. Merlin says:

    Re attention, we could make video sharing mandatory if the network can bear it. But almost all of them should be on the CU network anyway so that should hopefully not be a problem. But there was certainly something odd about the three students who stayed on the call after class had ended.

  4. D Kane says:

    I am very interested in this topic. Coincidentally, we are doing chapters 11 and 12 this week as well!

    Can you share the exact sort of questions you get in your Google doc? Can you share the exact instructions you provide them? I think I understand everything you say above, but more details help.

    Also, for reference, can you share all the other docs you have distributed to the class so far this semester, like the syllabus, the problem sets, the solutions and so on?

    In case anyone is interested, here is my syllabus for this semester, using draft version of ROAS:

    • paul alper says:

      I clicked on the link “my syllabus” and found this

      Please address me as “Preceptor,” not “David,” nor “Preceptor Kane,” nor “Professor Kane,” nor “Mr. Kane,” nor, worst of all, “Dr. Kane.”


      1. A teacher; an instructor.
      2. An expert or specialist, such as a physician, who gives practical experience and training to a student, especially of medicine or nursing.
      3. The head of a preceptory.

      Why the preference for “preceptor” and why is Dr. Kane, “worst of all”?

      • D Kane says:

        > Why the preference for “preceptor” and why is Dr. Kane, “worst of all”?

        Preceptor is my official title. There is (just in the US?) a common feeling that Ph.D.’s who refer to themselves as “Dr.” are vaguely absurd. Only medical doctors are Dr. (This may be just in my social circle.)

        • Phil says:

          Andrew and I were in the same English class in high school. The teacher was Dr. Traubitz, and insisted on being referred to that way. She was a good teacher and we had a lot of respect for her, but we did think it was…not absurd, but just a little over the top, to insist on being called ‘doctor.’ One day several of us decided before class that we would call her ‘Mrs. Traubitz’ that day and see what happened…but everyone else chickened out and I was the only one who did it! And what happened was: nothing. She didn’t even mention it to me after class or anything. But I reverted to ‘Dr. Traubitz’ the next day.

          It would be _very_ odd to be called ‘Doctor’ alone, but ‘Doctor Kane’ would be pretty normal. And ‘Professor’ would be normal. I don’t really know why, but calling a teacher ‘Professor’ is pretty normal, but calling them ‘Doctor’ is odd. And either is way more more normal than ‘Preceptor’ alone. This is all about conventional usage, there’s not a logical system.

          If I were putting these in order by oddness, from least odd to most odd, it would be something like:

          Mr. Kane
          Professor Kane
          Dr. Kane
          ============ Anything above this line seems ‘normal’ to me (assuming you do have a doctorate; if not then scratch Dr. Kane, obviously)
          Preceptor Kane

          I understand the point that your university has a title of ‘Professor’ and you aren’t one, whereas you are a Preceptor, but it is commonplace in academic circles to call a teacher with a PhD a ‘Professor.’ One could say it is both an official title and a descriptive word, and the boundary between these is allowed to be blurred. (I think it’s in the book ‘Post Captain’, by Patrick O’Brian, that a testy old woman is shocked to find that “Captain Aubrey” is merely a Commander, but another captain assures her that it is normal usage to call a Commander a Captain, even though they aren’t really).

          At any rate you are welcome to ask the students to call you whatever you wish, but I daresay they think you are a bit eccentric for insisting on ‘Preceptor.’ It’s a very rare word and comes across as extremely formal. Which is fine! And I know nobody asked me anyway. Apologies if this little missive is unwelcome.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            At any rate you are welcome to ask the students to call you whatever you wish, but I daresay they think you are a bit eccentric for insisting on ‘Preceptor.’ It’s a very rare word and comes across as extremely formal. Which is fine! And I know nobody asked me anyway. Apologies if this little missive is unwelcome.

            Preceptor sounds awesome, but I am probably eccentric. Actually I just had to renew my passport and there was an option to put “Dr” in there in front of my name. Do people actually do that?

            I thought about it but didn’t want to draw attention to myself or have people think I was a medical doctor, so left it blank.

            • Phil says:

              When I signed up for the Air France mileage award program eight years ago, I chose ‘Viscount’ as my title. I mean, why not?

              • Andrew says:


                You can hang out with this guy, a rich, powerful hereditary lord who wrote a book decrying the political power of insiders operating for their own benefit.

              • Jeff says:

                Especially since it makes an award trip a “viscount discount.” Why not, indeed?

              • Brent Hutto says:


                Would that be pronounced “Vie-count Die-count? Or Viss-count Diss-count?

              • Kathleen Crozier says:

                And I have been Duchess Crozier there for several years. Anything to make flying less wretched. “Duchess, may I take your meal order?”

                In class, though, it’s either my first name, or Professor.

            • Jeff says:

              Exactly! I prefer the former but it’s entertainingly difficult in either case.

              • Brent Hutto says:

                There was a kid in my freshman German class who was very country and very southern. He spent the whole semester pronouncing “damit” as though it were a mild imprecation rather than an adverb. We never did figure out whether he was just having us on.

          • paul alper says:

            In the “what it is worth department,” I found these confusing definitions/designations of preceptor at


            “At some universities, including Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford, “preceptors” are not students at all but faculty members teaching courses in writing, music, mathematics, languages, and the life sciences. In some departments they are not tenured faculty but rather non-ladder faculty (generally PhDs) who help administer and run the course, especially with the larger ones. Harvard preceptors, who teach introductory writing, have included New Yorker staff writer George Packer, novelist Tom Perrotta, former Globe music critic Richard Dyer and poet Dan Chiasson.[citation needed] At Columbia University, on the other hand, “preceptors” are senior graduate students who, along with senior faculty, teach courses on “Literature Humanities” and “Contemporary Civilization”. The title is also used to refer to teaching assistants at Princeton, who are typically graduate students.”

            “Some North American universities have a special student position called preceptor. Preceptors are student volunteers who assist the staff professor and teaching assistants of a large lecture class by helping design certain lessons and holding his or her own office hours and review sessions. In some cases, volunteers are required to take an outside class focused on leadership development, where the final grade is determined by both the lecture professor and leadership development teacher.”

            “In English Freemasonry, the Preceptor of the lodge is usually appointed by the Master. His main responsibility is to prompt those masons who have forgotten their words.”

          • D Kane says:

            > commonplace in academic circles to call a teacher with a PhD a ‘Professor.’

            Indeed. But, at my school, the rule is that only professors (including assistant and associate professors) are allowed to use the title professor. I actually called the faculty secretary to check. Students, of course, don’t care. And most other lecturers/preceptors don’t make a big deal of it one way or the other.

            > I daresay they think you are a bit eccentric for insisting on ‘Preceptor.’

            They do! But, after a bit, they find it endearing . . . I hope!

            But also note that students strongly prefer clear guidance from faculty on this issue. Too many faculty, in my experience, don’t make it clear how they want/prefer to be addressed, leaving students in a weird/awkward place.

            Andrew: Just curious, how do your students address you? How (if at all) do you ask them to?

    • Merlin says:

      The prompt for the Google doc is:
      Before each class, enter one or two questions or thoughts related to the reading or anything else. A question or thought can be a response to someone else’s question or thought. We will discuss these in class. Please precede your comment with your first name in bold.

      Just give everyone access and remind them that the document stores information on edits.

      As the TA, I just sort them into groups before class. Usually everyone posts at least one question even if only shortly before. The first two times I listed the contributors to shame non-contributors into writing at least something.

    • Andrew says:


      My syllabus is here. The best part is the fun class titles. In class we spent lots of time discussing homeworks and readings.

      • D Kane says:

        Interesting stuff. Do you worry that, in future semesters, you won’t be able to assign exercises from the book because the answers will be “out there” from previous semesters?

  5. Dale Lehman says:

    I’ve been teaching partially online for the past 20 years – I’ve used Adobe Connect, Webex, Panopto, and now Zoom. From my experience (which may or may not be relevant to others): initially I tried to just move what I did in the classroom into the virtual classroom. That was just about the only thing that did not work for me. Teaching online and watching a class full of people (I have the benefits of small classes so there are cameras for everyone) staring at me while I talked convinced me that I needed to change things. The truth is that I should have changed things in the classroom long ago (it doesn’t really work to lecture in person either). So, I started flipping my classroom – prerecording things that I knew I needed to talk about ahead of time, having students watch it before class, and devoting class time to discussion and working on problems. I also discovered (it took awhile for me to be brave enough to use it) that break-out groups work very well. Provide a meaningful discussion exercise – but one that is feasible to come to some conclusion about within a half hour) – put people in small groups to discuss, and then reassemble the whole class to discuss/debrief. That works surprisingly well. However, it also takes about twice as long as you’d think – reinforcing the need to prerecord material since there won’t be enough time in class to cover it.

    As I reflect on these changes, it is apparent to me that at least half of the time I used to spend in a classroom would have been better to have prerecorded and devoted the freed up time to more hands-on work. I should say that I teach mostly working adults (mostly graduate business students, but sometimes adult undergrads) – when I’ve used this model with traditional undergrads, it does not work nearly as well. They often don’t watch the recorded videos. I don’t believe this is due to their maturity – I think it is a matter of the need for all (or most) of their classes to be run that way. If I am the only person flipping my classroom, they don’t adopt it readily. If they get similar messages in all their courses, then I think this model can work well for undergrads as well.

  6. Barry Cotter says:

    Have the students pair program so one works while the other watches and makes suggestions or ask questions, then have them switch. That way both are engaged throughout the exercises.

  7. Sounds fascinating. I wonder if Columbia is running workshops for faculty on this, specifically the topic of engagement / active learning in online courses. Here at the Univ. of Oregon, we’re not closed, but we’re expecting it in a few weeks. There are workshops being suddenly put together on, for example, “Canvas [our ‘learning management system’] Tools for Supporting Active Learning,” which might get at the questions you raise. My wife (involved in related issues) points out that “Microsoft Teams” allows people to draw on phones and share this, which might be a better way to share group work in things like statistics.

    It will be interesting to see if this massive unplanned experiment in on-line courses changes how we run classes. But that’s another topic…

    • “in a few weeks”… I just keep having to unclench my stomach muscles….

      If we take action to close schools, churches, sporting events, etc “in a few weeks” it will be far too late. Growth rate of infections is doubling every 3 or 4 days. 15 days is ~ 5 doubling periods… Here’s the difference 15 days made in 1918:

      • Anoneuoid says:

        It’s already too late… The time to act was in mid January. Everyone is getting exposed now, if it hasn’t already happened (which is what I would guess based on the lax response, asymptomatic spreaders, etc).

        Think about it, the number of tests affects the number of cases right? How is it that changes in the rate of testing over time isn’t messing with the epidemic curves?

        Actually I’d like to see the curve of cumulative number of tests over time for various regions.

        • This isn’t helpful, and isn’t remotely correct.

          Your assertion is that essentially 100% of the world’s population has an infection already, or in other words effectively 100% of people are asymptomatic (~100k/7B ~ .0014% symptomatic) . That isn’t remotely true. Best estimates from the cruise ships etc are ~ 50-80% symptomatic.

          Stop spreading completely unwarranted defeatism, it’s bad enough that we *could* do something major now to slow the spread, but we aren’t. If people hear “it’s too late, might as well go kiss everyone you see” things will become apocalyptic with ~ 700M dead globally by July, bodies rotting in the street, etc when it turns out that 80% not .0014% are symptomatic and ~10% require ICU level care to survive.

          If the first case arrived in the US Jan 1 and infection doubled every 6 days it would be 2600 cases, every 4 days there would be 131000 cases if it doubled every 3 days… 6.7M That pretty well covers the spectrum. Somewhere between 3000 and ~3M, with estimates of 3000 to 30000 much more likely than 300k+

          There are several effects:

          1) Arrival of first case
          2) Actual doubling time, esp with early cases getting some level of contact tracing and quarantine
          3) Low symptom spreaders
          4) Delay in onset of serious disease
          5) Under testing

          Whatever the actual number it’s way less than 320e6 population in the US. Halting the spread now is critical to avoiding a catastrophe, but waiting 2 weeks is TOO LONG as if there are say 300k cases today, with doubling every 3.7 days, 15 more days would lead to 5.6M cases before we start seriously reducing the rate… that’s a disaster. DON’T WAIT, TODAY is the time for the CDC to say “we are closing all major public venues, all restaurants, all churches, all airports..” etc

          • Anoneuoid says:

            It isn’t defeatist, it is optimistic.

            I was very disturbed in January when most were silent. I prepped w like a month of food, solar panels, etc (anything I thought I might buy that was from China, the shortages are still on their way).

            Now that I’ve seen the data I am less and less disturbed, as the hysteria hits. The hysteria looks much more dangerous to me than the virus. You said your stomach muscles are clenching over this… Panic doesn’t help. Look at Wuhan where there was the most panic and crackdown that had 10x the mortality rate of anywhere else.

            But one thing is for sure, there are going to be a lot of cases in the US once they start testing en masse. I think it’s at 5000 now.

            • Agreed that the actual infected counts are way higher than the ~800 confirmed cases in US today. 5000 is right in that general zone I said above. so in part you’re saying “no big deal tons of people have it already” and in part you’re saying “it’s still possible to do a lot to stop the spread” which is just self-conflicting.

              I am not optimistic. I believe that the message of #flattenthecurve (finally something useful trending on Twitter!) needed to be CDC’s message broadcast on TV and Radio and the Internet a week ago, but of course Mike Pence is in charge of muzzling them.

              I have personally been able to spread that message (through friends etc) to departments at USC and Cedars Sinai, with cancellation of major meetings and symposia and etc effective immediately. I consider it a message *anyone* who understands enough math to know how exponential growth works needs to get out to all their friends… It’s *NORMAL* for the early days of exponential growth to look “not that alarming” to people who don’t understand it… hey there’s only 600 cases, or there’s only 2000 cases.. no big deal.

              The message needs to be CRAP WE NEED TO DRAMATICALLY SLOW THE SPREADING RATE so that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with patients in ~ 15 days.

              If that message had gone out to Italy 15 days ago, it would be a good thing. As it is, we’ll see 100k cases in Italy and thousands dead just like in China easily. If they hadn’t put in place their massive restrictions in the last couple days, and instead let it go on for 2-3 more weeks we might see millions dead there.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                I meant there were only about 5k tests done, if you trust CNN (who have mislead me more than once on this topic):

                As of Friday at 6 p.m. ET, roughly 5,861 tests for coronavirus have been completed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health labs, US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said at off-camera briefing at the White House on Saturday.


                According to this there are now 950 confirmed cases in the US:

                I saw it was ~800 earlier today and about 500 yesterday. So about 10% of people tested in the US are positive, and the doubling time is 1-2 days instead of the 3-4 from your estimate (of course I attribute this mostly due to the testing, not the virus spreading). Also, my understanding is they are only testing people with symptoms at this point.

              • in the US we are now at a place where it will be hard to estimate the growth rate because of the ramp up in testing rate, but the testing rate is relatively constant in other parts of the world, and the positive tests in those parts of the world are indicative of the 3-4 day doubling time… though it could be longer again because there is a ramp up in testing even there… That would be good, maybe it’s doubling every 6 days or something. Gives people a little more time to GET OFF THEIR ASSES AND GO HOME.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                975 cases now.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                Now 1000.

          • Zhou Fang says:

            Absolutely agreed.

  8. Salo says:

    It would be very useful for me to know what kind of equipment did you use for writing? Did you use the whiteboard? A university provided pad or stylus? Brand name? We are getting training today on similar software and it would be very useful to know what other universities are using.

    • Andrew says:


      So far I’ve just typed things into a google doc. I’d like to get the tablet thing working. Zoom seems to have some option where you can use your mousepad to draw, but I haven’t figured out how to get it to work on my computer yet.

      • D Kane says:

        Zoom is impressive. I taught my 120 student class on Thursday, although, with the school shutting down, we only had 42 in class.

        Breakout rooms are Zoom’s killer feature. Highly recommended.

  9. Jim Hatton says:

    For teachers of math, a key question is how to administer a test. Face-to-face tests allow us to limit student access to the online tools that could help them do the problems and also to deny them the ability to collaborate. Do we use to essay questions and use some kind of AI tool that detects plagarism/collaboration?

  10. Kaz says:

    In my experience (tutoring individuals or just a few students rather than teaching a whole class), having something clearly happening on the screen is vital when teaching virtually. In my case I had access to “whiteboard” software which allowed me and my student to both “draw on the board” at the same time. We could draw equations, diagrams, graphs, and so on.

    This is more than just being able to write equations; I do a lot of drawing when teaching, and it seems to help the students out a lot to have something concrete to look at/internalize. A doodle is nowhere near as polished as a diagram from a textbook, but you can update/customize it to meet the actual questions being asked, too.

    In a pinch, I can share my screen and use something like Photoshop or paint, then share the doodle at the end of the session.

  11. Andrew, I think you meant “patience” (not “patients”) in the third-to-last sentence

  12. jim says:

    As Dale pointed out, break-out groups are great – way better than self-segregated groups in live classes.

    – You can assign people however you like, mixing people up so people get a chance to work with different people
    – You press the button and boom! people are in their groups, no wasting time shuffling around the classroom
    – the communication is really easy once people are in their groups; people can use mic, vid or chat, whatever

    highly recommended

  13. Derek Jacoby says:

    I like the breakout rooms feature of zoom. This allows you to set up smaller groups that can chat on their own about a topic. Just give them a time to leave the breakout room to come back to the main discussion.

  14. Hi,

    I’m a stats professor teaching causal inference at Minerva (, where 100% of our classes are online and active student engagement on this online platform is required of every student in every class. I think I’ve taught about 30 sections of various quant courses online over the last several years (hard to believe it’s been that many!) Our undergrad and graduate students are distributed all over the world, and classes tend to be fairly small (less than 19) though larger (and even very, very large) online sessions can be run if necessary.

    Minerva profs like me use our proprietary platform that enables professors to plan and program every lesson down to a T (by dragging-and-dropping design elements) and yet also improvise on the fly when so desired.

    This platform enables the use of collaborative coding software (CoCalc) in the main classroom and in breakout groups, plus Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, breakouts, screen-shares, ongoing class-wide “chat”, snap polls (multiple choice, open-ended, Yes/No, etc.). When it comes to breakouts, there’s a “control room” feature that allows you to observe all the interaction in any group. There’s more–lots of functionality (students can register real-time emojis, hand-raises, the list goes on…)

    Minerva pedagogy has been carefully calibrated for the online experience: there are protocols that we have honed over time to try to optimize student learning. It’s primarily about different ways of catalyzing engagement in class (and being responsible for pre-class work) — In class, I’m calling on students all the time, “Socratic”-style, which is super-important when teaching an online course because it’s soooooo easy for students to zone out and disengage when they’re remotely connecting on their own laptops. (Minerva students know that this is what they’re in for if they enroll, and they quickly get used to being put on the spot and asked questions in front of everyone else.)

    Minerva professors are discouraged from monologuing for more than 3-4 minutes at a time. Teaching on the platform is actually a lot of fun–in large part because lesson plans are developed to try to make the most of all this functionality and technology. And I have to say that it is satisfying to end class, shut your laptop, and be where you want to be, anywhere in the world: your home, or a tropical isle with excellent Internet, or even on a family holiday because sometimes everyone else in the family is off except you and the vacation needs to happen. I’ve experienced all three of these scenarios, and they are all nice.

    Also, because everything’s taught online, everything’s also recorded, which is occasionally really useful for students and faculty. And office hours and faculty meetings are held on the platform too.

    I’ve taught a lot in regular “real” classrooms as well, and of course much of the active learning pedagogy discussed above also works in the physical classroom. Have to say, though, that many things (like breakout groups, polls, questions in the chat, etc.) can work better and more efficiently in the virtual environment imho.

    Found out last night from our Dean, Vicki Chandler, that due to the coronavirus, some Minerva professors who also teach courses at Harvard are using Minerva’s platform to teach their Harvard courses. I think other universities are doing this as well, leveraging Minerva’s platform to keep courses going, but I don’t know the details.

    Happy to answer any questions if there are any…

    Be well,


    • digithead says:

      Unfortunately for those of us in the cheap seats, my institution uses D2L, or more aptly, D2Hell. While it has Zoom, that’s its only good feature; the rest stinks for good online instruction, feedback and general sanity.

      I’ve been administering all coursework online for 15 years now and D2L makes me long for the halcyon days of Moodle, javascript Blackboard and Activex frames.

      The irony of this all is that I left my former institution for my current one because I hated teaching online. Now I’m going to have to spend time updating everything I did in Canvas and cross my fingers that D2L won’t screw it up.

    • D Kane says:

      > some Minerva professors who also teach courses at Harvard are using Minerva’s platform to teach their Harvard courses

      Really? I am sorely tempted to call BS on this claim. I also suspect that “at Harvard” is doing a lot of subtle work in this sentence.

  15. Don’t forget that Zoom has a breakout room feature which makes it easier to work in groups. Also, using the built-in polls makes it easier to make the sessions more interactive.

    There’s also a pretty good built-in whiteboard – I’ve used it on the MS Surface but it will work on the iPad with Pencil or just a rubber stylus, as well. If you end up doing this a lot, investing in a Microsoft Studio might be worthwhile.

    A 2-monitor set up is also usually much better for online presenting. Zoom supports up to 49 videos on the screen, so you can see students’ faces which does make things better.

    For replacing lectures, a good idea is to use a standing desk and talk standing up.

  16. Mark Sheskin says:

    I’ve taught small discussion sections for Yale Summer Session Online for many years (using Zoom for the video chat), and I’m now a professor at Minerva (using their Forum software). Alexis already mentioned in a previous comment how cool the Minerva software is, but here are some approaches that can work even just in Zoom: 

    (1) Give students engagement prompts, such as “in this next 20 minute discussion, keep track of which argument is most convincing, and be prepared to defend why it is better than the others,” 

    (2) have a culture of cold-calling, in which at any point you might ask a question and then indicate who should answer it, such as “Nitin just provided an argument in favor of X. What counterargument do YOU see to the specific argument we just heard… Josephine?”,

    (3) use breakout groups once or twice during a longer class, in which each group has a very specific task and a deliverable they prepare in a google doc (e.g., an opening 2-minute statement on one side of an issue, that they will deliver to the main classroom when breakouts end), 

    (4) end class with a “reflection poll” every student fills out, that requires engagement across the whole class time, such as “what was the best argument against X in class today?”

    Happy to chat with anyone about doing classes online, anything about doing so on Zoom or Minerva’s Forum, and different approaches for small classes vs. larger lectures (though all my experience is with small seminars).

  17. Chazeon says:

    I TA’d today when my Professor gave a tutorial to a program today. It turned out not bad. The class was a group of ~10 people, and everyone was asked to turn on their mic and video. So they can ask questions if they have them.

    But I still hope I can see how they work on their terminal so I can give detailed instructions.

  18. Martha (Smith) says:

    Tomorrow (Tuesday) I get to try Zoom from the student’s end — my senior exercise class is using it.

    • Andrew says:


      I think that being a student gives me better understanding as a teacher.

      As a teacher, I get frustrated when I explain a simple concept to students over and over in the semester, and each time they seem to follow, but then they keep forgetting the next time I bring it up. Yes, at some level I realize that it’s hard to internalize an idea, no matter how clear the explanation, if you don’t have various connecting ideas already in your head—but when I teach, I often get frustrated by repeated mistakes.

      But as a student, repeated mistakes happen to me all the time! The relevant comparison here is not the math classes where I always did well, but subjects like foreign language, where I really want to learn the material, I’m highly motivated, but I just find it difficult to absorb the material. I can make a mistake 50 times, get corrected 50 times, and then make the same damn mistake a 51st time and go, D’oh!

      Having this experience as a student is good for me as a teacher.

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