Remote teaching

Due to my current position at ENS-Cachan, this year my lectures on Object Oriented Software Design are done remotely.

Today I just delivered my first lecture, and I have positive and negative feelings.

First, we tried to use a open-source software, BigBlueButton. It is a very nice idea in principle: people can connect from anywhere, it integrates webcams,¬† microphones, slide sharing, handwriting on the slides, desktop showing. I decided that in the first lecture, all students will collect themselves in a physical class, and I was in front of my PC in my office. This would simplify things (only two parties). However, it did not work out well. The problem is that BigBlueButton¬† is not very stable: it uses flash (brrr…) and java (brrr….) and it crashes a lot. And the bandwidth usage is maybe not so good.¬† Of course, we have tried it in the past days, and it looked as it could work. But today it crashed three times in the first few minutes, so we decided to give up.

Of course, we had two backup solutions: Skype and Google Hangouts. We decided to go for Skype: we have a paid license that allows us to send video, voice and share the desktop at the same time.

It worked out pretty well: at some point, due to bandwidth shortage, we disabled video, but generally it worked ok. On my desktop I was alternating the slides and a programming session using Kate and Konsole, and the desktop was sent out via Skype so the students could see the slides and my programming session in real-time. While programming, I was commenting what I wrote on the screen. I would change a few lines of code, and recompile, showing the compiler errors, or the program output and confronting with the program listing.

I experimented this technique in the past and it usually works very well with students: they get an immediate feeling of what it is like to program, especially in C/C++.

What I missed a lot is feedback from the students.This was to be expected: it is very difficult in general to interact remotely. Add to this that Italian students are usually very shy and they rarely ask questions, and you will have a more or less complete picture.

So I just open a forum on Google Groups to ask for feedback and to give feedback. And I hope students will be less shy next time.

By the way: I plan to record my next lectures, and maybe post some of them on-line. I will let you know in case, so maybe I can also receive feedback from my readers!