Life at a distance 2

POSTED: March 27, 2020

The second week of collective distance working began with less excitement than the first. Most people, I suspect, had come to terms with the situation in their own ways, and developed coping strategies; both for organising themselves and dealing with their professional duties.

I had more-or-less finished preparing Interactive Storytelling, the class that I had always intended to teach online, and will us Its Learning for that, as I did last year. The learning path set-up there works well for this kind of course. More exactly: last year I designed the course to take advantage of the things that Its Learning’s learning paths seem good at.

Structuring Information remains more problematic, and will continue to occupy me for the first half of the week.

Last week I delayed the course for a week and inserted a new session for Thursday this week. I have started referring to it as Structured Information, the pilot episode. It has two purposes.

Hello, hello, can you hear me?

I have devised the pilot episode to test our individual hardware and software, our knowledge of how to use our computers, and our joint communications system.

I normally teach this course as a series of workshops in which I divide the students into pairs, hand out short exercises and wander around the room commenting and helping as they work through them. I hope to simulate this using Zoom and Teams, which will not only require me to simulate this online, but also require the students to understand their own computers to play their parts in the simulation.

Experience suggests that not all of them will.

I therefore spent the first two days of the week breaking down tasks into smaller and smaller chunks, while rehearsing ways of explaining their in a way that will make sense at a distance.

I intend the pilot episode to deal with these issues so that we will not have to worry about them once we come on to the course itself.

The new world of work

Since I will need a topic to discuss to simulate discussing a topic, I have collected together a bunch of links to articles on the web that look at the ways in which everyone working at home for a month or two (or longer) might impact the future in the long term.

I will ask the students to discuss these in small groups in breakout rooms in Zoom, which will give me a chance to develop my skills in moving 17 students in and out of breakout rooms. I will ask each group to appoint a spokesperson to report back to the whole class, which will give me a chance to rehearse my abilities to mute and unmute mikes in a fluid way that does not inhibit discussion.

I upload the links into the Teams Classroom to practice the process, and to enable me to see what happens when the class has to download the files to their own computers.

The pilot episode

The session started well. Zoom proved so easy to use that only one student, who logged in using an iPad, had any difficulty at all.

Downloading the files proved problematic for two or three students, when it came to unzipping the zip file, but in the end everyone did it.

Teams had some problems that I decided to try to overcome later in the week. Specifically a quiz I had made in Forms and then loaded into the Classroom Notebook did not appear in an editable form for some students, or at all for others.

I heled an istant reaction Mentimeter poll at the end of the session and that worked very well. I downloaded the results and they had all scored the session highly.


Some students complained that learning in this way left them feeling “a bit isolated”. I noticed that none of the students had switched their cameras on. I asked them to switch their cameras on to see if that increased our feelings of being jointly present. Two students did, and we waved at each other.

Two other students said that they had taped over their cameras and couldn’t get it off. One said that she thought someone had superglued it over the lens.

By the end, I felt that the session might as well have taken place using radio. With no eye contact possible, and no way to see any reactions from the students, I felt like a breakfast dj on Radio X3M.

I did find one advantage to this. I had made a lot of notes-to-self to make sure I did not confuse the students by confusing myself. I had these displayed on my iPad by my side throughout the session. Afterwards I decided to continue doing this throughout the course.

Today I spent some time creating scripts for both of next week’s sessions. I will not create them all yet, because I realise that things might continue to change and develop in unexpected ways.

However, if the students have decided to adopt the role of listeners, then I will adopt the role of broadcaster, notes in hand. I might even make some jingles to differentiate different parts of the show, errm, class.