The hybrid session checklist(s)

Yeah yeah I’m alive…barely. Sorry that’s probably not the best way to start a blog post, is it? But I’ve had the type of day where I know I sat at the computer for almost 9 hours at a stretch (I don’t consider getting up to put the oven on a ‘break’) and I know I was busy for all of those 9 hours…but if you asked me what I accomplished during that time, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I’m tired and despondent and I just want it to be Christmas already…but then I think what’s the point, since I can’t see my family and I can’t see my friends and that’s the joy of the season for me…so yeah. Bah humbug.

OK…now I’ve got that out of my system, let’s go back to being positive!

I’ve been teaching for a few weeks now, and next week I’ll be starting sessions on another module. It’s taken a bit of getting used to but I think I’m slowly getting there (with apologies to all my lovely students). Last year I was the type who walked into the lecture room / IT lab and just started talking. Don’t get me wrong, I’d done all the preparation…but my approach to lecturing had the familiarity of a theatre performer after a week’s worth of shows – I’d hit my stride, I felt confident, and I could just get on with it. Not this year. I’ve already talked about the first time I did an online lecture and all those issues are still there but there’s a slightly different feel to it now. In March, we were responding to a sudden global catastrophe. Now? This is how we’re doing things. There’s an expectation of order, professionalism, familiarity…and I’ll admit it’s not been easy.

So I’ve come up with some checklists. My sessions seem to have fallen into three categories of hybrid learning (are there more?) so I’ve made a checklist for each. And since I’m feeling generous, I’m presenting them here, in case you find it useful.

The live online lecture
  1. Close Outlook (so you don’t get distracted)
  2. Change your Teams presence to ‘Do Not Disturb’ (so you don’t get distracted)
  3. Close any other apps, files, folders etc. (so you don’t get distr…you get the picture)
  4. Open PowerPoint and start the presentation (on the second screen)
  5. Start the Teams meeting on the desktop (from the main screen)
  6. Share the second screen in the Teams meeting
  7. Join the Teams meeting from your iPad and keep that in front of you (the iPad will show you what the students see, so it’s a good check that you’re sharing the right thing)
  8. Switch your camera on (and remember it’s not a mirror so you shouldn’t use it to fix your hair)
  9. Start recording
  10. Pray that the students turn up, and smile when they do (you’re on camera!)
  11. Start the lecture
  12. Every so often, check the meeting on the iPad to see if anyone’s raised their hand or put something in the chat (it’s easier than checking it on the desktop)
  13. When you finish, stop the recording
  14. Download the attendance report
  15. ‘End meeting’ for all
  16. When the recording is complete, add it to the appropriate channel in your MS Stream group
  17. Set MS Stream to generate automatic captions for the video
  18. Reset your Teams presence.
The on-campus IT lab session with a live simulcast
  1. Sanitise your workstation (and remind students to do the same)
  2. Open Microsoft Edge (yes yes I know, but it’s way better than ie and logs you into Office 365 automatically)
  3. Open Blackboard, Teams, OneNote and your software
  4. Change your Teams presence to ‘Do Not Disturb’ (so no one bothers you)
  5. Start the Teams meeting on the desktop
  6. Join the Teams meeting from your iPad and keep that with you
  7. Start recording
  8. Give the attendance code to the students in the room with you
  9. Remind the students in the room to join the Teams meeting
  10. Mute the desktop mic so that student banter doesn’t get recorded
  11. Give the students time to get to a certain point in the simulation on their own
  12. Share the screen from the desktop and work through up to that point for everyone to see (remember to unmute!)
  13. Stop sharing so that any student who needs help can share their screen
  14. Every so often, check the meeting on the iPad to see if anyone’s raised their hand or put something in the chat
  15. Every so often, check up on the students who are engaging remotely
  16. Repeat #10-15 throughout session as required
  17. When you finish, stop the recording
  18. Remind students to log out of their computers and sanitise their workstations
  19. ‘End meeting’ for all
  20. When the recording is complete, add it to the appropriate channel in your MS Stream group and share on the OneNote Class Notebook
  21. On the Class Notebook, include some information about the timestamps for your demo sections in the meeting
  22. Reset your Teams presence.
The pre-recorded lecture with live Q&A

OK this one I haven’t actually tried yet, so this is my proposed checklist.

  1. Plan how you want the students to watch the videos
  2. Make sure the first slide is an overview with rough durations of each section (so they can plan their viewing)
  3. Structure your slides so there’s a natural break between sections
  4. Check that the slide content won’t be hidden by the webcam window in the corner
  5. Close Outlook
  6. Change your Teams presence to ‘Do Not Disturb’
  7. Record! Try and do it in one go…if you make a mistake, so be it (long live the edit button!)
  8. Upload the recording to Panopto / MS Stream (I’ll do a comparison in a future post)
  9. Set the platform to generate automatic captions
  10. Check and correct the automatic captions!
  11. Try not to cringe when you hear how weird your voice sounds
  12. Set up the Blackboard post so that there are clear instructions about what the students need to do
  13. Prepare some questions for the Q&A (they’re probably not going to ask you questions until you ask them some)
  14. At the time of the Q&A, follow all the steps for the online lecture (minus the presentation bit)

OK I’ve embellished a teeny weeny bit for marginally comedic effect (can’t blame me for trying) and some might say a few of the items are overkill, but I don’t think I’m too far off what all academics are currently doing (possibly subconsciously) for each of their sessions. The cognitive (over)load of hybrid sessions on learners is widely acknowledged but it’s important to note that it affects tutors too…we’re all just trying to do right by our students.

Anyway, I think that’s a reasonably positive post, don’t you? I could have a right ol’ whinge about everything I’ve been dealing with over the past few months but I think this is a far better use of my time and effort. And now I’ve accomplished something, hooray!

I’ll close with my new obsession. One of the benefits of Netflix is the wealth of non-English content available, and I’ve been really getting into Coisa Mais Linda…feminism and bossa nova, what more could a girl ask for? And so I went down the bossa nova rabbit hole, and I’ve been swaying to Joao Gilberto ever since. Enjoy!

A balancing act

I grew up in a very traditional educational set up, where the student-teacher relationship was extremely formal. I got a real culture shock when I came to the UK for university and my tutors were happy to be addressed by their first names (I still remember feeling extremely awkward when I bumped into one of them at Nando’s). Over the years I’ve developed my own style – I remember a new student once asked how they should address me, and I just said “I don’t really mind, as long as you’re respectful”. So I get Sam, Dr Gooneratne, and everything in between (even the dreaded ‘Miss’, which I do try and discourage).

In terms of my interactions with students, I try to set the expectations at the start and over time they ‘earn the right’ to engage in a bit of banter. I try to be friendly, but I am not their friend. As one student put it:

You’re great until we do something stupid, then you give us that death stare.

I’d like to think it looks something like this

All those lines have got a bit blurred since using Teams. I’m not sure which letter my generation belongs to, but I am reasonably comfortable with internet vernacular and I use it quite a bit when chatting with friends. I’m also partial to the occasional emoji, and you’ve already seen my gif game! The chat feature in Teams is great but now my brain is really confused. Do I maintain proper sentence structure? Do I avoid using emojis for fear of not being taken seriously? Is it OK to type ‘lol’? I try to maintain professional email etiquette at all times but professional chat etiquette is a new one for me. I want my students to feel that I’m approachable but work is work…right?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a very private person, and I like to keep my work and non-work lives separate (lockdown is making that extremely difficult). I also mentioned in a previous post that I was really missing singing. So yesterday, this happened:

I agonised for days (maybe weeks) about whether to record it at all, and if so, what to do with that recording. Once I recorded and uploaded it, I agonised about whether to share the link online, or just leave it there for anyone (or no one) to watch. Once I decided the share the link online, I agonised about what people might say, whether it was inappropriate (are academics allowed to have hobbies?)…yes there was a LOT of agonising.

Producing the video for me was as much about the process as the product – I worked out all the harmonies myself, and I combined the videos using PowerPoint – I know there are fancy apps that’ll do all that for you, but this is partly about teaching myself a skill. So yes it’s not perfect (trimming videos is really hard in PowerPoint!) but it’s all mine…and I’m pretty proud of my first attempt. In the end, I decided to post the link on twitter, as you can see (although I did try to sneak it in late at night when I thought no one I knew would be awake!). Thankfully it seems to have been received well, which is nice!

I think at the end of the day, it’s a balancing act (“ah now the title makes sense!”, I hear you say): between being casual and professional, between having a clear line between work and non-work and being an open book, and between quietly indulging in a hobby and being a fame-hungry YouTube star (ahem). I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

Until then, I’ll leave you with…no, not Kacey Musgraves (although you can be amazed by the original ‘Rainbow’ on YouTube). How about some glorious Tom Odell (with Alice Merton) instead? Enjoy.

The kids are alright but are we?

Observation #3: Academics are human too

Yes it’s been almost a month since my last post, and that’s not entirely down to laziness. It’s absolutely right that a number of adjustments have been made to student assessment deadlines etc. to allow for the fact that their lives have been turned upside down but it’s important to recognise that academics’ lives have also been affected in exactly the same way.

Rather than list all the ways in which our lives have been impacted (I’m not feeling sufficiently “woe is me” for that right now), I thought I’d highlight the ways in which we’ve been working together in my department to support colleagues. We’ve primarily been using MS Teams and OneNote and whilst they’re not perfect, they’re pretty close to what we need right now.

Platform: MS Teams

We’re very lucky that MS Teams had been rolled out across the institution long before the issue of COVID-19 arose. We already had a departmental team, and there had been a number of semi-successful attempts to make it a hub for information. That idea has really taken flight now, and as departmental management we’re trying to limit the amount of attachments that are sent via email. We’ve set up channels for topics as well as private channels for subject areas and with time I’m hoping that more colleagues will treat the space as their ‘go-to’ for all things departmental.

Highlight: Social Chat

I’m not 100% sure whose idea this was but it’s worked better than I’d ever imagined. We have a recurring Teams meeting at the end of the traditional working day, a few times a week. It’s an opportunity for colleagues to have a casual chat, share any thoughts or concerns, and see some friendly faces before logging off for the day. When it started, the meeting would be initiated by one of the team leaders and the format was similar to a departmental meeting without an agenda. But now…most days a colleague will start the meeting just a few minutes before the scheduled start time (always makes me smile)! We don’t get everyone on there (which is fine) but there’s a strong core group eager to have some interesting discussions. There’s still a bit of ‘business talk’ (again, absolutely fine) but there’s also a lot of sharing good EdTech practice, as well as a bit of general chat (mostly about the weather and how we’re all missing sport).

And the latest trend (for which I take full responsibility, as indicated in the tweet below) is to use a holiday pic as a custom background and then get the others to guess where it’s from!

It’s just a bit of silliness but anything that helps us connect, right? I’m normally a very private person (strange, given how much I talk) but I’m quite enjoying sharing these (heavily curated) titbits of my life with my colleagues.

Platform: MS OneNote

The departmental Staff Notebook is another resource that we had set up before the lockdown. Hasn’t necessarily grown in the same way that the Team has but I think it’s found its purpose as a repository for ‘how to’ guides. Its strength is in the capability to host different types of sources (weblinks, files, images, my chicken scratch handwriting) on the same page.

Highlight: EdTech Tool Tips

Now this is what I’m really proud of! Soon after lockdown it became apparent that whilst all of us had received training on various EdTech tools, not all of us felt confident enough to use those tools with our students. Rather than force each person to go hunting around the internet for their own solutions, we decided to pool our resources and develop a collaborative database of information for the different EdTech tools being used. I asked around and realised that our collective skill set is actually quite substantial, but no one else knows about it…and so the Collaborative section of the Staff Notebook was born. It’s essentially a wiki but as I said earlier, OneNote has the benefit of supporting a variety of sources so we’ve got links, screenshots and videos with step-by-step instructions for the most used features of different tools, curated by the departmental ‘experts’.

It’s been well received by colleagues (I think/hope) and it’s great to see them experimenting with the different tools and providing their own tips and tricks. Now we just need more students to engage!

I know I sound like a Microsoft advert and like I said I know it’s not perfect…but for the most part we can do what we need to do and that’s the most important thing right now. I’ve switched on the comments for this post so if anyone reading this has any tips of their own, I’d be interested to read about it.

I’ll close with the new UK #1…partly because it’s absolutely lovely, and partly because Paloma Faith looking that glamorous whilst standing at her ironing board just makes me laugh.

In the words of the Dowager Countess…

What is a weekend?

There is daylight (a lot of it now), and there is darkness…everything else is a blur of Blackboard, Outlook, Teams and WhatsApp. When I decide to stop working and try and think of something else to do, the laptop sits on the dining table, judging me for not being productive enough. When I do try to get some work done, my eyes scream at me, begging to focus on something other than a computer screen (Er…how about a phone screen? Or a TV screen?).

Yesterday (Wednesday, if you believe the internet) I realised it had been a week since I had seen another human being in the flesh…I’ve been so ‘hyper-connected’ with everyone online that I hadn’t even noticed. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing! What I have noticed is that I’m missing choir. There is something magical about singing together – and it’s well documented – that really lifts me up. And it’s the one thing that you can’t really do in isolation – yes I know there are all these videos on YouTube and TikTok (btw what IS that?!) of choirs singing via Zoom but dodgy internet connections will always ruin the best laid plans.

So then I think, maybe I should open Audacity and create my own choir. Upload a few videos…like EVERYONE. ELSE. ON. THE. INTERNET. I used to, back in my student days…but I’m far less self-indulgent now (she says, on her blog that’s all about her). Actually scrap that – I’m far too lazy now.

And so you will only hear my voice on Panopto screencasts extolling the virtues of Excel as part of my ‘general coursework feedback’…for now at least. Who knows what will happen as time goes on (and I get more restless).

Since signing off with a song appears to be a ‘thing’ on this blog now, here’s one for today. It was the last song on this morning’s BBC Radio UK Singalong, courtesy the Asian Network, and it had me bouncing all over the house!

All eyes on me (or are they?)

No I haven’t lectured before but I’ve been performing on stage since I was 5 years old.

This is what I answered when asked if I had lectured before, during the interview for my lecturing post at TU (my first job). Looking back I’m quite surprised at how spot on my response was as an observation (especially for someone with so little experience!). It’s something I was reminded of this week, as I prepared for my first online lecture. And so…

Observation #2: Lecturing is a Performance Art

Those who know me know that I sing a fair bit. And I wasn’t fibbing when I said I started performing as a 5 year old (There’s a Hole in My Bucket, in case you were wondering). Performing on stage is a process:

    1. Prepare (your performance)
    2. Practise (until perfect)
    3. Connect (with your audience)
    4. Command (the stage)

The same could be said about lecturing…at least the way I do it. I relish the challenge of coming up with ways to hold my students’ attention for a full hour or two. I get a kick out of seeing their faces when a complex idea finally clicks. And I love walking around the room, waving my arms wildly as I share my passion for my subject (although that may have less to do with lecturing and more to do with me not knowing what to do with my arms!).

Now, stick me in front of a computer and ask me to do an online lecture, and what happens? Steps #1 and #2 of my performance process might still work, but how does one connect with an audience they can’t see? Are they paying attention? Do they understand what I’m saying? Are they still online? Oops I’ve lost my place. D’oh!

Then there’s commanding the stage…how can I do that when I’m chained to a chair, staring at a laptop? And it’s not just my limbs I have to worry about. There’s a reason you have a rehearsal, a dress rehearsal, and a performance – you need to look (and feel) the part. So what’s the rule on wearing make-up to give an online lecture at the dining table?

Sadly only Beyonce wakes up flawless.

Reflecting on my online lecturing experience, I realise now how much I depend on body language during my lectures (both mine and that of my students). Without it, I felt lost. I’m sure I’ll figure out a substitute with time but it was an interesting revelation nonetheless. It was also proof that whilst there’s definitely a place in this world for online learning, nothing beats the real thing.

I’ll leave you with another tune that’s been stuck in my head, a perfect accompaniment to this beautiful weather we’ve been having. In case anyone thought yesterday’s jazz was my usual fare, I’m sorry to disappoint (not really)!


Hi, can you hear me?

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard / used this phrase this week…and it’s only Wednesday! COVID-19 has plunged the entire world into the deep end of the remote working pool and we’re all desperately trying not to drown…

…which is why I’ve started this blog. All these random observations, anecdotes and tips on the dash to online lecturing that are currently swimming around in my head are serving no purpose other than to keep me from sleeping. They’re far better shared with the universe in the remote chance someone finds them useful. So here goes…

Observation #1: It feels like the first day of school

I’ve been lecturing for over 8 years now (OK, still a baby compared to some) and I’ve always felt quite confident about it. And I like to think of myself as an early adopter of L&T tech in my department. So online lecturing should be a breeze, yeah? HAHAHAHA no. I did my first online lecture yesterday and I haven’t felt that nervous since my first lecture ever. I’ll go into the specifics of the lecture itself in another post but I really wasn’t expecting to feel that way going into it. It was a reminder for me that no matter how proficient we think we are in something, there will always be experiences that take us out of our comfort zone and catch us off guard. Instead of shying away from these experiences we should embrace them in all their butterfly-inducing glory, and our lives will be that much richer for it.

In the spirit of sharing something cheerful in these difficult times, I’ll close with an earworm that’s been stuck in my head for days (apologies to my neighbours who’ve had to listen to my Nina Simone impression on repeat):

Until next time…