More online teaching

Posted on Wed 01 April 2020 by Matt Williams in teaching

As I wrote about last week in Reflections on our first online programming workshop we have started doing our Bristol software training online. Since that post we have done two more classes (one advanced and one beginner) and so I wanted to update on the things we're learned.

Firstly, the feedback has been brilliant. We're been really pleased with how well recieved the course have been as I was definitely worried beforehand that they would not be as effective. It seems that many attendees came along with those same concerns but I'm happy to say that they were assuaged:

The online setup of this course works very well. Even in the virtual environment it is still very easy to ask questions and get feedback and help.
At first I was concerned about it being done remotely/on teams. But it worked really, really well!
It was my first course online, which was interesting. It ran smoothly! I think this format works.
I loved it when on the chat side were sharing links to more material in which we could look in dept regarding decorators, fixtures and so on. This hasn't happened in the regular courses
Thanks to all people involved!
I would higly encourage everyone who wants to learn a new programming language to take part on this course. I am normally really critical with such courses and get bored super quickly but I enjoyed the course a lot and I am looking forwards for further courses!

That said, there were some reports from some attendees about the difficulty of juggling the multiple windows needed during the session. For example it can be difficult for someone without multiple monitors to both watch my screen-share while I'm live coding and at the same time, type along in their own Python editor. This is something that is perhaps best tackled by keeping the talking sections short and concise and encourage people just to listen and then to have them have a go themselves afterwards.

A problem that we often face in in-person sessions (especially the Beginning Python course) is getting everyone set up with Anaconda and JupyterLab. Most students have no problems whatseoever but technology being what it is, there can sometimes be snags. Aware that this problem would only be made worse by the remote nature of the courses, we decided to provide more pre-course prep in the way of a video. This video walks the student through downloading Anaconda, starting JupyterLab and setting up the environment so that it matches what they will see on my screen:

The use of Google Docs as breakout rooms has been working very well. It has allowed freeform discussion to help with certain points and the ability to include screenshots and format text has been really valuble for debugging students' problems.

The final thing I wanted to mention was the evolution of a particular role amonst the helpers in a session. In the first session, I was presenting and Christopher was my second. In the chat while I was talking he would be repeating key points from what I said or clarifying certain points or giving additional context. This was very well recieved as seen in the third feedback comment above.

We have now decided to formalise this role as the narrator. Someone who is the lead helper and the first point of contact in the chat for the attendees. Having the chat commentary as a sort of backup to the spoken demonstration allows people to not have to focus 100% on what is being said all the time and catch up quickly if they were concentrating on something else.

We still have more courses on the way, the next of which is this afternoon on Beginning Python.

The course we have planned for the next few weeks are:

Assuming that all keeps going well, we plan on putting on more after Easter. The full program in the future, along with links to sign up for these will be announced via @BristolRSE.