Standing Up for Online Lectures

I have a break of an hour between my last lecture on Vector Calculus (during which I introduced and did some applications of Green’s Theorem) and my next one on Mechanics & Special Relativity (during which I’m doing projectile motion), so I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts about online teaching.

I started the term by doing my lectures in the form of webcasts live from lecture theatres but since we returned from the Study Break on Monday I’ve been doing them remotely from the comfort of my office at home, which is equipped with a blackboard (installed, I might add, at my own expense….)

I still do these teaching sessions “live”, though, rather than recording them all offline. I toyed with the idea of doing the latter but decided that the former works better for me. Not surprisingly I don’t get full attendance at the live sessions, but I do get around half the registered students. The others can watch the recordings at their own convenience. Perhaps those who do take the live webcasts appreciate the structure that a regular time gives to their study. Even if that’s not the reason for them, I certainly prefer working around a stable framework of teaching sessions.

“Why am I still using a blackboard?” I hear you ask. It’s not just because I’m an old fogey (although I am that). It’s because I’m used to pacing myself that way, using the physical effort of writing on the blackboard to slow myself down. I know some lecturers are delivering material on slides using, e.g., Powerpoint, but I have never felt comfortable using that medium for mathematical work. Aside from the temptation to go too fast, I think it encourages students to see the subject as a finished thing to be memorized rather than a process happening in front of them.

I did acquire some drawing tablets for staff to enable them to write mathematical work out, which is useful for short things like tutorial questions, but frankly they aren’t very good and I wouldn’t want to use them to give an hour long lecture.

In addition to these considerations, my decision to record videos in front of a blackboard was informed by something I’ve learnt about myself, namely that I find I am much more comfortable talking in this way when I’m standing up than sitting down. In particular, I find it far easier to communicate enthusiasm, make gestures, and generally produce a reasonable performance if I’m standing up. I know several colleagues who do theirs sitting down talking to a laptop camera, but I find that very difficult. Maybe I’m just weird. Who else prefers to do it standing up?

6 Responses to “Standing Up for Online Lectures”

  1. Gary Mathlin Says:

    I started standing with a whiteboard, but I couldn’t get the lighting right so I’m now sitting with a laptop, ipad and ipad pencil, along with a greenscreen to show diagrams in the style of a tv weather reporter

  2. I record all my lectures standing up. I find it more comfortable, but it also seems the students prefer it. Perhaps it is what you say: you can be more expressive. It is a lot more work, with a camera, a tripod and merging the slides and the video. I find I cover the material twice as fast as with an audience, probably because of the lack of interaction. That is fine: students can pause, rewind, and read the lecture notes. But I prefer to lecture to real students

  3. Apparently one’s own state affects the presentation. So, by all means stand up, if that improves the quality. Reminds me when BBC newsreaders were required to wear a dinner jacket when reading the news—on the radio.

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