Archive for Microsoft Teams

Winging IT

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education with tags , , , , , on April 2, 2020 by telescoper

The current restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak have forced many of us academics to adapt to using IT in ways we hadn’t even imagined just a month ago. It’s not only remote teaching via virtual learning environments with live and/or prerecorded video lectures, but also meetings held by videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Few of us have had much training in the use of these things, so when it comes to Information Technology we’re all winging it. Still, necessity is the mother of invention and we just have to get on with it.

I’m gradually getting used to Microsoft Teams, for example. I’ve even got proper kit to wear.

Incidentally, yesterday I learned that the expression ‘to wing it’ actually comes from the Theatre, where it alludes to an actor studying their lines in the wings (at the side of the stage) because they haven’t had time to learn their part before the performance (usually because they are replacing another actor at short notice).

Nowadays ‘winging it’ means generally improvising or making it up as you go along. I’m finding winging it to be rather hard work but quite fun, actually. While we’ve been trying to flatten the Covid-19 curve the learning curve has definitely been getting steeper.

A Longer Haul

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on March 24, 2020 by telescoper


To nobody’s great surprise today we received official confirmation that there will be no face-to-face teaching for the rest of the semester at Maynooth University; teaching had been go on until early May. This news also made it into the Irish Independent. The previous announcement was that classes would not resume until 29th March (this Friday), now they won’t resume until the next academic year begins, in September. There will also be no in situ examinations, with all assessments being switched either to homework or remote assessments. We were pretty sure this was coming, as there is no sign yet of a reduction in the spread* of Coronavirus in Ireland, so we are as prepared as we can be for this contingency, although we now know we’re in it for a longer haul than originally announced.

Today I’ve been setting up a laboratory session for my module on Computational Physics. Instead of working in our computer lab under supervision, the students will have to work through a set of Python coding problems on their own. They’re doing numerical integration this week, by the way: being a bit old-fashioned I like to call this quadrature. The demonstrator and I will however be available (via Microsoft Teams) to deal with queries. This isn’t ideal of course but the software does allow participants to share screens, as well as audio and video chat so, I’m quite optimistic that it will work out reasonably well. I’m planning to deliver a lecture to the students on this module on Thursday which, given that the group is reasonably small, should also work reasonably well.

Update: I had a big problem uploading files to Microsoft Teams, which I couldn’t fix. I need to get that sorted out or it won’t be possible to share plots, graphs, etc. Hopefully it’s just a temporary glitch, but it’s very annoying.

My early experience with Microsoft Teams wasn’t marvellous, which led me to tweet:

I have to say though that it is perfectly functional (so far), once you get used to it. I still prefer Zoom, though.

My only other gripe is that working from home seems to have made some colleagues a little bit trigger-happy with the `ReplyAll’ button on their email.

Anyway, it seems that last night, on the wrong side of the Irish Sea, Boris Johnson finally got around to reading out the statement Emmanuel Macron dictated to him last week and the United Kingdom is finally having some form of discipline imposed. We await possible announcements of further strengthening of the restrictions already in place here in Ireland, but for the time being we carry on pretty much as before. There are few people around and about in Maynooth and many of the shops and all the pubs are closed, but it’s still possible to shop without experiencing a feeding frenzy.

On top of all that, it’s a lovely sunny day!

*I’ve put a page here tracking the daily increase in number of COVID-19 cases in Ireland.

On Virtual Meetings

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on March 19, 2020 by telescoper

We’ve now had almost a week of campus closure here at Maynooth and it has now become clear that there will be no more face to face teaching for the remaining half of the Spring Semester. That does not mean that everything stops, just that all teaching from now on will be delivered remotely.

There probably won’t be any in situ exams in May either: these will have to be replaced by assessments to be submitted online.

During this ‘working from home’ period I’ve been experiencing a few Google hangouts, but that’s just because I was trying to work while still in my underwear.

More relevantly, I have been gradually discovering new ways of holding virtual meetings, which is just as well because we’ll be doing teaching sessions that way starting on Monday.

I’ve been participating in regular videoconferences to do with Euclid using Zoom for a whole now. That seems quite a good easy-to-use platform which can cope with 100 participants.

Yesterday I took part in a virtual meeting using GoToMeeting which is also quite good, although it did remind me of watching Celebrity Squares

(without the celebrities of course).

My video feed kept freezing but that was probably a bandwidth issue at my end rather than a software problem.

This morning I had another new experience, using Microsoft Teams. That wasn’t great to be honest, but it comes with Office 365 so I suppose we should use it on the grounds that we’re paying for it anyway.

I’m not all that experienced at virtual meetings but one tip I can pass on is that if you’re not speaking it’s a good idea to mute your microphone (and probably your video too). Otherwise any noise from shuffling papers, coughing or dropping things gets broadcast to everyone. If you’re presenting something it’s likewise a good idea to ask the audience to mute themselves.

Another point of etiquette is to exercise a bit of self-discipline in not talking over other participants. One should do that anyway, of course, but it’s even more vital in a virtual meeting, otherwise it quickly becomes unbearable. Even if you’re not using Microsoft Teams..

Anyway, if any among you has any further tips to pass on about virtual meetings or remote teaching (including other software platforms worth thinking about) please feel free to make remote use of the Comments Box below.