Archive for Zoom

Four Weeks To Go

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2020 by telescoper

As I await another Zoom meeting I remembered this cartoon from last week’s Private Eye, which sums up the prevalent mood amongst academics these days (and no doubt people in other kinds of job too).

At the start of this morning’s Panopto lecture I realised that there are still 4 weeks left of this Semester before the Christmas break. I was a bit surprised by that as this term seems to have lasted a decade already. The time certainly hasn’t zoomed by. Still, at least I’ve more-or-less kept up with my planned schedule of lectures in both of my modules without slipping. I may even be able to finish lectures to my 2nd year Vector Calculus in time to do a bit of revision in the final week.

That’s not to say other things haven’t slipped. The greatly increased time for teaching needed to move everything online hasn’t left much time for research or anything else. I keep meaning to work in the evenings to deal with outstanding things but mostly I find once I’ve done the necessary admin and teaching stuff all I can do is sleep. It seems that I’ll have to work over Christmas to finish off the backlog. Given that I didn’t have a holiday this summer that’s not ideal, but it’s unlikely I’ll be going anywhere over the “festive” season owing to Coronavirus restrictions so I might as well make the best of it.

We don’t have much idea how things will work out next Semester. The politicians seem to be wanting universities to have more on-campus teaching in the New Year. They also want to end the current restrictions to end before Christmas. In fact the current regime is suppose to end on December 2nd, which is next week, and cases are still running around 400 per day. I don’t think they can do both of these and for the Covid-19 situation to remain under any semblance of control. I think the likeliest scenario is that cases surge over the next few weeks and the Christmas break and we have to go back into full restrictions in January or February.

There is however the prospect of a vaccine or vaccines being available fairly early next year so maybe the end of this is in sight. I really hope we can get back to campus normality at some point in 2021. I do feel very sad about the effect all these restrictions has been having on the students. It’s not just having to have remote lectures. I think having a lecturer in the same room is an advantage, but the loss of it is not the worst issue. We encourage our students to work with each other in their learning, and I’m sure students learn at least as much from each other as they do from the lecturer. Peer group learning is more difficult when your peers are sitting in separate locations most of the time.

Earlier today I found myself using the phrase “getting back to normal” in connection with plans for next teaching year. Then I realise that we staff know what we mean by “normal” but our first-year students don’t. I have a feeling that may might find it more difficult to adjust to the old normal than they did to the new one.

And in any case many of our students in all years did not take up accommodation in Maynooth at the start of this year because of the remote teaching. Even if we did on campus lectures or tutorials next term, I suspect many will stay at home anyway to avoid substantial cost of rented accommodation. We will therefore have to continue making material available online whatever happens.

Anyway, what may or may not happen next Semester is to a large extent out of my hands so I won’t be making any firm decisions on what approach I will be taking until much closer to the start of Semester 2 In the meantime the goal is to fight the exhaustion and try get through to the end of term in one piece.

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.

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.