I just finished a first-time attempt to teach a group of students remotely over an extended period of 3 days in theory and practical skills. This went surprisingly well, so I’d like to share what we did - maybe it can be useful for any of you involved in education.
We teach courses in the medical fields of osteopathy and kinesiology, areas where we do not just transfer knowledge, but also hands-on skills. This is why I always had assumed that physical presence is indispensable. This weekend I was scheduled to teach such a course in Russia, but due to Covid19 travelling there from Vienna was not possible. We had already postponed the course from March and the organizer in St. Petersburg convinced me to try and do it through Zoom.
I was teaching from our small video studio in the basement of our school, with 3 cameras (close up, total, overhead over a treatment table) and one PC connected to the ports of my shiny new ATEM Mini Pro ISO. The HDMI out from the ATEM gave me a multiview on a 40’ TV and the USB was used as the webcam input into PC 1.
PC 1 was my main computer, which sent the webcam image and my powerpoints to Zoom. At the beginning I also had my mic and a big TV connected to this PC to show me the class, while I was lecturing. What worked surprisingly well was the audio part: I used a USB border mic and played back their audio through the TV. That way I was completely free to move around with no strings attached, and Zoom handled the situation without any feedback. (Sadly this setup does not work well on BigBlueButton.) The only problem with this setup on the first day was that Zoom would minimize the webcam image from the students on my own screen, whenever I was sharing my screen for powerpoint, so I was not able to see their faces while lecturing.
PC 2 was sitting in the background for video playback. I was able to control the VLC player remotely from my streamdeck/companion, just as the ATEM. Throughout the course I showed short clips of technique demonstrations I had recorded earlier, the clips had no audio and I was commenting them live, with buttons on my streamdeck for pause/resume and previous/next track. Worked like a charm!
On day 2 we introduced a third PC with another Zoom user on my side. I used this PC 3 to show me the class on the big TV (even when my PPT was up on PC1), but we had to move my mic to PC 3 to avoid feedback from the TV.
On the Russian end the students were all present in the same classroom, where they had 2 computers set up with projectors in the front of the class. Each computer was logged into a distinct zoom user, one of them had a webcam attached that showed the whole class from the teacher’s perspective and speakers. One of the projectors projected my webcam, the other my presentation. A third computer with a built-in webcam and I microphone was used for the translater and my voice went out to speakers, so everyone could hear me directly. (Some of the students understand English.)
Another zoom user was open on an iphone on a gimbal, and the local techie went up and down through the classroom during practice units to show me what the students were doing. I was not able to speak to individual students during the practice (this would have produced feedback), but I could observe and comment after the practice session. Also, I had experienced teaching assistants who were able to help students during practice.
The overall experience was surprisingly smooth - latency was low, so we all felt we were having real conversations, and it was not nearly as exhausting as many web conferences I’ve had in the past. I had one brief drop of my connection on day one, and there was a moment on day 3 when the Russian techie accidentally ended the meeting instead of logging out one client, but both problems could be resolved immediately. I had a mobile hotspot ready as a backup, but did not need it.
To sum it up, we had an amazingly good experience with a highly complicated situation (translator, practical demonstrations, students’ practice). Many thanks to Aaron and John who taught me how to use the ATEM and companion! The one dimension that is still missing, of course is touch, so I hope there’ll be some breakthroughs in haptic devices soon!