Dr Konstantinos Gkoutzis, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Computing

Please note that Zoom is not supported by all Faculty EdTech teams and ICT. Therefore, it is imperative that before you use it for teaching purposes you discuss your requirements with your Faculty EdTech team.

In addition to digital marking, we are also quite active in online-accessible teaching. Along with many other departments of the College, we have been using Panopto to store videos of our lectures, which has always been an invaluable resource for our students to use when revising. During the lectures, we present interactive questions using Mentimeter, where students can connect to via their smartphone or laptop and immediately interact with the lecturer in this way. This same process can also be replicated online, by any lecturer on a live teaching session.

Even though most of our teaching will start after the exam period, our Java Programming lecturers, Dr Alastair Donaldson and Dr Antonio Filieri, have already successfully carried out an online revision lecture. I set this up as a “Meeting” on Zoom, and I asked students to create an account using their Imperial College email address, in order to be able to join, and I also set an event password so as to avoid unexpected visitors. I provided instructions on our Piazza forums on how one can access Zoom using the Chrome web-browser or the Linux/MacOS/Windows clients, and some students also joined via their Android/Apple smartphones or tablets using the app. Overall, 75 students attended the live 4-hour session, which I recorded in a local file and then uploaded on Panopto as per usual. The lecturers used screensharing throughout the entire lecture, while also showing their cameras on the side, in order to make the lecture feel as if it were a face-to-face session. I had auto-muted all participants on entry, and the lecturers paused after each part and asked students to unmute themselves and ask any questions. In parallel to the verbal questions, the students were also asking questions via the text chat, and I was answering these along with the other students who were present. During the break time, I played some public domain music tracks to entertain the participants, which was welcomed by all.

Overall, this revision lecture did not feel “lacking” at all, when compared to a face-to-face session; if anything, it was actually better in some ways. Students were able to talk to each other during the session - using the text chat - without interrupting the flow of the lecture, thus enabling peer learning in parallel to the didactic lecture approach. Since this was the first time we tried live online teaching, we did not have any small-group discussions, but doing so would have been quite simple on Zoom, since it has the option of automatically generating “Breakout Rooms”. The only issue with using a “Meeting” type was that students could accidentally unmute themselves, but the host of the meeting can manually mute them again. In order to give lecturers full control, without having the need of a host being present to monitor the chat and/or to mute participants who forget that their microphone is on, we have since purchased the “Webinar” add-on of Zoom which keeps everyone on mute until the lecturer manually unmutes them for Q&A. In this scenario, the participants would need to make use of the “Raise Hand” feature of Zoom – as if this were a face-to-face session, allowing the lecturers to control who speaks next.

As an alternative to live lectures, we will also be experimenting with “flipping the classroom”, pre-recording lectures using screen-recording software and then making these videos available on Panopto 24-hours in advance. When the time for the live session comes, the lecturers will be able to focus on further discussion and Q&A about the video of the previous day, thus challenging students to engage with the material in a more critical manner. This discussion will also be recorded and uploaded on Panopto afterwards.

Finally, for our Programming Lab sessions, we are preparing to use Microsoft Teams in order to offer support to our students while they are working on their Group Projects. This will be done in two parts:

  • For lab support, all our First Year Students and Teaching Assistants have been added to a Team with sub-channels. Each TA will claim an empty channel waiting for students to join and ask questions. Each time a student joins, they will create a “Meet now” event with a specific title (e.g. “I am stuck at this point of the spec”) and the TA will click on it and join the meeting. The student will then share their screen, use voice chat or text-chat to communicate with the TA, sort their problem and end the call, thus freeing up the TA to be able to help the next student who enters. Students entering a channel can immediately see if a meeting is on-going, and can thus keep switching between channels until they find an available TA. I am currently considering building a “Teams Bot” to assist our students with the process of finding a TA. I have also created a shared form on Excel 365 in order to coordinate the rota of the TAs, to ascertain that there will always be help available. If a student is unable to make it to the live lab sessions, they are aware that they can post their questions on Piazza, and the on-duty TAs will respond in-between meeting with students.
  • For project supervision, each group will be assigned a Mentor – as per usual, but this time the Mentor will create a Team for their group, where they will “meet” electronically to discuss about the project on a weekly basis at commonly convenient times. In order to ascertain that the final 15-minute presentation of the students will be of high quality, we have allowed them to pre-record and upload this in advance, and their Mentor will watch it and have a live Q&A session with them afterwards for 10 minutes.

Overall, there are many other ways to further improve the aforementioned activities, and we will continue to explore these over time, in order to be even better prepared and equipped for the future. Please feel free contact Konstantinos Gkoutzis if you have any questions on the above. Thank you.