Monday, February 15, 2021

Dr. Z Loses Power in Zoom Class


Even though I have made a reputation for teaching other educators how to use Zoom; regardless of the fact that I have been teaching synchronous online classes from my basement for the past 11 months; In spite of the fact that I have been teaching online for over 2 decades; I want you to know that sometimes things go wrong in online classes for me too.

Today, I was just beginning to teach my Ed Tech and Design course through Zoom. I had EVERYTHING prepared. My screen was shared so we could review our schedule and the requirements for the upcoming assignment. I had already spoken with each of my 36 students by asking them the question of the day. Each of my students had already renamed themselves by putting their group numbers at the beginning of their names to make it easier to break them up for their group work later.

Suddenly, my MacBook Air's screen WENT BLANK . . .

My lifeless computer stared back at me as I tried to make sense of the situation. My students were gone and my computer wasn't working. I was cut off from my class. I hadn't checked to ensure that my laptop was charged and it died. My students were left leaderless in my Zoom classroom.

I immediately phoned my Graduate Assistant, Lindsey. She answered quickly My computer connection was cut so I needed to reconnect another way. Lindsey affirmed that they had noticed that I had disappeared. I had not yet made her co-host so hosting had been passed to a student . . . How embarrassing! When Lindsey discovered the host, they asked the new "chief of the class" to make them host.

My computer was busy recharging so I hung up from Lindsey, and signed into Zoom with my phone. This allowed me to address the class to start them with their class activities. The next activity was Breakout Room group work. Lindsey placed them all in groups and sent them on their way to collaboration.

My computer soon regained consciousness. I was able to sign back into Zoom to regain control of my class. Things went well after that.

This was embarrassing, but it was a learning experience as well.

Here are some of my Lessons Learned:
  1. Remember to have your laptop plugged in before you begin class.
  2. Have your laptop charged before class.
  3. Add this plugged in/charged reminder to your checklist. (You may remember that last week I posted my checklist in prep for a Zoom class. You will notice that I have since added this to the list - near the top.)
  4. ALWAYS assign your assistant as Co-Host before class.

John Dewey once said:

"Failure is Instructive.
The person who REALLY THINKS, learns quite as much from their failures as from their successes."

Hopefully, I will REALLY THINK and learn from this in the future.

What about you? Have you ever had this happen to you?

Monday, February 08, 2021

My Educator's Checklist for Successful Zoom Sessions

I have had a number of educators ask me how I prepare for teaching through Zoom.  

Aside from outlining my class session, I have a number of items that I want to remember to ensure a successful class.  Remember that these are what I like to use.  I would be fascinated to hear about the items on your checklist as you move into a Zoom session.

Checklists are incredibly important for presenting an effective session.  Most of us have them in our heads, but it wasn't until I created a written version and hung it on my wall that the checklist really improved the quality of my sessions. This is what I use:

Before Your Zoom Session:

  • Restart Computer (?) - Since most of us are teaching on laptops, it's easy to keep your computer on ALL THE TIME.  Sure, you might put it in Sleep mode every night, but as we work various programs and tabs and ???, it is easy to fill your computer's memory with useless RAM-ivorous memory gobblers. These gobblers can get in the way of your computer running efficiently so it is best to rid your system of them at least once a week. You don't have to restart before each class but reboot your computer at least once a week.
  • Laptop is Plugged-in or Fully Charged - Your computer can die on you in the middle of class. This can lead to your students disappearing from your screen and you disappearing from their Zoom class. This may sound obvious, but I began a class running on my MacBook's battery and it died in the middle of class. I returned in a timely fashion but it was embarassing and interfered with their learning.
  • Close the Door - I am an active teacher who believes that laughing and interacting with my students is an essential part of a good learning situation. This means that I need to close the door so as not to interfere with other people in my house.
  • Fill my Water Glass - You need to be comfortable when you teach so identify the "creature comfort necessities" that you need and ensure that you have them all at hand.
  • Pad of Paper and Pen - I use Notes and Google Keep for notes, but I still seem to need to have a pad of paper for quick notes. Using a couple of notebooks which are each divided into 5 parts, I can organize my notes by topic.  It's always good to have a couple of pens available.
  • Check the Mic and Camera - I use the camera on my laptop, but I always try to clean the lens using an eyeglass cleaning cloth before class.  I have an external mic so I check the USB connection and test the quality of my recording.  If you are running multiple cameras, plug them all into your computer.
  • Check for Host/Cohost - Usually, when you begin your Zoom session, you are the host by default. Don't Assume ANYTHING! Today, 10 minutes into class, I found that I wasn't hosting.  NO ONE was host. I don't remember how, but I had to sign-in again to claim Hostdom.
  • Add your Assistant as Cohost - My Graduate Assistant, Lindsey, is a valuable support person. Your support people should be your cohost.  ALERT: If your assistant is going to organize your breakout rooms, they MUST be made the HOST and you take on the role of CO-HOST.
  • Label the Breakout Rooms - It is easier if you already have the breakout rooms labeled if you are going to be manually putting students in breakout rooms or you will allow them to enter their own.
  • Turn Off Breakout Rooms Timer - Zoom's capability to time a breakout room meeting is useful. Unfortunately, it has caused some of my Breakouts to end prematurely. I have had 15-minute meetings end in 8 minutes because the timer had been set to 8 minutes and I hadn't changed it.  The WORSE PART of this is that there is no way to change the time setting once the meeting has started. PLEASE FIX THIS ZOOM. Until then, I try to just turn off the timer.
  • Test Sharing Your Screen - Test your processes like Sharing Screens before class. It is too easy for this to be a problem and roadblock in the class.
  • Test your Presentation - If you are using a slide show to supplement/guide your class, you MUST test this before class begins.  Thoughtfully go through your presentation as a presentation to ensure that all of the videos work and the animation provides the effect that you planned.
  • Preload Links into Tabs - Linking to other websites is an important function of my slides.  Often it takes a long time to load.  This causes an unwanted delay. Preloading these sites to various Chrome tabs is a good way to reduce potential delays.
In Session:
  • Start Recording - I usually ask a student or my Graduate Assistant to help me remember to record each class session, but there are times when that doesn't work either.  Keep it on your checklist.

After Session:
  • Save your Chat - Chats hold important information.  It is possible to set your settings so that your class's chats are saved automatically, but ALWAYS save your chats.
  • Convert your Recording - You have to quit Zoom to convert your class session recording, but it is best if you do this immediately after your class. I don't know what the formula is to compute how long it will take to convert your recording, but my hour-long sessions usually take about 15 minutes to convert.  
  • Save your Converted Recording to Google Drive - I save my recordings to my computer and then copy them to Google Drive so that students can access them. Last week, I realized that I can tell Zoom where to save the converted file.  Turns out that I can direct it specifically to my Google Drive. This saves a lot of time because I don't have to do it separately after it is save on my computer harddrive.
  • Include a Link from my LMS folder to a Recording - Making a recording of your class sessions is not useful unless you have a link for your students to follow it.  I have a specific place in my LMS system where my students can go to find the link.