Why did I write this?
The last 2-3 weeks were really hectic for me. (And for you I’m sure I watch the news.) In our country as in most countries in Europe schools are closed and people are advised to stay home. Me and my colleagues (university, online university, and tutors teaching on the side) were all not 100% ready for this situation. Like everybody we had something planned and we had tested some stuff just so we know if it happens we know what to do.
It happened now what ?!? As you may know Microsoft Teams went down (yet again) on Monday. (which was our primary plan if “ducks” hit the fan) I had a class then and the problem was at most 5 people could join which was a problem for a 15-person/children class. I had to “hack it” with Skype just so we could make it and even that wasn’t stable. At the 30-40 min mark, most of the children couldn’t listen to my voice, because the presentation and whiteboard weren’t updating for more than 5-10 seconds.
One hour after that I had a university class that went close to the same. The connection was horrible and most of the people were stuttering. It was better at least we were close to 40 people.
Food for taught
Even though I tutor on the side I don’t have the excess budget for online classes or some fancy 100$ subscription for something I will cancel 5 minutes after things come down. That is why all my suggestions are based on it. Here is something else you should consider as well:
- The setup should be minimal or none. It doesn’t matter if it was for the children or giving ideas to my university professors. (They didn’t have a well-made plan as well.)
- Share your screen or at least some kind of a whiteboard
- Had to be free or you could get it easy throw some kind of “teacher program”
- Webcam should be an option but not the most important thing in the world
The first solution is :
Youtube - Yes, Youtube I’m sure that you are staring at the screen in disbelief but it can really help you. You can make a “private” Livestream and save it for future purposes. Questions can be asked in the comment section which is easy to use and everybody knows how. (except me the first 3 times hosting)
Make the stream “unlisted” and pick a schedule if you need one. Make sure your microphone and camera are working and you are all set. You can send the URL to the people that need it later. It is a really simple and”hacky” way to do it. The only downside is it is a “one-way street” and you can’t make a discussion out of it.
Hint: with a bit of advanced work you can even show your screen and camera at once but it’s a bit complicated and you can’t do it in 5-10 mins before your class. OBS is a software just for that and it’s free. (like free beer) It works on everything. (Even on Mac) (Link to download OBS)
Here you can find helpful tutorials on how to set up OBS with the most important parts of it.
Zoom - It is made for business, but why not use it for school? The free plan (to my knowledge) Has a 45 minutes session and a cap near 100 people. The only problem here is the time and that you need to install the software to use it. (Link to download Zoom)
Update: In the US a lot of schools tried to use it and things didn’t go so smoothly. You can see it here. This is why it is a good idea to have a backup plan in advance.
Discord - Yep, another tool made for something else but we will use it for education. The free version has it all. Screen share up to 720p for the free version and everybody can share everything. (screen, camera, and microphone) They have a great blog post about it and if you are interested I’m sure that they can explain their service better than mine. (Link) They have even updated the voice chat rooms to 50 people with video and screen sharing. (Don’t try to do it all at once I know there are going to be people like that.)
Apple Keynote - Before I start this is only for Apple people so if you don’t have a half-eaten apple in your hand or most of the people who you are going to tutor this is NOT for you. Like everything in Apple’s ecosystem it is easy to work and most Apple devices can watch it without any problem. You can invite up to 100 viewers. To watch, viewers need a web browser or the latest version of the Keynote app. They don’t need iCloud accounts to watch presentations. Here is a helpful guide on how to use it if this is for you. (Link)
And what NOT to use
This is the only part of my post that I will be really vicious like really. If you are a Sys Admin at a university or a “really intuitive” teacher don’t read the next paragraph. You have been warned!
Don’t try to be the university or school that will self-host everything (anything). I heard so much commotion around 5 universities and their systems. I had the honor and user credentials to test 3 of them. I have a rather fast internet connection compared to a normal university student (dorm situation and etc.). Hopefully and if they have tested the software and servers it went great as most tests go but things change when “real” people start to use the “classroom/chat/etc” and it goes under real quick, real fast. After that, the “really intuitive” teacher started to debug the issueS. Nothing was fixed in time and as always the cool motto which is similar to “it is our first time…” was said.
It is not heroic to host it by yourself, people aren’t going to be proud of you. Even for a PR stunt, this is bad. The only people who are ducked in this situation are the students. Not everybody can learn by themselves and there are professors who don’t have classes for helping students out. (If they don’t understand the material or can’t work out their assignments.) This situation isn’t going to be over in just 2 weeks and people are going to forget about it.
Update 2: Update from my last online class with another “cool” software. Half of the hardware of my colleagues (microphones and cameras) wasn’t recognized by the software. I’m not sure why but running it on my Manjaro system was an “adventure”.
- Please prepare in advance and don’t leave it for the last minute. Some of the ways are really easy to work with and can be done in 5-10 minutes but everything can happen and your software of choice can be down. (like Microsoft)
- Don’t be a no-show - I still have university professors who make online classes and don’t attend
- Put some clothes on before the class - Some of the software asks for your permission to use the hardware (Microphone or Camera) and starts it every time without asking you. I had to see more than I wanted on multiple occasions. (it is only the second week, please !!!)
- Understand that the situation is new to people. Have some patience and if possible go into the class 15 mins early so that you know everything is working. Mute your microphone and camera, do your stuff, and come back when the time comes.
- Don’t self-host anything for more than 5 people. Even if it is not your first “rodeo” it can go bad fast. In most cases the people trying to learn to suffer from this.