Presenting and Teaching

Kicking Off the Fall Quarter: Four Teaching Observations

23 Sep 2020  

This week I kicked off my fall quarter – three courses and over two hundred students. I have two classes that are largely in-person, socially distanced and masked, and one class that is on Zoom.

Here are four learning points from the first classes.

In-Person Still Works

I wondered if an in-person class would work in a masked and distanced world. I have a huge room, and students are spaced out. The people in the back row are very far away.

My assessment so far? In-person still works. You can see students, ask questions, and interact.

Distancing means I can’t walk out into the class, but this is ok. There is still lots of space to wander around the front of the room.

That said, some adjustments are needed. Name cards, for example. I could read all the name cards in the first three rows. The fourth row became a challenge. The sixth row was impossible. I found teaching the class was a bit like constantly taking a vision test. Does that name start with an R? Maybe….it could be Rachel. In this new distanced world, larger name cards are really important.

Zoom Is Complicated

I’ve been teaching on Zoom for quite a long time; at this point, I think I’m over 100 Zoom classes. Still, when I kicked off my class I encountered a few technical problems. At one point I had my microphone plugged into the wrong place, and then later I found I couldn’t hear any of the videos I was playing. Students could but I couldn’t. Another time I briefly couldn’t hear student comments.

The learning is that you need to constantly keep training and learning. Zoom changes all the time, so there are always little new things to figure out. It is important to remember that continuous practice is best.

Watch the Chat

I learned this week that the chat function in Zoom is perilous. I let students chat in my class, and there are lots of comments. This week we were way over 100 posts. The problem is that not all of the comments were particularly well-considered, and some were highly questionable.

The learning here is that instructors should think about whether to allow the chat function or not and, if so, to remind students that everything is visible and recorded and you never know who will be reading your comments. You would think that in today’s world such a reminder wouldn’t be necessary, but apparently it is.


The single thing that drives a class is the teacher’s energy. This is true in both in-person and Zoom. I love the challenge of teaching – there are so many issues and complications and details.

The watch out is that teaching is draining, especially on Zoom, and the learning is you have to be very careful about managing your project load. Teaching might only consume a few hours of your day, but from an energy perspective, it can take all you have.



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2 Responses

  1. Paulo Machado says:

    Very good, Tim. You have been of great help and inspiration for me. Regards from Brazil.

  2. emitahill says:

    Sounds like a great job. Your students are lucky to have you.

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