Teaching Tools and Technologies

In 1996, as an undergraduate student at Acadia University, I was hired to work with Acadia faculty on the introduction of laptop computers and campus-wide networking. That experience led directly to my first full-time job at IBM Global Services and a career-long interest in university teaching and the use of technology for teaching. This page summarizes some random lessons learned and resources. Last Updated: November 6, 2021.

General Teaching Advice and Resources

Specific Software/Tools

Zoom

I had made some use of Zoom before COVID and then like thousands of others taught almost exclusively through Zoom during COVID with classes ranging from 6 to 260 students. I quickly realized that while Zoom was not specifically designed for teaching purposes it could be adapted to meet most of my online teaching needs.

  1. Presenter View – A way to use presenter view in PowerPoint while sharing just your slides to participants without multiple screens or computers is to use the Zoom Advance Screen Sharing option. This allows you to just share a portion of your screen and size the rectangle to match the slide portion of presenter view. This also allows the instructor to see the chat window and participant window while sharing slides at the same time.
  2. Chat Comments – Be aware that if you post comments to the chat they are not visible to anyone who joins the meeting later. Using an external chat tool like Discord is an option if this is a problem for your situation.
  3. Zoom Polls – Be aware that the only person who can create polls before or during a meeting is the person whose account is associated with scheduling the meeting – making someone else the co-host or host will still not give them access to polls
  4. Whiteboard/External Doc Sharing – The built-in Zoom whiteboard offers a quick way to take visible notes during a class discussion but due to limitations I quickly found using a shared Google Doc or MS Office Document to be preferable for full-class brainstorming or breakout room note-taking/slide creation. The Zoom whiteboard does include a text feature for those not adept at freehand drawing/writing and you can create multiple pages and save the output but the saved version is a PNG image rather than a text document so you can’t go back later and edit the text as you could in other programs. For Breakout Room note-taking or slide creation I typically used Google Slides and set up one document with multiple slides where each group had one or more slides clearly labelled for their specific use. During the breakout time I could easily monitor the progress of all groups by watching the Google Doc even if I was still in the main Zoom room or one specific breakout room. The only situation where this does not work well is if you don’t want groups to be able to see what other groups are doing. In that case I would send separate Google slide links to each group so each was working in a completely separate document.
  5. Breakout Room Screen-Sharing/Chat – Thanks to a Zoom client update 5.7 in June 2021, hosts/co-hosts now have a few ways to share information with participants in breakout rooms:
    1. Send a Zoom message to all breakout rooms. A limitation of this option is that the message is only visible for a few seconds and limited in length
    2. Use the chat function to share a link to an external document with instructions or other materials before the opening breakout rooms and sending participants there
    3. Use the new “Share to breakout rooms” Zoom screen-sharing function. Before this function was added in v 5.7, screen sharing and chat in breakout rooms was limited to that single breakout room so as host/co-host you could not share your screen or share a chat message to all breakout rooms at once. 
  6. Dual-Monitor Zoom Settings on Mac – By default if you put a PowerPoint presentation into Slide show mode on a Mac with two screens PowerPoint will show the slide show on one screen and presenter view on the other. This is fine if you don’t want to see the other Zoom meeting participants but problematic if you do. You can change this in the PowerPoint settings on the Slide Show tab under Set up Slide Show. Under Show type, choose “Browsed by an individual” and the slide show will show up in just one window on one screen, leaving the other screen free for you to see the Zoom gallery. You may have to set this again the next time you run PowerPoint if it reverts back.

Tales from the Zoom – A positive account of moving to online teaching
Engaging Students in an Online Classroom (Chronicle of Higher Education August 13, 2020)
Best Practices for Giving Tests on Blackboard (Pitt)

Discord

In Spring 2021, we successfully used Discord as a communication tool for faculty, teaching assistants and 400+ students in McIntire’s COMM 1800 Introduction to Business class. It has some similarities to Slack or Microsoft Teams as a tool for chat and other communications. Discord greatly reduced the volume of email generated by the class and allowed all participants to view a log of communications both during and between classes and after the semester was over. Within Discord we set up separate channels for each student team, each teaching assistant group, instructors and TAs, and live class chat.

mmHmm

mmHmm is an early-stage video tool available for both Mac and PC that allows the user to create a variety of custom backgrounds and insert themselves into videos more unique ways when recording videos to share with students. On Zoom, users can substitute the mmHmm “camera” for the default camera so that all of the mmHmm features can be used in any Zoom meeting. I  used mmHmm to record a pre-semester welcome video for students where my head/shoulders appeared on the screen in front of UVA background and a slide deck appeared above me similar to a TV newscaster. mmHmm has a free trial version and also provides additional free access to educators.

Gradescope

Gradescope is a powerful cloud-based assignment and exam management tool that allows multiple instructors and teaching assistants to collaborate on tasks and allows students to make individual and group submissions, receive grades and feedback, appeal grades, etc. all from one tool. Gradescope can work with scanned copies of paper assignments/exams, PDF submissions or, more recently, accept submissions directly within the Gradescope interface with no outside documents. Gradescope can also be linked to courses in Blackboard and other LMS systems. The ability to create and revise grading rubrics throughout the grading process and update grades for batches of submissions can be a big timesaver. There is a fairly steep learning curve to understanding how to use Gradescope but for a class with multiple sections or a large number of students or TAs it is very beneficial. UVA has a site license for Gradescope as do many other schools.

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