A help-me-out hangout on the pandemic experience

As part of the response to moving our course content online, my university provides all the faculty a licensed copy of Zoom, which I’ve used as a client before, but have never hosted a meeting myself. I’m throwing myself into it this weekend, ironing out my awkwardness by setting up a conversation, to be held at 3pm tomorrow, 15 March. Anyone want to join in? Email me, I’ll put you on a list and send you a link. Depending on the response, I may not be able to add everyone, so tell me a few words about what you’d want to talk about. You don’t need to have licensed Zoom to be able to use it.

The subject: what we’re doing to cope with the pandemic. Fellow educators are welcome, but this is affecting everyone, so everyone has a place in the discussion. Let’s not make it a piss-and-moan session, but talk about the positive actions you are taking.

This conversation will also be streamed to YouTube, I think, if I’ve got everything figured out. Student discussions will be private in the future. You’ll be helping me to master all the details of the technology! Which also means I may fumble stuff up and the beginning might be glitchy. It’ll be fun!


  1. Kat says

    The university I work at is moving all classes to Zoom and has extended our Spring Break another week to help faculty prepare their courses for it. I work at one of the UNC system universities in North Carolina. I’m also taking an online class at another UNC school. So for that class, the professor is already prepared and had previously spelled out why he prefers Zoom to WebEx.

    There are other points I can make in the Zoom meeting that are frankly related to both points: Covid-19 and online learning. I can understand and appreciate why the schools are taking this so seriously, even before the WHO named what we’re experiencing as a pandemic.

    As of right now, one thing that is still heartening is chatting with folks in lines at the grocery stores. Wondering about the madness of runs on toilet paper of all things with our fellow grocery store customers. We all understand and accept the runs on soap and hand sanitizer. But toilet paper seemed more like the odd runs on bread and milk when there are calls for snow in NC. We don’t have much of that here, and we are typically under prepared as a community.

  2. robro says

    From the smart person in my life who routinely reads the New York Times online and through her library account: Everybody Ready for the Big Migration to Online College? Actually, No

    This shift may be an advantage to some students, but it will disadvantage many: lack of facilities for some (e.g poor), crappy software and connections, poor “at home” conditions, change of leaning mode, teachers and courses unprepared for the change.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    I was supposed to go to Gary Con in Lake Geneva in a couple of weeks, but the outbreak has resulted in one of the two RPG conventions I attend each year being cancelled. I guess I’m going to have to wait until November for Gamehole Con.

  4. leovigild says

    I see a lot of faculty trying Zoom or other streaming services and I just don’t see it being practical for classes. I already have students whose employers are scheduling them to work during former class time because ‘the university is online now.’ Let alone that many are scattered around with less than idea video/internet services. I plan on doing everything asynchronously apart from office hours.

  5. says

    I’ve been a fan of yours since… How long have you been blogging? I’m thinking 2006 is when I started checking out Pharyngula. Linked in through Digby’s blog if I remember right. I’d love to hang out but I’m terminally camera shy. Guess I’ll wait for the YouTube release.

    One of the latest trends in Japan right now is “On-Nomi”. Instead of going out to the bar or pub, you hang out at home and drink and chat, or play games. If this turns out to be the new normal here then I guess I’ll have to get used to it. 21st century just keeps getting stranger and stranger.

    Hell, last night I got into a pissing contest online with some guy who only seems to communicate in memes. Not even emojis, which I’m very slowly coming around to, but straight up just memes.

    I really am turning into a grumpy old man.

  6. d3zd3z says

    My work switched to Zoom last year, and it is, by far, the best solution I’ve used. We have what was supposed to be an in-person conference in a few weeks being done via Zoom, with the result then streamed to YouTube. Overall, the setup seems to work pretty well.

  7. Ursus arctos says

    I’m not going to be able to attend but if anyone comes up with a solid plan for handling lab courses please feel free to share! I don’t think this is optimal for any course but shifting online for labs with dissections, micro, or chem components seems near impossible to me.

    OK students, today we’ll be growing E. coli cultures in our kitchens…what could go wrong? ;)

  8. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “if anyone comes up with a solid plan for handling lab courses please feel free to share!”

    Ask your admin for a few million $$ to implement robotic internet-controlled lab courses.

  9. Erp says

    I’ve used it and one group I work with uses it extensively though not in all its power (and my university, I’m staff, is working hard right now to get things ready for online next quarter). However I can’t make tomorrow. Few notes

    one can use a profile picture (or zoom will provide a default picture), just join the meeting audio only, if one is camera shy. https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201363203-Customizing-your-Profile
    with smallish groups it is probably best to use gallery view https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/360000005883-Displaying-participants-in-gallery-view
    For talks mute the audience by default and use the text chat feature to have them send their questions to the chat for you to answer audibly (don’t forget to repeat the question) or have the person unmute and ask audibly. For large talks perhaps have a second person with a computer to act as moderator and to filter the questions. For fun the moderator could use a picture of a spider as a profile picture. The moderator could also answer questions about technical problems via text chat
    Note the participants can text chat privately to each other https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/203650445-In-Meeting-Chat
    Check with students early about what type of zoom they can support (zoom can be used on a non-smart phone but for obvious reasons phone users won’t be getting chat or video). You almost certainly want them to download and test out the software before the class.

    Good luck

  10. says

    #5: I see problems with it, too — mainly that some students aren’t going to have good access. My current plan is to mainly teach with static pages, supplemented with office hours on zoom. I’ll be giving out my cell phone # to students; they already have my email. I think we need multiple approaches to make everything work.

  11. Erp says

    Also, assuming they have the technical resources to use zoom, students could set up their own study group meetings (the free plan allows one to host a meeting though there is a cap of 40 minutes for 3 or more in the meeting). However I just checked and all UMN students can host zoom meetings with no cap on meeting length https://it.umn.edu/technology/zoom. I also see UMN uses canvas so presumably you’ll be using zoom from within that for class. Note zoom can be used for straight text chat including through the web browser client https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/214629443-Zoom-Web-Client and you can have a group text chat.

  12. Sean Boyd says

    Math tutor here. Our tutoring center will be moving (partially?) to Zoom next quarter…the ‘partially’ depends on decisions the higher-ups have yet to make about such matters. I got to begin testing it this afternoon. A few hiccups along the way, and I worry about the students who access their online course content on cell phones. Actually, that still boggles my mind: students reading their calculus text on a 5.5″ screen.

  13. brucej says

    My institution (I work at a health sciences college at a big state school) has been using Zoom for about two years now; we have a secure “HIPAA”-compliant setup that allows discussion of clinical information. It is BY FAR the easiest system for one-to-one or group videoconferencing we’ve ever used.better than Skype or (aaack) Skype for Business.

    I’m also glad I don’t work for the engineering team for Zoom; they’re about to get the Mother of All Stress Tests, as usage ramps up exponentially.

    Tense times; as of last week my university announced online classes until April 6; overnight the announced it’s until the end of the semester. Next week is going to be a grind. Our group is going to be rotating between working on campus and from home, since we still have to support a bunch of on-premises hardware and the research activities can’t easily just stop; there are also a heck of a lot of folks who can’t telecommute.