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C'est la Z

Teaching Online - Day 01

I taught my first two online classes this morning. The first one from 8:10 - 9:25 and the second from 9:45 - 11:00.


  • Zoom meetings
  • Emacs (yes, not just an editor)

First up Zoom.

I think I want a video camera on policy. All my students should have laptops with working cameras. Some students might have issues with showing even a small bit of what's behind them so I don't want to make it required but I really wish they'd also have cameras on.


To get some level of visual feedback and interaction. Having made over 60 Emacs videos I'm used to talking to my own screen but when you know you've got a live audience that you're working with it's different. If I'm just talking to a bunch of black boxes with names in them I don't feel any connection with my students. If I see them I feel we're together.

This was also an issue when I went to screen sharing. Now Zoom handled the screen sharing terrifically. You can share either one specific window, a virtual whiteboard or your whole screen. When sharing, though, instead of seeing a bunch of small windows with lots of people in them you only see around four which isn't representative of the whole class. Better than nothing but I wish I had a long line of boxes that could easily scroll.

Another thing with the screen sharing - it worked great but this is also where two monitors would be helpful. I went from two 30" monitors to one 43" 4K monitor. I love my current setup but it seems with Zoom you share all or nothing. I'm guessing with two monitors I could share one monitor and use the other for notes and staging. With one big monitor I can't do this - I have to share the whole screen. Not a huge problem but makes things a bit less smooth.

This is where Emacs comes in.

For a decent part of the lesson, I'd share my Emacs window. Since I can split the window and quickly jump between buffers (screens) I could bring up a variety of things. I had a shell in one buffer so I could run terminal stuff, a source code buffer, one in org-mode for outlines and table work and one in artist mode for rudimentary diagramming. I think it worked reasonably well for a first shot.

Finally, we also used the Zoom chat. Some students would mic on and off to take part but more used the chat. It was a bit weird at first. I'd talk, they'd write but both classes got into a pretty good tempo after a while. I think it could work. Interesting though was that my first class had a bunch of cross class chat in the general (public) chat during the lesson. Silly remarks back and forth. Truth be told, I liked it. My second class didn't although there might have been some of that in private chats.

I asked the classes to share what their other instructors are doing and using and I'm really interested in hearing. I'm also hoping that they're open with me in terms of what's working and what isn't. I want this to be the best experience for them that we can create and I'm not so proud as to think I know how to do it and that they don't know better.

Now to plan for the next one.

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