Interactive teaching in covid times

The covid crisis has forced most educators to reconsider how they interact with students using online tools instead of in-class discussions. Many university courses have been reorganised as video podcasts during which the professor explains his slides to passive students. Our spring semester starts in February and when it was clear that I would need to teach the networking course online, I thought about possible solutions to provide a better experience to the students. During the previous months, I had attended some remote lectures where basically the professor was mainly explaining his slides and the students were taking notes and sometimes had to answer questions. I thought that there could be a better approach for the theoretical lessons and the exercise sessions.

Many professors moved to video podcasts because they mainly provide their slides as written material for the students. Since my networking class relies on Computer Networking: Principles, Protocols and Practice, this was not an issue for me as the students can easily read the ebook. However, my experience shows that most students mainly read the ebook to prepare the exam. A large fraction of the students mainly use the class discussion to get a first understanding of the course material and read sections of the ebook when needed.

From the theoretical lessons, the compromise that I use and which seems to work well this year is to divide the course material in weeks. Each week starts with a short introductory presentation to the topic that will be discussed during the week (theory and exercises). For the theory, I’ve adapted the slides and added a lot of interactive questions using wooclap. Some of these questions are multiple choice questions, but I usually try to ask open questions where students need to find a number or propose an idea. These questions are much more interesting from a pedagogical viewpoint and they keep the students active during the lesson. The slides and the wooclap questions are freely available if you want to reuse them. The video recordings of the courses (in French) are also available. The slides, questions and videos are updated every week until mid-May.

For the exercises sessions, the same approach cannot be applied since the students need the answer open questions that often require drawing diagrams. A tutor interacts using Microsoft Teams with a group of about 30 students. For each exercise session, we provide a set of powerpoint slides that contain the exercises that are discussed during the session. Students are then divided in groups of 4-5 and start an adhoc meeting to find together an answer to 1-3 exorcises. The tutor then switches from one meeting to another to interact with the students and guide them. Then students come back to the main discussion channel and they discuss the answers found by the different subgroups. Students seem to like having these interactions while working remotely.

*This blog post was written to inform the readers of Computer Networking: Principles, Protocols and Practice about the evolution of the field. You can subscribe to these notes.

Written on March 2, 2021