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Mattias Blennow, KTH Physics

Mattias Blennow
Mattias Blennow
Published Sep 29, 2020

My course in vector analysis is given for second year students at Engineering Physics and third year Teacher students. As such, it is currently running fully at distance.

Historically, the course has been taught in a rather standard fashion with lectures and TA classes. For the previous course offering, I had recorded all of the course material in short video lectures of between 2 and 10 minutes as a supplement to the physical lectures for students that for some reason missed a lecture or for refreshing the material prior to the exam.

With the current ongoing pandemic and the course moving online, these videos have taken a more central role together with the course literature as the main sources for the students’ first encounter with the material. Instead of using the scheduled lecture hours for a Zoom lecture, the students prepare beforehand by watching the videos or reading the corresponding sections of the course literature. The live time is then instead used for a combination of flipped classroom, where students are asked allowed to discuss a number of conceptual questions about the material, and a discussion about general questions the students may have regarding what they studied. The breakout room and polling functionalities of Zoom makes it easy to ask the conceptual questions as well as to create small student groups for the discussions.

The TA classes, where TAs traditionally solve problems on the blackboard, have been replaced by the TAs pre-recording the solutions and the live time instead being used as an opportunity to ask them questions directly about problem solving in the course.

Apart from the above, I also try to make it clear to the students that any questions, either through Zoom, Canvas, or by e-mail are welcome and I try to answer them as soon as possible.

On a technical level, the live sessions are held on Zoom with me as the host connected using my laptop and also connecting a writing tablet (iPad pro) to the Zoom session to act as a whiteboard. Having the lecture notes directly available in the tablet also helps as students can ask questions and directly refer to pages in them. The short video lectures were created by recording the tablet screen when I was writing the lecture notes and then creating a voiceover and synching the two in post-processing.

Overall this course layout seems to be working pretty well based on the homework assignments that have been handed in and corrected so far, with a large majority of the students that hand in solutions passing the homework, which is fully handed in online and also peer reviewed using the tool. Naturally, not all students attend the live sessions, but I believe it is an important supplement to those students that feel that they benefit from the discussions.

The largest potential problem I see with the switch to online teaching through Zoom is that we lose the personal interaction with the students that naturally occurs in a physical lecture. Furthermore, I feel that the typical problem of only one or two students asking questions during the lecture is exacerbated by the more impersonal forum of Zoom.

However, swapping between the different breakout sessions during discussions, I have been very happy to hear many students engaging in the discussions. It will be very interesting to see the results in the course after the exam in October and to evaluate what has worked and what has not.