How could we make online learning via Zoom more like television?

Hybrid Teaching: The Experiment

After two years of teaching online, I was really looking forward to physically teaching our course. But how to do that with only 75 out of 120 students allowed in the IDE Arena? Spoiler: geeky stuff!

In 2016, I started teaching at the TU Delft because, well, I just love teaching. But now, after two years of educating through Zoom, I found that there is a bit of nuance needed; I love physical teaching.

The course we teach at TU Delft is called Brand & Product Commercialisation. It’s a master course in Marketing for 120 international students, running from February till July. Students appreciate the course, because we have a lot of different teaching tools and tricks to keep it going, and to make it as interactive as we can.

The IDE Arena, here used by Jeroen Coelen en Matthijs Buijs for their cool Build Your Startup course. It fits 120 people, but only 75 are allowed because of Covid.

But now with only 75 students allowed in the IDE Arena (my favourite lecture room at the faculty), we need to come up with a hybrid solution. And if you don’t do something extra to get it going, hybrid is not a great experience for students at home; Bad sound, bad video, boring experience. So why not try something extra? We’re designers, right?

So what’s the concept?

Basically, we want to make hybrid education for the online student a bit more like television. That means: trying to connect those two on- and offline worlds a bit more, and trying to get the vibe in the ‘studio’ across. And yes, that is a challenge. We think that by having good audio and better and more video, we can set a first step.

What’s the setup?

There will be four components to our setup:

1 The Lecturer
The Lecturer is the active user in Zoom to share her presentation. The Lecturer’s computer has audio output connected to room audio, and the video output connected to left and right screens.

The Obsbot, following you while you move around.

The inbound video signal for this computer is the Osbot to have the lecturer shown in Zoom. The good thing about the Osbot is that it has a bit of intelligence and some mechatronics to keep following you while you walk around. That allows for a more zoom-in image and freedom to actively move.

some example of an earlier version of the Obsbot used in teaching

The audio-in is done by a wireless microphone connected to the lecturer’s computer. The other transmitter — on the same channel — is used by the Question Cam.

These BOYA mics are not that expensive and work really well

2. The Room Overview
The fixed room computer is a user in Zoom called Room Overview Cam, to connect home students to the room and the other way around.

The Logitech Meetup that’s standard equipment in the IDE Arena

The Logitech Meetup meeting device is connected to this room computer as video input to share a static and rather wide view of the room for the home users via Zoom.

The Room computer is logged in to the Zoom session, with no input or output audio connected, since per room only one user can play loud audio without interference. The video output is connected to the central screen. It shows Zoom in Gallery View.

Room Overview Cam

3. The Question Cam
This user represents the student in the room that has a question. It’s moving through the lecture room, actually.

It’s basically an Iphone, logged in as a separate user called ‘Question Cam’. It’s put on a long selfie stick, to also reach into the audience. Indeed, just like television. The back camera is used, zoomed in, with the display to the back for the cameraman to see if the image is well- captured.

It’s connected to a powerpack to make it last and not get drained. It’s connected over eduroam WIFI or G4. The audio is disconnected and the microphone is on mute to prevent from resonance.

This is where the second wireless mic comes in handy, because that’s connected to the Lecturer’s computer, as is the room audio system, and therefor it won’t resonate. So no Whieeeeeeeeeh causing instant panic ;-)

some first prototype for the Question Cam

4. The Moderator
To make sure the Zoom audience’s questions in the chat are posed live in the room at the right moment, the student assistant is logged in to the Zoom session as Moderator.

What to expect at home?

So the students at home are logged in at Zoom and see four users:

  • The presentation slides with next to it the presenter in close up called lecturer
  • The room overview, called Room Overview Cam
  • The student that asks a question, called Question Cam
  • The student assistant for moderation, called Moderator

To get these channels all in view and not have them end up at some third page in Zoom, we permanently raise hands in those Zoom accounts. Something smart my student assistant Ariele came up with.

What to expect in the lecture room?

In the lecture room we expect things to be quite like the earlier days. The Question Cam will be a novelty and maybe a bit cringe at first, and the Osbot will lead to funny or awkward situations probably. And there will be hassle, because there always is when applying new tech.

What to expect in the on-faculty studio’s?

There are on-faculty studios reserved for the students that are on the faculty, but are not allowed in the lecture room. Students in these studio’s can probably best connect only one’s computer to the screen, log in, use the webcam on the screen and have students that have questions either ask the main user to type them in the chat, or walk up to the webcam/mic and ask the question themselves. The latter is more engaging and fun for the people in the main lecture room. Raise a hand to get in the row.

Let’s see what works!

We’ll kick this off February 11th. We need the students to actively join us in our attempt to see if we can make hybrid teaching and learning a bit more engaging. By putting their cams on, by actively joining the lectures and ask questions, either in or from outside the lecture room.

And most important: by sharing their ideas for improvement, and by being tolerant to maybe some clutter during this adventure. Because even after practising this thourougly (which we did, believe me!), there will be f*ckups that we learn from. Innovation rules!

Update: Want to know how it went?

Thanks to my colleagues Pieter Jongerius, Jasper van Kuijk, Ianus Keller, Viki Pavlic, Matthijs Buijs, Jeroen Coelen, Bas Flipsen & Maaike Dijkstra for advice and sharing their experiences to build on and Ariele Empirio for helping out.

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