My Spontaneous Response to COVID-19 – Virtual Classes

Amidst the threat of COVID-19, what would you do if you had a cold and if you had a class? Last weekend I was unwell, and as I was recovering, I thought I should see the doctor, just to confirm if everything was okay. Luckily, it was just a common cold and nothing more, but I was still coughing. The doctor recommended me to not go to my class the next day to avoid creating panic among the students and my colleagues.

It made sense to take a sicky, but what about my class? What about my colleague who would’ve had to take my 8-hour class on short notice and no preparation? Especially when I wasn’t really sick. So, I had a crazy thought on Monday night to take my Tuesday class from home. The idea was that if I was isolated, could I still run my classes?

Here is my account for how I went about setting up, running the class from home and the feedback from the learners

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What did I teach in my virtual classes? A.C. Theory and A.C. Machines

I conducted my first ever remote class on Tuesday 17th March and then another one in the same week on Thursday 19th March 2020.

On Tuesdays, I have been teaching UEENEEG102A – Solve problems in low voltage A.C. Circuits this term, which we also call G102A or A.C. Theory. This particular week I was teaching about

  • Neutral conductors
  • Phasor diagrams to find neutral current
  • Effects of broken and High impedance neutral
  • Three-phase delta connection

On Thursdays, I have been teaching UEENEEG006A – Solve problems in single and three-phase low voltage machines, which we also refer to as G006 or A.C. machines. This week I was going to

  • undertake a test on Single and three-phase motors
  • teach motor protection
    Wiring rules AS/NZS 3000:2018 clauses for motor protection
  • Conditions that require motor protection – Overload, Short circuit, Over and Undervoltage, etc
  • Equipment used for motor protection – Thermal overload, Overcurrent relays, Thermistor relays, etc

What technology and personnel did it take to make the virtual class happen?

Home

  • C922 Logitech webcam with mic
  • Tripod
  • Whiteboard, markers and cleaner
  • Desktop computer (Windows)
  • Speakers

Classroom

  • Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 webcam with mic
  • Desktop computer (Windows)
  • Projector and screen
  • Speakers

Software and Apps

  • Cisco Jabber and Webex teams
  • Outlook Email, Facebook messenger and LinkedIn
  • Techsmith Camtasia 2019
  • Youtube
  • Bit.ly
  • Learning management system
  • Google forms

Personnel

  • Trainer (Hus)
  • My colleague, Paul
  • Technical Assistant (student)
  • Announcer (student)

Here's what happened on the virtual training day?

As I mentioned earlier, on Monday night, I decided to run my first virtual class on Tuesday all day. My lesson plan was ready, but that was it.

I emailed the Head of Department at 6 AM Tuesday, expressing my intention of running a virtual class starting at 8 AM and asking for his permission. When I called just before 8 AM, he was a bit reluctant but gave me the go-ahead and requested one of my colleagues to assist me.

I asked my colleague to log in to the teacher computer in the classroom and login to Cisco Jabber. Jabber is Holmesglen’s telephony service, where you can either connect by phone or online. If you join online, you can share files, screens and webcam. So that’s the option I chose. Once our Jabber call was connected, it was just the matter of testing our video and audio feed, which worked seamlessly. My colleague left after setting this up

I conducted the training for the neutral conductor as I had planned. We had some questions from the learners like it’s a face to face class, and it worked well. There were some problems, especially with the webcam angle and sound, but I’ll discuss that in the later section or another blog. I used the whiteboard to write all the critical points, draw circuits and phasor diagrams.

According to my plan, I was supposed to show a demonstration, and luckily, I had shot a video of this demonstration a few weeks back for my blog, which I still hadn’t published. So while the students were doing some quizzes on the Learning Management System (LMS), I quickly published this video and hosted it as an unlisted youtube video.

My next problem was showing this video. I could’ve played the video on my side and shared the screen, but since the video and audio qualities weren’t too great, I decided to send them the link. Usually, the youtube links aren’t human friendly, so I used a service called Bit.ly to shorten and customise the link from https://youtu.be/JX_o_mwDsQQ to http://bit.ly/star-unbalanced. Both links lead to the same video, but the latter is so much easier to say out loud. 

I shared it with one of the students on Facebook messenger and asked him to share it with the rest of the group. One of the students used the teacher computer and played this video on the screen, so that worked out even better. This worked so well that I decided to publish one more video of a demonstration while they were watching the last one and did the same thing.

When the break times approached, I asked the students to take a break and called my colleague to let them back into the classroom after. Towards the end of the class, he let my students out, logged out and closed the classroom.

What did the learners think about virtual training?

Overall, I thought that both sessions went quite well. There was no disruption in my students’ learning, and I was able to run a test. But I’m not the customer here, and it’s best to take the learners’ account here.

After both sessions, I took a survey that I prepared using Google Forms while they were doing their quizzes. The results are below

What did you like about today's virtual class?

  1. The effort
  2. everything
  3. We actually got to learn rather than just waste time
  4. Having a teacher via webcam is better then not having a teacher
  5. Very goos solution
  6. Felt like a standard clas
  7. very informative and useful if sickness occurs
  8. that class could go ahead even though you weren’t physically here
  9. Motor Protection
  10. Relaxing
  11. Was easy to understand
  12. Was good, still able to learn what was required
  13. Good connection
  14. I like it because it’s a different way of learning
  15. The live stream was good for interaction and explanations rather then just a video
  16. It still went smoothly and other than him not being here I think I still learnt more than other classes with the other teachers in the room
  17. The pace
  18. It was a pretty good experience good sound quality where where still able to get a good training session in

What did you dislike about today's virtual class? How could I improve it?

  1. Sound and visual quality is poor
  2. nothing
  3. That it wasn’t in class so it wasn’t engaging enough
  4. There’s no face to face or one on one so it makes it a little harder to get help from you and class goes a little slower then normal as once you have finished set task you have wait for everyone else to catch up so you can continue on to next unit of work but no one says they have finished that unit so you have to wait even longer for teacher to move on
  5. 0
  6. Nothing
  7. Better webcam / visuals
  8. nothing
  9. You won’t there
  10. Better quality screen resolution
  11. Camera quality
  12. Not being able to ask questions when needed, felt like burden
  13. Nothing
  14. Not much
  15. Can’t put my finger on it, you did well, I’m impressed.
  16. Nothing bad to report
  17. It was very hard to read what was being written and sometimes understand you
  18. Better quality projector in the classroom as it was very hard to read smaller hand writing off the white board

As you can see, most of them enjoyed the class, but not everyone got the most out of it. This could be because of several reasons, which I have shared in another section

What worked well on the day?

The first thing that worked in my favour was the approval and support from the Head of Department. The second was my colleague, who took out time from his schedule to assist me. And of course, the learners. Without their acceptance and willingness to learn in this unexpected way, none of this would have been possible.

All the technology explained in the earlier topic worked quite well, but not without flaws.

What didn't work well, and what improvements could make it better?

I had given myself or anyone no time to prepare for the virtual or remote training, and that could’ve taken everything south as quickly as we started, but luckily nothing of the sort happened. Although, if I had pre-planned this, the overall experience might have been even better

I should’ve gone to the class beforehand and tested the technology myself. Luckily, everything worked as expected but it all could’ve come crashing down quite easily with even simple glitch.

Data usage was my biggest concern. For both sessions, this was terribly high.

When using the staff portal and Cisco Jabber, the Upload speed was 0.4 to 1 Mbps and Download speed was 1.5 to 4.4 Mbps. As you can see, it’s quite high, so everyone in the house had to bear with the slow network

When using the Webex teams from my home computer, the Upload speed was 0.6 to 0.9 Mbps and Download speed was 0.98 to 1.2 Mbps. It’s still high but quite a drop compared to using the staff portal.

All the demonstrations should have been pre-recorded and published before the session. Since I hadn’t done this, I was working frantically in the background to get the next thing ready.

The learners and supporting trainers should have been notified well in advance so they could’ve prepared themselves. This include technology training, expectations and how to work in a virtual setting.

The sound quality was sub-par, perhaps because of the speakers in the classroom. I only realised this because of one of the suggestions in the feedback.

Again, the learners suggested through the feedback that the video quality wasn’t perfect This was probably because of my internet speed, which is quite low.

My handwriting is really bad and this is a problem in the face-to-face classes as well, but there I have the luxury of using a bigger whiteboard so I can spread the writing better. At home I have a small whiteboard, which was a hindrance at times.

I didn’t have all the students on one communications platform. Some were emailing me, some preferred to use Facebook messenger and some LinkedIn. It would’ve made my life a lot easier if we had one communications platform that worked in real-time. 

Conclusion

A spontaneous reaction is still a reactive approach, but there is a clear call for a proactive approach here. I ran these virtual classes without much preparation or notice and received an exceptional response; I think I could’ve done much better for the learners if I was better prepared.

I hope my experience will encourage you to try a virtual class with your learners and help you not repeat the mistakes that I made. Please feel free to drop me a comment about your experience with virtual training or if you would like more information.

Thanks for dropping by.

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About the Author

Husnen Rupani

Husnen Rupani

I help electrical training organisations increase learner engagement by designing innovative training equipment. I have a saying "Electricity - you cannot see, you cannot hear it, but by the time you feel it, it may be too late." My main aim is to turn this black magic that we call electricity into something that people can understand.

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