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I've attended a couple online classes and I'll be teaching my own in a short while. And what I noticed is that usually the lecturer has a lot of interruptions from people who ask them to repeat something, to clarify on a topic, or they even divert the topic to ask something else (like "can I do the same thing with a different IDE?").

When I teach on-site I notice I don't have as many questions as I've observed here (probably because "hiding" behind a computer screen makes people more comfortable to ask questions). And I really welcome all kinds of questions and hate it when someone gets behind just because they're afraid to ask.

So I'm trying to find a balance here. It would be a great thing if I had someone assisting students, so they can go on a private chat with whoever is asking a question and answer without disrupting the class. But that's not a possibility here. It's just me. And I also know another option would be to say all questions will be answered at the end of the lecture, but I'm hesitant on this since the risk of leaving people behind during the class is higher.

Any other ideas on how to handle this? I'd hate to be one of those lecturers that talks non-stop with people just nodding without understanding too much of what's being said.

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    $\begingroup$ To help get better answers, could specify the platform or tools you will be using for your class. Target students would also help, i.e. university, teenagers, young students, etc. $\endgroup$ – Gypsy Spellweaver Apr 8 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. It will be an open class for beginner programmers, so I expect most of the people will be in a 15-30 year old range, but it's not limited to that. As for the platform, I might be using youtube in a live broadcast, so the video is there for students to go back to whenever they need it. $\endgroup$ – Floella Apr 8 at 1:18
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If you go through your lectures, you'll find most of the them actually cover between 3 and 6 separate distinct topics. We can take advantage of this to improve online delivery. Well before an online class meeting, look at your notes and identify those topic areas. Now instead of one meeting, think in terms of a separate session (usually 10 minutes or less) for each of those shorter topic areas.

Even better, you can almost always find good content freely available online that will cover those topics. Where finding a single replacement for the complete lecture would not have been possible, the smaller topics will each likely have a good option or two available. This online content will often be produced, in that it has good lighting, supporting animations, edited closed captions, etc. If you define the topic narrowly enough, this often even holds for upper-level undegrad work (graduate coursework may be different).

Now you can assign these videos as prerequisites for your class meeting (often with a very short and low-value quiz, just to provide the extra incentive for students to complete this work). You may still need to cover one or two of your original topics personally, but finding the videos is often much less work than creating or delivering your own.

This now lets you change how the conference session is run, whether on Zoom, Hangouts, Teams, Skype, WebEx, BBB, BlueJeans, or whatever. Lecture content is now much shorter, if it happens at all, and therefore less susceptible to these interruptions. Instead, these meetings are about handling class business: introducing homework, setting expectations, providing review material and guides, helping students understand where to pay the most attention in the outside material, and answering questions... you know, the kind of question that would have been an interruption before. It's now part of the primary purpose of the session.

Pedagogically this is called a flipped classroom approach, and it has a number of documented benefits outside or our current situation: Students learn better with the shorter 10 minute sessions, they have the original lecture material for review, they can catch up much easier for missed class times, they can use their video player to slow down or speed up delivery, or pause to take notes without disrupting other students, and it increases student access to the instructor.

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If you use Zoom, one strategy you can employ is to have all students divert their questions to the chat window. This would allow you to scan them, but choose which ones to answer at which times. Diverting questions could be ignored or put off until later, while important confusions could be addressed immediately.

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This is a small addendum and variation on the answer of Joel Coehoorn. There is the possibility, also, of making the course completely asynchronous so that those with various issues can still learn even if they can't connect at a certain time.

First, though, the advice to reduce "content" segments to about 10 minutes is both excellent and is supported by research. For each segment, provide exercises. For each exercise, provide individual feedback on attempts at solutions.

The source of the content segments is probably much less important than the follow up. Some from you, some from others is a good suggestion.

But, to make it asynchronous, as well as low bandwidth, you can just use a common text sharing platform to communicate with the students. Instant messaging on mobiles is terrible for this, but there is "chatroom" software that permits both synchronous chats, but also capture of the stream for publishing elsewhere for those who can't participate in real time.

But for years, I ran important graduate courses using primarily a common mailing list to which all students and their professors were subscribed. Students could ask questions at any time and all would see the question and answer stream. There is an advantage to that, since lots of questions don't get asked but should get asked if only individual interactions are used. The professor doesn't need to answer the same question over and over.

Text alone may be enough, but a platform that lets you share images as well may be needed. But image sharing need not be ubiquitous to be effective.

But, in my courses, students were also encouraged to answer one another's questions as well as ask them. So the professor only has to answer about half the questions, though must correct misconceptions. But even that is useful for learning. You need ground rules, of course. Asking for solutions and providing them is off limits. Hints can be asked for, but should be provided only by the professor. You need a separate stream for students to submit work. But simple email works for that provided that the scale is reasonable.

But the overall effect of such an asynchronous system is that students can work at any time and don't get stuck as they would (and do) when everything must go through the professor at a time and place certain. Learning can go on round the clock. "Class" never ends.

All the tools to do this are available and free. Low band-width can be an advantage. Preserving message streams is a definite advantage for planning future iterations of a course.

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