Jill Miwa is an Associate Professor and teaches electrodynamics at the department of Physics & Astronomy at Aarhus University. She is responsible for approximately 70 students and 100% of the course has been taught online this year due to COVID-19.

How did you handle this new situation when you first started doing online classes? What new tools and approaches did you start using?

The first shutdown in March 2020 occurred about midway through my course. The switch to online teaching happened incredibly fast so my initial goal was to keep some sense of normalcy for the students. With electrodynamics, I take a very traditional approach to lecturing—there is a lot of blackboard work involving many equations and drawings—so I put pen to paper and delivered the lecture as I normally would and recorded it with my mobile phone. It wasn’t very sophisticated, but it got the job done! The video lectures were released at the normal lecture time and the students and I used an online discussion board as a platform for asking and answering questions related to the lecture. This semester I have continued to create video lectures in much the same manner, but I’ve started to incorporate the use of an iPad and Apple Pencil. The iPad has been advantageous in streamlining the video recording and editing processes, but I haven’t switched completely to the iPad as it is sometimes easier to communicate an idea by “talking with my hands” rather than sketching it out. And this year—for a bit of fun—each video kicks off with an animated introduction and theme song to help get the students focused and motivated for the lecture.

What are some positive experiences you have had with online classes? Are there any activities which work just as well as in normal classes, or maybe even better?

Many of the students have responded positively to the video lectures! I think the video format offers flexibility.  Students rewatch the example problems that I work through in the lecture, or sections where they find the presented concepts challenging. Some students choose to watch the video lectures at a time when they feel their learning is optimal rather than at a specified class time. For me, it’s difficult to find a lecture pace that suits all the students in the class, but with the video lectures, the students can play back the video at different speeds. (I’m told sometimes at 1.5 times the speed, which makes me laugh because I must sound quite funny!)

In your experience, what does not work well in the virtual classroom?

I miss the face-to-face discussions with the students. Before the shutdown, the mid-lecture break was often filled with great discussions about electrodynamics. I think students find there is a large emotional barrier to overcome in order to ask questions and initiate conversations on a discussion board. Live lectures via, for example, Zoom or Discord, could help with this issue. The electrodynamics exercise classes are held via Discord but here the class is split up into smaller work groups with an instructor. The students have been very positive about these exercise classes. I think this is because it gives them a chance to work with their peers and it’s an easier way for them to ask questions and generate discussions.

What will you take with you back to the physical classroom when it becomes possible to teach in person again?

This is a really good question. At the moment, I’m not sure what I would take back to the physical classroom when it becomes possible to teach in person again. I think there are some really effective online teaching tools that if incorporated into the physical classroom could improve student learning. There is great potential to enhance the way lectures are delivered, and I think it will take some serious thought to implement them in an effective and efficient manner.