Learnings from teaching online for an intensive week

Last week, we had the Summer Residency of the Master of Communications Management program at McMaster University (offered in partnership with the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University). However, this was MCM Residency with a COVID-19 pandemic twist – for the first time, we delivered the entire residency via Zoom.

It was a good experience, full of learnings for me, as an instructor. I thought I would share a few with you. This term, I am teaching COM MGMT 744 Data Science and Analytics for Communications Managers.

A little background, first.

In the MCM program, residency is a very special time because it’s when our community of students gather at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario for a week of intensive learning, networking and personal focus. The MCM program brings together highly motivated and carefully selected (by our Program Admission Committee) students, each of whom has a lot of drive and a lot to offer. Most are already managers, executives or entrepreneurs, although we do admit a small group of “enterprising juniors” in every cohort, to provide the rest of us with the benefit of reverse mentorship!

Delivering an experience with the same intimacy and hot-house for ideas feeling in a digital format was a challenge that we decided to approach collaboratively, with constant communication amongst our community members, students, faculty, TAs and staff.

My class went a total of 3.5 hours every morning, Sunday-Thursday. So we went 90 minutes, took a 30-minute break, then went for another 90 minutes. In the end, it felt like I delivered a fairly engaging experience. I know there is much I can improve on. I will improve next time.

In the meanwhile, were are some key learnings I took from the experience as an instructor.

  1. Be very prepared. I mostly had all of the apps and websites open and ready for sharing via Zoom with the students. Once, I fumbled around for an app and I felt the energy wane briefly. Preparation is key.
  2. Don’t be phased by Zoom crashes. I found that Zoom crashed at least once per session. Usually when I was trying to share an app. Although mortified at first, I quickly realized that this was part of the experience and then just rolled with it when it happened.
  3. Save technical demos for an instructional video. After one attempt to boringly demonstrate an analytic software tool, I realized that I was wasting everyone’s precious time together in realtime. Record such demos in a short video so that students can view them at their leisure later.
  4. Showcase the human side of learning. Synchronous time together (when you’re together in realtime) is best used for the human component of learning. Tell your stories and use your best lecturing and discussion-management skills in realtime. Whilst such human elements may sound canned when recorded in a video, they are the “magical” component of the live seminar experience, even on Zoom.
  5. Be punctual, especially for breaks. Begin and end on time. Students who are working from home have planned their lives around your announced schedule. Going over time at the end with elective conversation is ok, but eating into break time just means you’re making participants feel anxious.

I hope these tips are useful to you, as you navigate the new world of #WFH, doing everything via digital platforms.

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