Although I did teach my Tuesday classes last week with a torn quadriceps tendon (it was test day in all four classes), I won’t be able to return to teaching for two weeks. By that time, my surgical staples will be removed and I’ll be in a knee brace rather than an immobilizer.
Being unable to physically get to campus, I was faced with a challenge. The usual thing is to get other faculty to cover the classes, but my two colleagues have four classes of their own and covering my classes would be an unreasonable burden. Also, with the cost of the surgery and such, I really can’t afford to pay them. Naturally, I would not expect them to do it for free. The other standard approach is to hire a temporary adjunct-but, like most universities, the budget is rather strained. So that option was out. Also, I dislike failing in my duties and would rather not dump them on someone else.
So, my solution was to convert my classes to online classes for the two weeks. Naturally, I did not expect any support from my school’s IT folks and knew I would be on my own. I also was quite aware that I had a limited amount of time, no budget and that I’d be doing it all while I was both in pain and under the influence of pain killers. Seemed like too much fun to possible miss.
So, my quick, dirty and ugly solution was this:
1) I already have my notes and practice tests online, so the students already had some support material in place. So, that part was done.
2) I needed to create some audio lecture files that would be compact and work on any PC, Mac or music player. The obvious choice was MP3. Fortunately, I already had a USB mic (from playing Warcraft) and Audacity. Audacity is an amazing cross platform sound utility. While it does many fancy things, it is an excellent program for voice recording. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that this commercial grade software is free. To export MP3 files you will need a free plug in, LAME MP3 Encoder. For various legal reasons, you have to get LAME separately. Since I wanted compact MP3 files and they would just be voice, I went to the Edit Menu, selected Preferences, then clicked on the File Formats tab. Once there, I set the bit rate to 32. While music encoded at this rate would sound rather bad, simple speech sounds fine. You might wish to experiment with the settings if you desire higher quality and size is not a big issues. There are also other settings that can be adjusted, but I did not have the time or inclination to fiddle around much. Here is a sample.
3) I also needed to create some video files showing the students how to do Venn diagrams. Describing shading and such with audio only would have been rather tedious and no doubt ineffective. At first I considered using a dry erase board and an old web cam, but hit upon a better solution. I downloaded a free screen recording utility called TipCam. This free software is made by uTIPu and works quite well, especially for what I had in mind. To be specific, I planned to just go through the Venn diagrams manually rather than messing around with fancy animations. Fortunately, TipCam allows the user to zoom its recording area into a specific location, so as to capture just what the user wants captured. So, I opened up a paint program and zoomed in on the canvas. I could then use the paint bucket tool to “shade” in the diagrams and the text tool to place the “X”. Of course, merely showing the students a movie of a diagram filling in would have not been very informative. Fortunately, TipCam allows the user to narrate while recording (or add naration latter). So, I was able to record what I was saying as I worked the diagram. TipCam can save the videos as Flash files and these can be uploaded to YouTube. Here is a sample.
4) I also had to find a way to give and collect quizzes and assignments online. I ended up using the survey software provided by Yahoo Small Business. While not ideal for doing quizzes, I needed to have these things up ASAP. In any case, getting the answers in one organized file beats getting 130 or so emails for each quiz and assignment. If I had more time, I no doubt could have found a program or service that handles such things that I could do from home. I’d put up a sample, but suspect that spambots would find the link, go there and fill it with crap.
While some teachers are probably wondering why I didn’t use Blackboard, the reason is that I would have to go to campus in person and fill out forms to get that set up-assuming the folks in charge would be willing to do it now. Since time was of the essence and I cannot drive or even walk much, I knew was on my own.
In any case, if anyone else is in a similar plight, I hope this info might be useful.