Technical Notes for Remote Learning

With the transition to remote learning during the Spring 2020 semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fact that many courses will be remote for Fall 2020, the need for technological solutions has increased. We in the group have, over the years, developed familiarity with a several of tools, and also developed a variety of setups.

Feel free to reach out for questions! If you have a tool that should be on this list or you would like to volunteer your expertise with one of these tools, let Brokk know so he can add you!


What do you want to do?

Make some content for an online course

ToolPeople with expertisePositives / Good for…Potential downsides
Macro-enabled PowerPoint template (ask for it)Paul Bourgeois

Heath Hatch

Brokk Toggerson
Good for making presentations and, if you have a tablet, you can write directly on the slides.

Provides automatic closed captioning.

Resulting slides can be distributed as the easily readable pdf.
Not interactive for the students if they are going through the content themselves.
OneNoteLori Goldner

Brokk Toggerson
If you have a tablet, this makes a good “infinite whiteboard,” with much better pen options than Zoom.

Good for office hours too.

Can save the result as pdf.
Saved pdf can be chopped in weird places.
H5PChris ErtlCreating interactive material.

Works in Moodle, but not for graded assessment.
Bit more of a learning curve.

Still need to create some other content in other formats.
PressbooksBrokk ToggersonCreate a webpage with a textbook-like layout (chapters, sections, etc.).

WordPress based, so easy to use.

Can embed videos.

University supported.
Need an account setup for you by the library.
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Make and edit videos from some content

Chris Ertl and Heath Hatch also have a lot of experience making short videos (as opposed to a one-hour lecture) which have been demonstrated to be more effective for asynchronous courses.

ToolPeople with expertisePositives / Good for…Potential Downsides
Echo 360 CaptureChris Ertl

Heath Hatch

Brokk Toggerson
Easy to use.

Two feed: camera and screen.

Supported by the University.
Limited editing capability.

Maximum of two feeds.

No automatic closed captioning.
ZoomBrokk Toggerson (uses as primary video making tool now).Easy: generate a dummy meeting, record it, and download the recording.Auto closed captioning does not seem to come on the downloaded video.

Recording can have interactions with students if not diligent about pausing and resuming.

No editing capability.
CamtasiaJohn Donahue (800-level Graduate Course)

Heath Hatch

Rory Miskmen
Can make recordings.

Most powerful editing tool.

Has an auto closed captioning.
Need license.

Little bit more learning curve, but not too steep.
HandbrakeDon CandelaCompressing and trimming.

East to use

Free, open-source and multi-platform.
Good at compressing and trimming, but limited other features.
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Host videos for reference by students later

PlatformPeople with expertisePositives / Good for…Potential downsides
ZoomBasically everyone I thinkEasy automatic upload.

Feed has both the camera and the screen.

If recorded to the cloud, has automatic closed captioning capability.
Only stores for 90 days.

Echo360Heath Hatch

Brokk Toggerson
Supported by the University.

Interfaces with Moodle.

Need to download and re-upload.
YouTubeBrokk ToggersonNever run into a student who has trouble watching YouTube videos.



Auto closed-captioning is quite good.

Easy upload and easy basic editing.
Default settings are not very good (default license and the fact that they are public). These can be changed, but you need to be aware of them.

Cannot use your Google account, need a dummy one.
VoiceThreadBrokk ToggersonStudents can comment on videos and respond to each others’ comments.Need to upload.

Finite number of UMass licenses.
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Facilitate student engagement

ToolPeople with expertisePositives / Good for…Potential downsides
Zoom breakout roomsHeath Hatch

Brokk Toggerson
Getting students to work in small groups. Can upload the groups in advance.A lot of settings to get this right. However, once you get it, you are good.
Zoom pollsBrokk ToggersonWhat you would use iClickers for in class. Can give points, or not. Limited to multiple choice.

Again getting the settings right is a bit of a trick.
VevoxBrokk ToggersonAlternative interactions like word clouds, images, text etc.

Students do not need an account.

Providing premium features for educators (for now).

PowerPoint plugin works pretty well.
Cannot use for a grade or even attendance.
PiazzaShubha Tewari

Brokk Toggerson
Asychronous discussion – seems to get better participation than a Moodle forum.Yet one more tool for students to engage with.
PerusallHeath Hatch

Shubha Tewari

Brokk Toggerson
Works with any pdf.

Collaborate reading.

Encourages students to read.

Automated grading of student comments.

Gain insights into what students are struggling with.
Need either open pdfs or can make arrangements with Perusall for some copyrighted texts.

Cannot easily specify groups.
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Give exams

There is still work being done in this area, but here is what we got.

ToolPeople with expertisePositives / Good for…Potential downsides
Moodle quiz toolHeath Hatch

Brokk Toggerson
Most people are familiar with this tool, and the students and graduate students are are too.Limited to ~100 people at once.

Setting tricks available for academic integrity.
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Labs or other experiential activities

ToolPeople with expertisePositives / Good for…Potential downsides
Tracker Video Analysis and Modeling ToolBrokk Toggerson (ish!)Doing motion analysis from videos.

Can calibrate distances and make graphs of motion.

Easy to use. Runs on essentially all platforms.
Not really enough experience to know.
LLNLIrene DujovneA set of experimental activities for working from home.Unknown.
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Example Setups

Brokk Toggerson

I teach synchronously with the recordings made available later for those students who missed class.

I use a Surface Pro connected to a dock which allows me to connect to

  • Ethernet cable – more stable than wireless.
  • External monitor.
  • Webcam.
  • Speaker/microphone bar with echo cancelling.

My slides are on the surface allowing me to write while the “PresenterView” is on the external monitor: allowing me to see my notes etc. In this orientation, my Surface’s camera points at the ceiling so I use the webcam. The external monitor is also where I manage the Zoom session.

During class, I use the Zoom polling for a one-question daily quiz and also for formative iClicker-style questions which are not for a grade. There is a way in Moodle for those students who cannot make class to make up the quiz.

Brokk Toggerson’s Zoom Settngs

Below you can find the screen shots of my Zoom settings. There are a lot of settings and these are the ones that work for me!

Passcode - Required
Host Video - On
Enable join before host 
Mute participants upon entry 
Only authenticated users can join
Record the meeting in cloud

Shubha Tewari

For classes that have moved online, I teach synchronously on Zoom and record my lectures so that they are available to students at any time. For all my classes, I use a second screen, but how exactly this is done depends on whether my lectures rely on using Powerpoint, or whether I need to write manually on the screen.

Shubha Tewari’s setup

For classes in which I use Powerpoint, such as the gen-ed I taught in Spring, I use my MacBook Pro to login to Zoom and share the second display screen, on which I project powerpoint in Presenter mode, but can switch as needed to showing youtube videos or video demonstrations to illustrate my lectures. I move the Zoom ‘chat box’ and ‘participants’ screen to my primary laptop, so I can keep track of what students are saying and doing. 

For classes in which I need to write lecture notes, such as my upper level Physics class, I use OneNote on my SurfacePro 3. I found what worked best was to handwrite my notes, scan them as a pdf and upload into OneNote, and annotate them as I lecture, or write further notes to one side.Since in either configuration, I am using the laptop or Surface camera, I find that even while annotating, I have to have my Surface upright, but have figured out how to write that way.