Remote Lecturing: Online Econometrics, Day 10

First Mile Communications was an Atlanta-based telecommunications firm that sold DSL Internet connections to local residents. Potential customers would call, and based on their address, First Mile would compute the straight-line distance to the nearest Central Office (CO). Using that distance, First Mile would approximate the length of the copper wire that connected the location to the CO. The standard rule they used was to multiply the straight-line distance by the square root of 2. This wire distance would determine how fast an Internet connection the firm could promise the customer.

On Monday, my students and I spent most of the class using linear regression with real data to test the validity of the root 2 rule and estimate wire distance more accurately. We also discussed several ways to use the regression results to make predictions about wire distance for customers. It’s a terrific exercise, and I owe a huge debt to Lanier Benkard for sharing it with me.

Last summer, I walked through the same material in my in-person econometrics class. The lecture is extremely interactive, and I didn’t think it translated well as a recorded video lecture. That’s why I decided to try replicating the lecture in the live session of my online class this year. It went well, but there are a few things I’ve learned about remote lecturing that are different from in-person lecturing:

  1. Use a writing tablet. In an in-person lecture, I like to switch back and forth between presenting with slides and writing things like mathematical derivations on a blackboard or whiteboard. In a remote class, I feel the same way, and I currently use a small $100 Wacom Intuos tablet. Last summer I used a fancy $2000 Wacom Cintiq 22HD and while it was better, it wasn’t $1900 better. The sweet spot for me is probably the $200 medium size Intuos.

  2. Leave open space on your slides for annotation. I do all my “board work” on my slides so I can refer to slide material and not have to switch between screens. For this to work, I need blank space on some slides, and the occasional blank slide in my deck. Often I will present a slide, and then show a summarized version of the slide with space to work.

  3. Direct questions to individual students. Even though I can see everyone, I’ve found it works better to initially engage with individuals, rather than to throw questions out to the whole class. I systematically rotate through every student to keep everyone on their toes. The key is to not embarrass anyone who doesn’t know an answer, but instead give them hints until they can answer the question themselves.

  4. Try not to talk for more than 3-5 minutes at a time. Because remote students are usually in the comfort of their own home and I’m just a little window on their computer screen, it’s easy for them to tune out. In an in-person class I try not to talk more than 5-10 minutes without asking someone from the class a question about the material, but I do it even more often here.

  5. Review your pre-recorded material. When planning a live session, it’s good to review the corresponding recorded material to make sure you don’t repeat yourself. If you have detailed slides and/or notes you might be able to get away with just reviewing these.