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Ready Learner One: Tips and Tricks for Learning in the LMU OaCSis

Welcome to the wild and woolly world of learning things exclusively via online resources! This may be very new to you, especially if the shift is made on short notice, so I’ve written a few notes that you might find useful.

Take Care of Yourself First

By all means, make sure you are in a good situation first in terms of health, housing, food, etc. before worrying about any of this. Just send me a note on how things are with you and we’ll work something out.

A Word from Your University

This document is written specifically for students in the computer science courses that I teach. For a university-level perspective on learning online, please consult LMU’s Keep Learning Wherever You Are page. Please also review the Student FAQs section of this page and don’t hesitate to use the university-level question form if you have any concerns beyond the courses that you’re taking with me.

Learning Online is Useful Outside of a Pandemic

Some perspective: learning how to learn in this manner will serve you well way beyond the immediate moment. When you fully launch into a career in computing, you’ll find that learning in this way will be quite useful, as new technologies emerge and the only resources about these technologies will be available solely online at first. Thus, if you get the hang of it now, you are picking up a skill that you will find handy for a long time to come.

Things That Don’t Change

Many aspects of the way that I already teach computer science courses will not change. So if you’re used to them, then great. If you aren’t, then this is a good time to check them out:

  • I will continue to post screen recordings of class sessions as private YouTube videos
  • Links to these videos will continue to be accumulated in Brightspace (under Content > Screengrab Videos)
  • I will continue to be available via email or Slack for any questions or other interactions
  • Assignments will continue to be submitted via GitHub Classroom
  • Feedback will continue to be committed to the GitHub repository of the corresponding assignment
  • Grades will continue to be entered in Brightspace

Things That Are Different

OK, so now here are the adjustments that we’re making to get fully online.

Classes

I will continue to hold classes at our scheduled times via Zoom. But again, see the first section about taking care of yourself first. I will record those Zoom sessions just as I always have, so if you are more comfortable with watching the screengrabs later, then that is perfectly OK.

For all classes and other Zoom-related activities, we will use the Zoom link listed in the Overview section of your respective Brightspace course pages.

Just go there in order to “attend class.” See the last section of this document for some tips on getting the most out of this medium.

For our first class online, I plan to get everyone acquainted with the environment and field questions on this temporary new normal.

Time Zone Differences

For students who will be living in different time zones, connecting to the live sessions and office hours may become infeasible (unless you are truly a night denizen and can now live by your true body clock 🌒🌔🌕🌖🌘).

If you are in this situation, note that the live sessions will continue to be recorded and posted to YouTube, so feel free to view those whenever the time is right for you. For office hours and other direct interactions, the following options are available:

  • Individual appointments for an online session
  • Email
  • Slack

With all of the stuff going on, I may tend to still use Pacific time by default, so please bear that in mind if I state a date and time without being specific about time zone.

Office Hours

I will continue to be available at my pre-scheduled office hours. The only change is that, instead of physically going to my office, you would just go to office hours Zoom link listed in the Overview section of your respective Brightspace course pages.

Further, I will remain reachable (as before) via email (dondi@lmu.edu) or Slack (@dondi in the Slack LMUCS workspace).

Office Hours for Students in a Different Time Zone

As mentioned above, the regularly-scheduled office hour times might not work for students who are living in a different time zone. In those situations, please avail of the three possibilities listed above. Baseline rule: Maintain open, multiple communication channels. We will adjust as needed.

Slack Channels

Due to the anticipated increased use of Slack while we are fully online, I have created specific channels for our courses. This will help with putting related messages and threads together more easily. Do go to those channels and monitor them actively while we are in 100% online mode: #cmsi284 and #cmsi355, respectively.

Online Presence Tips

OK, so now we come to some slightly more general tips regarding life online. Some are practical, some are philosophical—all are based on things I’ve seen and experienced personally, so although they won’t all be absolutely true for everyone, they are indeed based on my own lived online reality (is that an oxymoron?) so far.

We’ll need to be flexible and go with the flow

Stuff will glitch. Stuff will cut off. Stuff might crash. It’s all OK. When we’re online, it is understood that these things can happen. What helps us manage this?

  • Keep tabs on multiple means of communication whenever possible: If video stops working, there can still be audio. If audio breaks, there’s possibly chat. If the entire video app crashes, you can look at Slack and email. If all else fails, you can leave voicemail. Redundancy fosters resilience in this scenario.
  • Watch your email closely than you usually do: Speaking of multiple means of communication, email is perhaps the bedrock of all online means of communication. It’s mature; it’s ubiquitous. Make sure that you have easy access to university email as much as possible.

Online resources are finite, and these days, everyone will be using them

All computing resources are finite (except for those in the theory of computation). Bandwidth is perhaps the prime resource that we’ll be consuming online. There are times when there won’t be enough of it or we will lose it outright.

Class and office hour video sessions consume a lot of resources and may get glitchy or go down. You can try again as needed but don’t worry if you can’t reconnect; we’ll figure it out (see: multiple means of communication above).

As long as I am able to do so, I will continue to record things so that if you can’t attend synchronously, you can watch things later. The only thing you lose is that live, interactive element—which can be made up for during [virtual] office hours or via Slack. So bottom line: no worries, we’ll work something out.

Maximize live session success by learning how to control your feed

  • It’s nice to see everyone’s faces while conducting a live session, but not at the cost of someone’s discomfort or insufficient bandwidth, so be cognizant of those factors and situate yourself as you see fit. I won’t mind either way.
  • In any case, do get familiar (and proficient) with the start/stop video button: You may want to turn the camera on when you talk, or you may want to have it on by default unless your connection gets shaky. Knowing how to toggle video with ease will be helpful here.
  • Depending on how many people are on live at the same time, ambient noise may build up or get distracting. To minimize this, also learn how to control your outgoing audio. The Mute button is particularly useful. But don’t forget to unmute yourself either when you want to talk.
  • Again on the theme of multiple means of communication, find and use the Zoom chat panel—I’ll keep it open myself. You can type messages in here at any time. I might also switch to this if audio or video start to glitch.
  • Even with today’s high bandwidth, audio will have a slight delay—give people time to respond, perhaps speak a little more slowly, and pause a little more between sentences.
  • Here’s something we can’t do in class easily: You can share your screen when needed! When asking a question, you have the option to take over the screen so you can demonstrate where you’re stuck firsthand. Get to know how to use the Share button in order to avail of this capability.

OK, I think that’s everything (so far). Do keep the link to this document handy in case I add or change something. Even with this document, we’ll practice what we preached above about being flexible and going with the flow.

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