Gas station without pumps

2020 March 27

Day off today, planning sabbatical

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:47
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Today was a day off for University of California, celebrating Cesar Chavez Day, though the official day for that is next Tuesday March 31.  I did a little undergraduate director work via e-mail, but mostly took it easy today.

Trader Joe’s

I started the day by bicycling to Trader Joe’s to take advantage of their first hour for seniors (I’m over 65 now, so I qualify, though I don’t think I’m at particularly high risk). The setup was that they had two lines—one for seniors and one for others, allowing people to self-identify to choose which line to join.  The cart handles were being cleaned between uses and customers were getting their hands sprayed before being let in.  They were regulating the number of people at a time in the store, but the line moved fairly quickly, as people were not lingering in the store.

Trader Joe’s has always had super-wide aisles, so social distancing in the store was easy.  I quickly grabbed the stuff I had come for (most of my TJ staples: beer, cider, port, chocolate, paper towels, and soap) and checked out quickly so that others could enter the store.  I don’t think I need to go back to TJs for a couple of weeks, as I have at least a 2-week supply now of just about everything that I ever buy there (we got laundry detergent, cereal, and toilet paper a week or two before shopping got crazy).

Mowing lawn

After I got home from shopping (and scrubbing my hands and the doorknobs I’d touched), I got out the electric lawn mower and mowed both the front yard and the back yard.  The grass (and oxalis and wild onions and all the many other plants that make up my “lawn”) had gotten pretty long, but the plants were still soft, young plants, so the mowing went fairly quickly.  I even managed to fill my 40-gallon green-waste container with blackberry vines, ivy, and chunks of the dead rosemary bush.

Having sabbatical  this spring does mean that I’ll probably be able to keep the grass cut this year, for the first time in about a decade.  No 4′-high meadow with 8′ thistles this year!  Removing all the ivy and blackberries, though, is probably beyond me—filling the 40-gallon green-waste container weekly will probably be just enough to keep the current overgrowth from getting bigger, without making an appreciable dent in the 500 square feet covered with with them.

Preparing for sabbatical

I’m going to take this weekend off (sleeping, re-reading fantasy or science fiction books) and on Monday I’ll start working on creating video tutorials for sections of my book. I’m still debating how to do the visuals for the videos: prepared slides, pen on paper with a document camera, white board in front of the computer, or tablet and stylus.

I am not fond of prepared slides as a presentation style, though I know it has become the most common style for STEM lectures, so having a set of slides to bundle with the book might make it more attractive for instructors to adopt.  My lecture style has been more of an improvisational performance, triggered by questions from the students—that will not translate well to videos with no audience, so I’m going to have to develop a whole new teaching style for myself.

I’m looking at a few document cameras on Amazon ($100–$150), though I briefly considered making a stand for my cellphone (which has a 12MP camera) instead.  I think that having a USB-attached camera with a reasonably designed arm will work better with the various software I might use for making the video than trying to jury-rig something with my cellphone, so I’d be willing to invest in the document camera—if writing on paper works for me as a lecturing style.

The closest I’ve come to using that style in the past was in Spring 2000, after I had the bike accident that necessitated removing my spleen.  I had to lecture sitting down with an overhead projector until my ribs healed—I found it much more limiting than my usual large-whiteboard lecture style, as I could not build up an information-rich surface to point back to previous items on, as I had to keep changing pages.  Whatever I do for the videos is going to have the same problem, though, as the screen is a tiny, little window that can only hold one thing at a time.

I’ll probably also have to invest in colored markers if I lecture on paper—I write somewhat more legibly with a broad chisel-tip calligraphy marker.  I’ve only used black calligraphy markers in the past (the Itoya double-header), but I see that the same company makes colored ones in the same style.

I tried a whiteboard in front of my desktop for the last (optional) lecture of BME 51A.  It was not technically very successful—lighting and contrast were problems, as well as the size of the writing on the screen being too small.  I could try a small whiteboard with a document camera, but I suspect that it will not work as well as paper and calligraphy markers.

One big advantage of the document camera is that I can put small objects (like components or breadboards) on the screen easily—I even do that in some of my live lectures.

The most expensive option is to get a tablet computer (e.g., iPad or Surface) and pressure-sensitive stylus.  I’m not convinced that I’ll be able to write all that well on them, and interfacing them to software that let’s me switch easily back and forth between a head-shot camera, a small-parts camera, preprepared images, and the stuff-drawn-on-the-tablet may be difficult.

Of course, if I’m putting together a video, I don’t have the same time constraints that a live remote lecture would have, as I can film each scene separately and edit them together.  Editing takes up a lot of time though, so I’m not sure I want to go that route, rather than recording in one continuous stretch.  (Yes, I know the quality would be better if I spent a lot of time editing, but I’m not sure I have the time to do even quick-and-dirty tutorials on all the topics.)

Another big change for me is that I’ll probably have to work from a script, rather than doing an improv lecture.  That’s because I’ll need to do closed-captioning on the videos if I post them on YouTube, as the automatic YouTube closed captioning is ludicrously bad (see YouTube closed captions are awful), and it takes forever to put in the captioning unless you have a script already prepared.

Going from big whiteboard real estate and an improv style to tiny screens and tight scripting is going to be a big change for me.  It’s a good thing I have six months to experiment with different approaches and don’t have to go live on Monday  like most of my colleagues.

Unexpected consequences

One good consequence of the sudden forced switch to remote teaching is that there has been more discussion of pedagogical tools (Canvas quizzes, document cameras, tablets, zoom, take-home exams, …) among the faculty in the past week than there has been in the previous 5 years.

Unfortunately, all the discussion has been about lecturing and high-volume remote testing, with none about teaching writing, engineering design, or hands-on lab skills, which are the topics that really need attention (but which are probably going to be sacrificed in this quarter’s remote teaching).

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