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2020 October 5

First Zoom lab

Filed under: Circuits course,Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:25
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I had my first remote lab session today, using Zoom to supervise pairs of students working from home.  It went more smoothly than I expected, but not perfectly.

I had pre-assigned lab partners to groups using a CSV file, following the instructions at  A couple minutes into the lab time, when most of the students had shown up, I opened the breakout rooms, and everyone managed to get into their rooms.

Except those students who showed up late—they had to be manually assigned to their rooms, and of course they did not remember what group number they were in, so I had look for them in my list of email addresses (which was not easy, because the name they were showing on the screen might have no more than 1 letter in common with their email address).  I wish that Zoom could remember the pre-assignment even for those who are late!

Once I finally got everyone into their breakout rooms, I started going from room to room, looking over the shoulders of the students and asking if they had any questions.  On the second or third room, the students couldn’t get screen sharing to work (though others had in other rooms).  I tried setting all the screen sharing options, but nothing seemed to work.

I left that group to answer a question in another room, which also turned out to be about screen sharing, but reactivating it for them worked!  So I went back to the room that first had trouble, and reactivated screen sharing for them, and this time it worked.

After that I mostly answered questions for a group until some other group asked for help, then I moved over and answered questions there.  It was very similar to the experience I had with the live labs, except that it was hard to see their breadboards.  Most of the questions were about setting up Waveforms on the Analog Discovery 2 to collect the data or about gnuplot scripts to plot and model the data.

A couple of times students had to quit Zoom and re-enter, and I had to reassign them to their breakout rooms.  It turns out that this can be done while in a breakout room, so I did not have to go back to the main room. Again, I wish Zoom could remember their assignments!

There were a few times when I was free to float between breakout rooms, and I think I managed to touch base with each group at least once, but I’m not 100% sure of that.

I was pretty burned out after 2 hours of being constantly “on”, but that is not so different from a usual lab session.  I did not, however, feel like recording another video tonight.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Doing labs with Zoom has been a similar experience for me, but I did not use breakout rooms to avoid all the extra troubles. I have found that the chat window in combination with the possibility of screen sharing and direct zoom discussion can work very well. At least up to a lab with say 30-36 participant. And I agree that this ‘always on’ can be daunting too (my labs are 3.5 hours).

    Comment by Erich Styger — 2020 October 5 @ 22:29 | Reply

    • The breakout rooms allowed the students to work together in pairs, as they normally do in lab, screen sharing with each other. It also allowed me to work with one pair at a time, without the embarrassment of them being “on display” before the whole class.

      I set up a CSV file with the pairings for the lab (I used the same file for uploading the pairings to Canvas, though that required writing a program for the Canvas API), so setting up the preassigned breakout rooms was easy.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2020 October 6 @ 07:28 | Reply

      • I think I had breakout rooms available in Zoom when I created my account. But then the university moved it to the university zoom account system. Not sure what is missing, but it seems the admins have not enabled the breakout groups. So currently I’m not able to use them anyway. The good thing is that with the masks and distance rules we can continue keep doing labs and lectures on the campus.

        Comment by Erich Styger — 2020 October 6 @ 10:58 | Reply

        • Our campus has only 6 small in-person classes this quarter (one in our department that includes field work and lab work, but with only 6 people at a time in a lab that normally holds 24 students). Winter quarter is likely to be similar.

          We may start having more lab courses in March 2021, but I will probably be running my lab remotely for the whole 2020–21 school year. Our university has had Zoom pro accounts for us since before we were all pushed online last March.

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2020 October 6 @ 11:21 | Reply

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