International stars in the digital classroom

Friday 27 Mar 20
by Tom Nervil


Peter Bøggild
DTU Physics
+45 21 36 27 98
Schools and universities are closed and all teaching is conducted digitally. The new situation is not just a limitation—it also opens up new possibilities.

One lecturer who sees online teaching as an opportunity to find new and inspiring ways is Professor Peter Bøggild from DTU Physics, who teaches graphene and other 2D materials to PhD students.

"We can basically invite anyone! Inviting international stars into the classroom to talk about their research themselves is research-based teaching"
Peter Bøggild

Peter Bøggild had plans to invite a Spanish researcher to visit as a guest lecturer and initially regretted having to cancel the lectures due to the travel ban.

“But then I thought: He can participate in the online teaching just as the students can. We can basically invite anyone! Inviting international stars into the classroom to talk about their research themselves is research-based teaching,” says Peter Bøggild enthusiastically. 

It was a big moment for him, and the students were also thrilled to be able to ask questions and get answers from the scientist who actually wrote the phenomenal article they were discussing, he says.

With his newfound experience, Peter Bøggild was looking forward to the next guest lecture featuring Aitoe Mugarza from the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2). Mugarza gave a short presentation and took questions from the students. This lecture has since been posted online so others can be inspired by it (see link at the bottom of the article). 

From obstacle to opportunity

However, suddenly taking the auditorium into cyberspace comes with certain challenges.

“It’s difficult to get used to the fact that you can’t see people’s faces. The students can choose to disable their cameras, so the interaction is a bit sparse. On the other hand, you can have a chat window open on the screen where a moderator or teaching assistant can answer questions without interrupting the lecture. And that works really well. Everyone keeps an eye on the chat, and sometimes you can stop lecturing to explain if a particularly good question is asked,” says Peter Bøggild. 

As a lecturer, he sees several new opportunities in online teaching.

“I’m quite excited about many things about this format and will definitely invite online guests to the course again once everything gets back to normal. I also think a real-time chat is very useful. I believe many of my colleagues already use it.  

Wisdom for the way

Although online teaching is new to Peter Bøggild, he has already gained some experience that he is happy to share:

  1. Try everything out first, preferably with a few students and colleagues as guinea pigs. Everything! If you have not tested the right combination of people, equipment, and application first, it will go wrong. 
  2. Buy proper equipment (sound and image) and make sure to have the best possible internet connection.
  3. Make sure the students log on well in advance the first few times so there is time for them to fix audio and image issues.
  4. Emphasize the good things! Do not think defensively: “We are very sorry, but we have to do it this way,” but instead say: “We are now going to learn in a new way, and some really exciting things are going to happen.”
  5. There are plenty of benefits. For example, you can save everything so that the students can watch it again later. Use software with group rooms so the students can work in groups—otherwise the energy will disappear. One example of a system where you have all students work in groups is Zoom. 

And one final tip: 

Use a pen or digitizer to write formulas, mark things on graphs, and much more.
A PowerPoint presentation can be nice, but you’ll really miss the written notes. It requires a bit of practice, but it’s worth it! The great thing about writing directly on the PowerPoint is that you can upload it afterwards so the students get BOTH the PowerPoint and the whiteboard.

System and equipment

Peter Bøggild uses DTU’s Zoom site license and Microsoft Surface to write with (whiteboard). 

He uses a Logitech Connect conference camera for good sound and image, and sometimes he also uses a USB podcast microphone.

Or use a good Skype headset and a decent camera.

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Photo: Mikkel Adsbøl

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