Teaching online: ten suggestions for success


On April 7, 2020, I gave a talk during an AWS Webinar in a series on Remote Learning (as advertised in this post, mentioned here, and here).

The webinar can now be watched on YouTube:

(or here on the original page), and the slides that I used for the presentation are the following:


The ten points for success are summarized here:

Point 1: Don’t think of this move to online teaching as a one-off; this is the new normal. At California State University we have had to move to online teaching practically every year in the last five years: fires (twice), shootings, and now the pandemic. So think of the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to build an online offering that can serve your department and students for years. You should have an online version for all your classes, not only for emergencies, but also to be responsive to the current reality where so many students want online offerings.

Point 2: There are two initial “shifts” in the move to online teaching. First, the pedagogical shift to not teaching in the classroom, where it is easy to connect with students physically present, to read facial expressions and adjust your teaching accordingly, to chat with some of them in person after class.  Second, the shift to a different usage of tools, or a different set of tools altogether: Zoom, Canvas, Piazza, MyITLab, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and of course AWS Educate offerings. Both “shifts” require some time; e.g., think of how you are going to compensate for lack of physical presence, and do not start learning Zoom half an hour before the first class. 

Point 3: In Point 2 we mentioned the challenge of not having the students physically present; how are you going to compensate for the lack of interaction that you are used to? I use Slack to create a collaborative environment in the class. I dedicate a channel to the course, and include all the students in the channel. Students can interact with me (the instructor), but even more importantly, they can interact with each other, and they do! Here appears one advantage of online teaching: often, as the students sit to write down a difficulty they encounter in the course, by the act of writing it in a public forum, they concentrate more than they do when asking verbally in class, and the question is better formed and often the answer appears in the process. Also, having those interactions recorded in the channel allows us to point them out later if the question comes up again. Further interaction comes by using Zoom on a regular basis, both to teach, and to have office hours / question periods. 

Point 4: In Point 2 we mentioned the challenge of shifting to a new set of tools. For Computer Science faculty this is relatively easy from the technical perspective. We are familiar with cloud-based tools, and our students like IT tools, and so the move is seamless. What can be problematic is how these tools are deployed; that is, the heavy reliance on these tools can make the course about them instead of making them ancillary to the objective of the course. The solution here is to explain, or even better automate, the aspects of the tools that are not intrinsic to the topic being taught. For example, we use AWS Educate accounts to teach our Computer Architecture class (COMP 262), a sophomore course where student learn about different microprocessor architectures and assembler level programming. Being able to deploy AMI (Amazon Machine Images) with certain architectures frees the student to concentrate on the point of the exercise: the differences in architecture. 

Point 5: It is important to be creative. More material can be taught successfully online than one would expect. For example, we have a senior elective in “mobile robotics” (COMP 470), which includes a lot of hands on lab work. It may seem hopeless to simulate such a course online, but it is not – we used the material in AWS Educate RoboMaker class to create virtual labs. Students can be given the relatively inexpensive robots (e.g., Amazon Deep Racer, ~$300 each), and participate in a lab by doing the hands-on activity at home, but testing and competing in a virtual environment in the cloud. 

Point 6: Do not think of online teaching as simulating classroom teaching. It is a different entity, with its advantages and disadvantages; concentrate on the advantages. For example, simply using Zoom to deliver a lecture at the same times as a regular lecture won’t do. Your lecture will be dry, you will feel frustrated as you feel as if you were talking into your own screen instead of a classroom full of students. Use Zoom to create an interactive environment, including quizzes (there are some nice tools to deliver interactive quizzes which always awaken a sense of fun competition along students; e.g., Kahoots, Quizzez), Zoom breakout rooms, question and answer sessions, presentations by students, etc.

Point 7: Grading has to be changed. For example, rely more on assignments, as in a final assignment rather than a final exam. Tests and exams can still be given, but I would suggest to give them as multiple-choice quizzes with limited times per question, in order not to make them exercises in who can Google-search faster. 

Point 8: In my experience online teaching has to be very well structured and organized, and the communication with the class has to be excellent: frequent, repetitive and complete. Students should know exactly what they need to do each week, and where to go with questions.

Point 9: Communicate enjoyment, passion and enthusiasm for the material. One of the most important roles of a teacher is to reassure the student that time spent with you, and the effort required to master your difficult material, is a worthy pursuit.  Tell the students what is the treasure that they will possess upon completion, what we dryly call SLO (Student Learning Outcomes), but which is the raison d’être for your course. Present your online offering not as “the 2nd best given the circumstances”, but rather as a great opportunity to work with others in an online setting – remember, this is the direction in which the IT world is moving, and students will benefit greatly from having the experience of being self-motivating, accountable and working with others online.

Point 10 (Bonus for Comp Sci instructors): Some material can be taught very easily online. For example, I prefer to teach programming classes in a blended online environment, even when we do not have a crisis! The reason is that Amazon Cloud9 is a perfect cloud-based IDE (Integrated Development Environment) that has many advantages over a machine-in-a-lab IDE: first, everyone has exactly the same environment, which I can customize to the needs of the course as precisely as I choose, and everyone can access this environment independently of the type of computer they have, as all it requires is a wi-fi connection and a browser. It also allows me to enter the environment from the “outside”, and code with the student watching my changes. This is really fantastic!

Position at Port Hueneme of interest to CS and IT students

Competitive Vacancy Announcement:
Title: Information Technology Specialist (SYSADMIN) 
Grade: GS-2210-11/12
Bargaining Unit Position: Yes
Department: Littoral & Strike Warfare Department, Code L20/L30/L40/L50
Org Code: L00
Duty Station:
 Port Hueneme, CA and San Diego, CA and Mayport, FL
Position Sensitivity: Non-Critical-Sensitive
Selection Official: stacie.jue
Selection Official Phone: 8052287679
Selection Official Email: stacie.jue@navy.mil

Job Summary:
Interested applicants must follow the directions in the “How to Apply” section of this flyer

It is anticipated that there will be a vacancy for an Information Technology Specialist (SYSADMIN), GS-2210-11/12 position at NSWC PHD, Port Hueneme, CA at the Littoral & Strike Warfare Department within the various division. The incumbent serves as an Information Technology Specialist (Systems Administration) and Subject Matter Expert for shipboard and land-based networks, Information Technology (IT) systems, and software.

NSWC PHD is located approximately 60 miles north of Los Angeles near the communities of Oxnard, Ventura and Camarillo, CA, and is on the Naval Base Ventura County. There are also opportunities for positions located in Port Hueneme, CA and San Diego, CA and Mayport, FL

Interested Applicants must submit resumes/application packages to:


Facsimile applications will not be considered.

All resumes/applications must be received no later than the close date of this flyer.

It is the applicant’s responsibility to verify that all information in their resume and documents, are received, legible, and accurate. HR will not modify answers/documents submitted by an applicant.

Failure to submit a complete application package will result in an ineligible rating and loss of consideration.

How To Apply (follow USA Jobs link):  https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/558914600

Warfare Center participates in first Ventura County education summit, reinforces commitment to educators

VENTURA, Calif.- The Ventura County P-20 Council hosted the first-ever Ventura County Education Summit to strengthen existing ties, and establish new ones, between educators and businesses at the Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE) Conference and Educational ServicesCenter building, Nov. 26. Vance Brahosky, Deputy Technical Director,Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division, was among four business sector representatives, including Haas Automation, Corwin Press and The Trade Desk, who participated on a special panel to discuss strides taken to bridge the gap between education and business.

“We don’t have as strong of service as we require if we’re not reaching out to the community in events like this,” said Brahosky. “We will not miss opportunities to do that.”

Source: DVIDS – News – Warfare Center participates in first Ventura County education summit, reinforces commitment to educators

Command leverages @CSUCI partnership to hire future engineering graduates

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) hosted representatives from California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI) Feb. 28 to discuss collaboration opportunities, utilizing the Educational Partnership Agreement originally established in 2014.

The local university is set to launch its Mechatronics Engineering program in fall 2018 with acceptance of 24 students. Not shy about its intentions, NSWC PHD wants to be on the receiving end for hiring come graduation time in the year 2020.

“In advance of that graduation,” said Vance Brahosky, NSWC PHD deputy technical director, “there are opportunities for us to work with the university through internships, rotations, and engagement with faculty so that through this partnership, we can access some of your best and brightest before they get pulled away to everyone else out there searching through the thin layer of engineering talent available to the U.S. industry.

”Mechatronics is a quickly-growing area of engineering that includes aspects of control theory, computer science, electronics, and mechanics―an area of expertise conducive to NSWC PHD.

The purpose of the educational partnership is to help augment engineering education for CSUCI students by providing a mechanism by which students can benefit from the command’s expertise, unique facilities and equipment related to their academic discipline.

“Community engagement, working with the industry and intentionally working with you, the Navy, is what we are all about,” said Michael Soltys, CSUCI Computer Science program chair. The meeting served as the start of many areas where the university and station will collaborate over the coming years, introducing and integrating naval knowledge wherever applicable.

Part of NSWC PHD’s mission is to nurture and develop its future workforce through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics programs.

Currently, the command holds two Educational Partnership Agreements with Southern Californian universities, ensuring its legacy of outstanding fleet support to the world’s greatest Navy.

Source: DVIDS – News – Command leverages CSUCI partnership to hire future engineering graduates

SQI partners with McMaster to co-develop ’instant immunoassay’ testing technology

TORONTO, July 24, 2017 /PRNewswire/ – SQI Diagnostics (TSX-V: SQD; OTCQX: SQIDF), today announced a technology development partnership and licensing agreement with the McMaster University Department of Engineering to develop chip technology for use in multi-array disease testing.

SQI is a Toronto-based life sciences and diagnostics company that develops and commercializes proprietary technologies and products for advanced multiplexed diagnostics. SQI’s existing proprietary technology enables global pharmaceutical and diagnostic testing companies to perform highly complex multiplex tests much faster, more accurately and at a lower cost.

Source: SQI partners with McMaster to co-develop ’instant immunoassay’ testing technology