The customers (aka, “students”) this week are in Connecticut so, at their request, we’re running the class on their preferred schedule, 9-5.
That means I have to be up at 4:00AM local (Phoenix AZ) time for the class schedule:
- 6:00AM Class begins.
- 9:00AM Lunch break.
- 2:00PM Class ends.
Managing all the desktops, programs and what the customer does and does not see takes a little organization but quickly becomes second nature.
The center display is what they see. All of it. That’s the public stage. And what I say into the headset is also “public”. (There’s a mute switch that gets used at odd moments.)
The display on the right is the “ready room.” While talking about one thing, I mouse over there and get something else up to the point where I want it seen and then, at the right moment, drag it into the center display and, voila, there it is!
The display on the left serves a couple of roles. First and foremost, it’s backup material: Names, dates, abbreviations, standards, all those messy details that we need but can’t otherwise hang on to. It’s at google.com a lot, or at www.jpl.nasa.gov, or faa.gov or the IEEE’s standards website.
Or when the Internet seems slow, that left-most display becomes a “monitor” and retrieves the middle display from the same place on the net that the center display sends to. I need to know what they probably have on their screens so I can talk about it and, when the net is slow, that can lag behind what’s on my central display by several seconds.
But the one thing I really need to see, I can’t.
Are they watching? Are they scribbling notes in the margin of the books? Do they have their hands up to ask a question?
Or are they playing Solitaire, surfing the net or texting on their cell phones? Do they have a “I’m totally lost” look on their faces, are they nodding off to sleep, or reading a novel on a Kindle?
Or, worse, has everyone left and I’m simply talking to empty rooms around the world, each with a computer monitor and a speaker phone?
So we do things to find out. We ask a question and wait for an answer. If there’s no answer, then we pick on someone in the class roster.
“David, if we spawn a new task at our own priority, who executes next, us or the new task?”
And when we get nothing but silence, we try the next one in the list.
“Mark, are you there? What do you think?”
Done right — that means you get them to “break the ice” by talking and asking questions in the first ten minutes — they’ll be interacting the whole time. You’ll know when they are confused, lost, or when they already know the material and are ready to skip forward.
You’ll know because they’ll tell you.
“Ed, can I interrupt you for a second? I had all this stuff in school twenty years ago but, to be honest, I never quite understood it then, and I haven’t used it since. If the others don’t mind, I could really use a real quick ‘refresher’ on the basics again?”
If one person asks, almost invariably everyone needs some part, if not all, of the answer.
“You bet. Let me bring up the white board and sketch out what’s going on here.”
Done wrong — no interaction — and you’ll be the only one talking for two, three or four days, all of it into a black hole from which nothing comes back.
It’s lonely, it’s boring, it’s awful.
In spite of all the technology, teaching a remote class is really about getting people interested, involved and interacting. And that’s the same thing you do when face to face. You draw them out, get them talking and asking questions.
Remote or face to face, it’s really not that different if you do it right.
If you do it right.