Giving remote physics lectures using Zoom

Joshua W. Shaevitz
Princeton University

(Updated March 14, 2020)

Since Tuesday, March 10, 2020 I have been using Zoom to teach my course, which has 15 students plus 1-2 TAs that also attend. I run a 3 screen solution (iPad + laptop + an extra monitor) that allows me to see the students faces, the chat feed, and share my hand written notes with them via my iPad. Here is a brief guide to my solution.

1. Basic settings

  • In the Zoom app settings on your laptop, enable ‘dual monitors’ and ’Side-by-side Mode’ which allows you to have the students' video feeds on an external monitor, while keeping the screen-shared iPad screen, Participant List, and Chat Window on the laptop monitor (see picture below).
  • Check ‘Record the meeting automatically on the local computer’ when scheduling the meeting. I usually pause the recording when I first join the meeting (which usually involves a little of chit chat with the students) and restart when I am about to start teaching. After ending the meeting, an mp4 file is downloaded to your computer which you can then upload to your course website. The videos are very nice. They show the iPad in a large view and then a small video window with the current speaker (usually me but then if a student asks a question they pop up). You can see a short clip from one of my classes here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/4grh7xrr4ixejgg/ISC233_031220_DEMO.mp4?dl=0 

2. To run the class

  • Join the meeting from your laptop. Maximize the external screen and set it to ‘Gallery View’. This way when you glance up you see all their shining faces. Setup the microphone and camera so that the students can see and hear you through the laptop. Then you can demonstrate things with your hands or with props in addition to writing on the iPad.
  • Share your iPad Screen using the ‘Share’ button (see here: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201379235-iOS-Screen-Sharing-w...). On your iPad you need to go to the Screen Sharing and select the Zoom-myComputer option. Make sure Notifications are turned off on the iPad if you don’t want the students to see that your Amazon order is shipping…
  • Switch to your whiteboard/note taking program on the iPad. I use GoodNotes which has multiple color pens, a stroke eraser, and a ‘laser pointer’ that allows you to highlight things on the page as you write.
  • Rearrange the windows on your computer because Zoom tries very hard to put a huge iPad window on the external monitor which is not helpful for you. Drag the ‘Gallery View’ window to the external monitor and maximize it. Then activate the Participant List and Chat windows and put them and the iPad screen mirror on my laptop screen. You can drag the corners of the iPad shared screen to make it small (I don’t know how to hide it completely). See below for what my setup currently looks like.

Comments/Thoughts:

  1. At first I asked the students to mute themselves except when they wanted to talk (good general teleconference protocol) but that made them afraid to say anything. Now I have them unmuted and encourage them to speak up and interrupt me which seems to work. Looking down at the iPad is like having your back turned when writing on the blackboard. In class they will interrupt with “Excuse me Prof…” to get my attention so I encourage them to do the same online.
  2. Without the student’s video, you are basically teaching to a blank screen which is horrible. They may resist, but I would encourage them to share video.
  3. The setup above should work for classes up to 30 or so. For large classes, I don’t think you want them to be able to talk. I would have them muted but have them interact (by typing in the chat module in Zoom) with TAs who then could answer questions in real time in the chat or interrupt via audio you when needed. This should work with classes of hundreds, potentially with multiple TAs monitoring chats from different groups of students.
  4. One of the most challenging parts, intellectually, is that you don’t get to use multiple blackboards. It does not work well to flip back and forth between pages on the iPad, so effectively you are working with one moderately sized rectangular blackboard. If you are used to teaching with 6 blackboards this can be very annoying, especially for longer calculations/derivations. I don’t have a good solution, but do find it useful to try to plan out the lecture in single rectangle sized chunks.

iPad Zoom Teaching Setup