Delivering Practical Subjects Remotely


I’ve been working with our Archaeology department to support them to continue delivery, where possible, of teaching during lock down. This has ranged from complete remote teaching to hybrid and was asked to look at how we could provide virtual lab and fieldwork during lockdown.

Our institution (The University of Sheffield) has some useful guidance on both virtual lab work and virtual fieldwork.

For fieldwork, this includes some advice on using 360 cameras to create 360 tours of an area as well as guidance on using RoundMe and ArcGIS StoryMaps. The 360 content can be combined with online quizzes, commentary or narration as audio or video.

For lab work this includes considering what kind of activity is required to meet a learning outcome so as to decide whether it can be asynchronous (pre-recorded video) or synchronous (live stream). More in our institution’s guidance on video in practical activities here. Activity could also be a mixture of the two so a pre-recorded video of an experiment to watch followed by a live discussion (flipped learning).

The Benefits of Asynchronous Content

The benefits of asynchronous (pre-recorded) video are that it allows flexibility in accessing the learning content (useful for students in other time zones or with other commitments), mistakes can be edited and multiple takes or camera angles can be used.

Consider the Learning Outcome and Activity

As mentioned above, for both of these scenarios its important to consider the context before making a decision about what kind of learning activity and content is best.

For fieldwork it’s important to be clear about whether the learning outcome means that the location is the object of study or whether the location is a context where learning activities are taking place. It’s also important to break down the activities into pre-trip, during the trip and post trip.

Technical Considerations

It’s also important to note here that the pre-recording of video content is preferable to live streaming for the majority of teaching scenarios due to latency (slow feed from the camera to laptop) and connection issues (bluetooth and wifi / data) which will negatively impact the quality of the experience for students.

However, it is recognised that there may be occasions when live streaming is required in the field or lab. On these occasions – a HDMI video capture card connection to a laptop is most straightforward with the addition of a mobile data connection from the laptop (via pairing with a mobile for data or using a data dongle with good data coverage) for fieldwork.

Live Streaming & Video Conferencing Solutions

In the lab, if only up to two cameras are required Blackboard Collaborate Ultra provides a simple solution. You can select a main camera and then also select a second camera to share content. This means you can use a built in web cam as your first camera (or any other web cam or camera with a clean HDMI feed via a capture card) and any webcam or camera with a clean HDMI feed via a video capture card as the second camera. This allows for some flexibility in presenting whilst giving a measure of simplicity if you are already familiar with Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.

When more than two cameras are required (such as in our lab work in Archaeology) we found a solution after talking to our Biomedical Science department. This involves using OBS Studio and multiple camera inputs for presenter, demonstrations on the bench and close ups of pottery, bone fragments etc. Each camera connects via a virtual capture card and becomes a source in OBS. This, in turn becomes a single camera feed into either Blackboard Collaborate Ultra or Google Meet via the OBS studio Virtual Camera output.

The Blackboard Collaborate Ultra solution is far simpler in practice to operate but the OBS set up allows more camera inputs (including remote cameras which I’ll get to in a moment).

The OBS set up really requires two staff members to operate as one will need to operate cameras and OBS scene switches and one to just focus on presenting the session. Therefore, training and a clear plan for a session is required when using OBS.

Live Streaming Directly from Camera – Some Solutions

Taking things a step further, I was interested in seeing if I could live stream directly from two cameras I have available. One is the Sony PXW-X70 and the other is a Go Pro Hero Black 8.

This was purely experimental and I’m not suggesting this a method of teaching remotely as asynchronous content (as discussed above) is usually the best method of relaying content to students. Also, by streaming directly from a camera you throw extra technical complications into the mix and more to go wrong with latency issues and reliability of connection.

Sony PXW-X70

I tested this camera which has live stream capabilities and mobile data / wifi connection via both wifi and the mobile data on my iPhone 11 as a hotspot. Do bear in mind that data may be affected by building structures, landscape features etc. There may be places where reception is poor or non-existent.

I found this helpful video which I used to set everything up.

It relies on a good wifi or data connection. I set up a stream from the camera via UDP  (Stream udp://@:1234 or port number) which was then picked up by VLC Player and input as a VLC video source in OBS (Note: VLC has to be closed for it to show up).

Tip: If the execute option for live stream on the camera is greyed out – change to 720 and XAVC HD (don’t forget to change back to AVCHD for recording after)

Possible Issues

  • Latency an issue and loss of live stream feed when data fails.
  • Audio and video may be out of sync due to latency issues.

Go Pro Hero 8

Live Streaming via Go Pro App (URL)

Go Pro live streaming to a Go Pro URL is possible using Go Pro account (£49.99 a year / £4.99 a month – cancel at any time)

It requires an IOS / Android App (the Go Pro App) on smart phone or iPad running iPadOS 13.0 or later and a Bluetooth connection between the camera and phone / iPad. Live streaming only works on Go Pro 7 and up.

I used the phone’s mobile data to stream to the link at Go Pro. Bear in mind that this is not a private link and can be shared. This handy guide from Restream explains how to set it all up.

However, this feed can be sent to OBS studio (and then Google Meet / BBCU as a virtual camera) as a media source which allows the stream to be kept private. Only those attending the Google Meet or Blackboard Collaborate session will have access to the stream.

Possible Issues

  • Latency an issue with the Go Pro and loss of live stream feed when either wifi / bluetooth fails.
  • Audio and video may be out of sync due to latency issues.
  • When live streaming with the Go Pro – there is no control for zooming.
  • Battery power of Go Pro may be an issue for longer streams

Anonymity in Online Asynchronous Discussion

I was asked this week whether anonymity in online discussion was a good idea or not. My initial reaction was yes. I’ve been an online learner and sometimes was unwilling to post because I felt insecure or didn’t feel as confident as my peers in my contributions. On the surface anonymity seems a good idea.

"apolitik_Magritte" by ApolitikNow is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
“apolitik_Magritte” by ApolitikNow is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I’ve also observed certain individuals take over the discussion online both synchronously in VC and asynchronously in discussion boards and chat. However, this is no different to my experience as a student when I was at University.

In seminars I wouldn’t put my hand up if I felt there was someone more confident in the room. The same people dominated the conversation time and again unless you had a good tutor who would give everyone space to speak and made you all feel valued.

A very good tutor would also manage discussions in such a way that over the weeks all students would feel a sense of valued community and learn to listen well.

Is it any different online? What if you could just make it anonymous? Would that solve it?

Well yes and no….

It might appear a straightforward solution but we all know that tech never provides all the answers.


  • Students can feel more willing to participate and ‘put their hand up’. Anonymity can appear to help counter negative social bias in discussion and offer a level playing field.
  • Some studies report that students are more likely to post when student discussion boards allow anonymous postings (Freeman & Bamford, 2004;Miyazoe  &  Anderson,  2011;  Sullivan,  2002).


  • Because accountability is diminished, it can be abused. 

‘Despite  the  posited  advantages,  enabling  anonymous postings  on  student  discussion  boards  has  also  been  associated  with  a  range  of  negative  behaviours including negative, disruptive postings (Chester & Gwynne, 1998; Van Soest et al., 2000) and attacks on other  students  (Anderson  &  Simpson,  2008). Not  all  students  support  the  use  of  anonymous  postings (Johnson, 2010), with some fearing the negative postings that anonymity may allow.’ (Roberts & Rajah-Kanagasabai, 2013)

  • Anonymity may not encourage students who don’t already post to do so. Students who post already continue to do so but in greater quantity. Non-posters still don’t post:

‘The explanation for the increase in likelihood of posting appears to lie in the finding that students who prefer to post anonymously do not differ from those who prefer to make identified postings in their likelihood of posting on anonymous discussion boards, but they  do  post  significantly  less  on  discussion  boards  requiring  identification’ (Roberts & Rajah-Kanagasabai, 2013)

Points to consider:

  • Consult the students. Use it as the basis for an open discussion about learning collaboratively. Help them by starting off with an anonymous poll. How have they felt in discussions in the past? How has their prior education / culture helped them or hindered them in taking part? Use this as a springboard to explore a set of class principles around equity in discussion.
  • Is there another way for educators? Could we structure and facilitate conversations so that students who feel worried about speaking up are supported and build their confidence?
  • Is anonymity always needed? ‘Lurkers’ may benefit as well as posters: 

Even  students  who  do  not  post  to  discussion  boards  may benefit from them. Beaudoin (2002) discussed the concept of the invisible learner, who, while not posting to student discussion boards, may be actively engaged in reading postings by others.

  • Offering anonymity needs negotiated and clearly contextualised privacy, a Code of Conduct and moderation. If you’re going down that route, be aware it’s not the easy option. Neither is.
  • Could we use different teaching techniques to address bias, sexism and student self-efficacy in the classroom? See above. Talk about it openly.
  • Does using named discussion boards present an opportunity for students to develop discussion skills? Students will need to learn how to participate with consideration and care. (Developing joint rules/expectations is a good way of students developing awareness and skills).


Blackboard Guidance: Discussions

Blog Post: Should we use anonymous discussion and messaging channels?

Assessing Anonymous Communication on the Internet: Policy Deliberations (Ya-Ching Lee & Frankel, 2006)

“I’d be so much more comfortable posting anonymously”: Identified versus anonymous participation in student discussion boards (Roberts and Rajah-Kanagasabai, 2008)

Using a second camera in online live teaching (Blackboard Collaborate)

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Share Camera Tool

When you’re moderating or presenting a session in Blackboard Collaborate there is now the option to share a camera.

This is useful if you want to:

  • Demonstrate something live such as a handwritten diagram or exercise (use the camera as a visualizer) 
  • Demonstrate a practical physical experiment or process live
Screenshot of moderator view of sharing a second camera. Showing live handwritten demonstration with pen and paper.
Share a second camera as a visualiser in Blackboard Collaborate

A standalone webcam (any USB plug and play webcam such as Logitech C270 HD Webcam) works best as a second camera.


  • While you can use a DSLR with some videoconferencing tools, depending on your camera it can be quite a complicated setup requiring extra hardware and/or software and is not guaranteed to work with Blackboard Collaborate.
  • It is possible to use your phone as a camera using a third party App. However, these Apps require both an App install to your phone and your desktop PC and could potentially present a security risk. As an alternative, use your phone as a visualiser instead.

To share a second camera, you need to do the following:

  1. Connect your camera to your laptop or desktop computer via it’s cable
  2. Start your session
  3. In the Collaborate panel go to share content
  4. Select share camera
  5. Choose your camera from the list of available cameras
  6. When the video preview prompt opens choose share camera again

You can simultaneously share the live feed from the second camera and the feed from your normal webcam. Students will see your webcam feed in a smaller thumbnail window on the screen beneath the live camera feed.


  • You can purchase a ‘gooseneck’ flexible clamp that can be used as a tripod and allows your phone to be angled in a any direction including filming the tabletop (useful for handwritten demos) fairly cheaply online
  • If you already have a tripod you can purchase a Griptight mount for smartphones that allows you to connect your smartphone to any tripod
  • If you prefer a specialised mini tripod the Manfrotto mini universal smartphone tripod is a good choice
  • Think about lighting – position your document so it can be seen clearly

Further Reading:

The Challenge of Language Learning Pivot to Online – initial thoughts and ideas…

Language symbols
“Language symbols” by viralbus is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I met with a couple of ALT members yesterday to chat about the challenges of pivoting online with languages. Some areas of learning are easier to move to a blended learning model than others. Language teachers face challenges as so much of it is student centred and relies on face to face contact to develop understanding and practice authentic speaking & listening skills.

Some teaching staff have initially taken their face to face model and translated wholly online to video conference – essentially trying to replicate the physical classroom in a virtual space but with poor connectivity and the challenges of virtual meetings this has had mixed success. This got me thinking about how language teaching might be best adapted to be taught in a blended way. Does everything have to be synchronous? How do you maintain student engagement? How do you manage the oral and interactive aspects of language learning?

I’ve spent a lot of time this week researching how language teaching might be best adapted to the blended learning and was relieved to discover that there’s some really good guidance and resources out there. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here but I’ll share some of the best pointers and guidance I’ve come across.

Polish in text book
“polish” by Plastic_Bat is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ideas for Teaching Languages in Online

Rethink instruction and interaction…

  • Rethink how you will interact. Restructure the content if possible. It doesn’t all have to be synchronous. Lower level activities of acquisition can be delivered via short videos or podcasts. Grammar activities can be done via shared writing activities in chat, discussion boards or collaborative spaces or via online quizzes.
  • If providing support online, offer ‘lessons’ assigned under one of three labels: LL – Live Lesson – reduce the length and frequency of these; students are exhausted by long online lessons, IA – Independent activity – throughout the week, SA – Support time available – Google hangout open for chats.
  • Share a Code of conduct with students for Live Lessons – show video feed at beginning of live sessions if possible to build class social interaction. Specify how you want students to interact – audio, video, text? Will sessions or parts of sessions be recorded?

Be selective with the tools…

  • Focus on pedagogical goals – don’t try and learn too many new tools. What are the pedagogical priority needs? Find the tech to match. Use what you’re familiar with. This isn’t the time to push the innovation boundaries.

Be clear…

  • Share the road map of how the learning will be delivered – explain what they are going to do each week, where the materials are, how to complete the activities and how it will contribute to their overall outcomes for the course. This could be a short weekly video or email. Online learning needs more explicit guidance.

Consult your students…

  • Survey your students at the beginning of the course to gauge how you can best meet students’ needs. Do they all have devices? Internet connectivity? Are they based in the local time zone?

Get creative…

  • To maintain engagement build in activities that use the ‘creating’ skills from Bloom’s taxonomy – i.e. project based activities in the target language such as making a vlog or blog, poster, info-graphic or short film – cooking a meal, a guided tour of the house in lockdown – all in the target language.

Help them interact and socialise…

  • For student to student engagement try breakout groups in the video conferencing technology of your choice or use collaborative writing via Google Docs (this can be either synchronous or asynchronous).
  • Consider setting up group tools in your LMS such as Blackboard Collaborate or discussion boards for small groups to facilitate independent practice in groups.

Keep it short and sweet…

  • Create a few one sentence videos and post each week. Learners access the videos containing ready-to-use sentences which work like patterns they can put straight into practice and repeat at their own pace and as often as they like. They then use in their own context. Adding subtitles to video or audio allows them to read and repeat,combining both linguistic skills.

Above ideas gathered from:

IALLT Webinar Recording – Your Burning Questions about Remote Language Teaching

Languages Today – Association for Languages Learning Issue 35 May 2020 p20 – Plan for Online Teaching

Other useful resources:

IALLT Site (International Association of Language Learning Technology)

Joe Dale’s Youtube Channel (Joe Dale is an independent languages consultant from the UK who works with a range of organisations such as Network for Languages, ALL, The British Council, the BBC, Skype, Microsoft and The Guardian.) to Teaching Language Online (TTLO) – June 22–July 20, 2020  Asynchronous 4-week intensive online course

AULC – Association for University Language Communities

It’s all about the bandwidth…

I recently read an interesting post by Daniel Stanford on the IDD blog. The post titled ‘Videoconferencing Alternatives: How Low-Bandwidth Teaching Will Save Us All’ is here.

Back when the COVI19 crisis started we threw ourselves into showing staff how to use video conferencing for teaching as an emergency fall back for teaching. We also showed them how to use tools such as Echo360 and Kaltura Capture to pre-record and upload videos of their lectures. As the semester clocked by and we finally had a chance to stand back a little I started to think about other ways blended and online teaching could be delivered without disproportionately affecting those whose internet connection was poor – which to be honest – was a significant amount of students and staff.

What I liked about Daniel’s post was the way he’d considered the trade offs between high and low immediacy (what some call synchronous and asynchronous – the distinctions can be blurred so I prefer Daniel’s definition) and high and low bandwidth. The info-graphic was simple and visual and immediately, I could see where we could have done things differently.

I have taken the liberty of adapting it slightly (under CC license – so attributing Daniel’s work) and putting it into the context of the ABC Learning Design learning types, again under CC license.

I wanted to see how learning activities such as acquisition, discussion, collaboration, investigation, practice and production would map out against the quadrant. I related it to some of the tools I have available when working with colleagues in Sheffield. Here are my initial results.

I’ve only included collaboration, acquisition and discussion here but the quadrant applies equally to the other three learning activities of practice, investigation and production.

The activities and tools I mention are not meant to be an exhaustive list and collaboration and acquisition etc can , of course, overlap. However, immediately, it gives me an overview of the choices I have for learning & teaching activities and how those choices might affect my learners which, in turn, helps me make better choices.

In addition, I created a Padlet that staff could use as a planning tool that takes into account the quadrant of high / low immediacy and high / low bandwidth mapped against the ABC LD six learning activities. There are already some examples of this on the ABC LD Online site but I was interested in putting it into context of the quadrant.

The idea is that staff can easily visualise how a week’s teaching might look and understand how their choice of activities might affect their learners – especially those who might be disproportionately affected by high level synchronous teaching such as parents, (particularly women as research is finding), neurodiverse learners (those who need longer to process information) or those from densely populated households (Including some BAME learners) where bandwidth is spread thin.

Note: The colours used in the Padlet don’t reflect the traditional ABC LD colours but relate to the quadrant.

Made with Padlet

This is another version where the colours do reflect the ABC LD activity types better (within the parameters of Padlet) and the columns relate to the quadrant.

Made with Padlet