Four lessons from the Lawyer as Cat clip…

Tolerance for distractions: the three people in this short video all appear to be unfazed by the appearance of Mr. Ponton – the lawyer who has joined the meeting as a cat. Judge Bauer points out the obvious that Ponton has a filter turned on. Ponton doesn’t know how to remove the filter, saying that his assistant is working on it. It could be that like many others, working from home means sharing the computer and the internet. Perhaps someone else in the household was chatting with friends or family and left the settings with the cat filter turned on. In this work and learn from home environment we face daily distractions outside our control: a dog barking in the background, a cat walking across the desk during Zoom meetings, etc. We are learning to tolerate these distractions, shrugging them off as the new normal.

Humor is essential if we’re going to get through this. Both the judge and Mr. Philips are able, for the most part, to maintain a straight-face throughout the interchange as though this is a perfectly understandable occurrence (although Philips does appear to break a grin when Rod states that he is not actually a cat). However, with nearly 1.3 million shares, it seems a lot of other people find the situation and interchange between meeting participants to be hilarious – myself included. While Judge Bauer never breaks composure it seems, at least to me, that he is working hard at this and appreciates the ridiculousness of the moment. How at odds the situation must be from the decorum normally expected in his courtroom.

Perseverance is critical. Despite the challenges he is facing, Ponton says “I’m prepared to go forward with it”. This is actually when I started to lose it! Assuming the scheduled court proceeding was of a serious nature (is this not usually the case?) I couldn’t imagine how things could continue with Ponton participating as a cat regardless of whether he was willing to work through the challenges. But doesn’t this seems to be the way we do everything these days – we just keep on keeping on. One thing that can be said about this past year is to expect the unexpected and roll with the punches.

We’re all in this together. Rather than postponing the proceedings for another time the judge begins to offer his assistance in troubleshooting the issue – “I think if you click the up arrow next to the”. Since instruction began pivoting from the classroom to off campus, nearly a year ago, I have witnessed, time and again, faculty, staff, and students offer to help one another in figuring out how to make things work in the face of new and unexpected challenges. Had it not been for their support and willingness to work together I don’t see how we could have gotten this far and this is how we will make it through.

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Faculty Panel Discussion on Virtual Teaching & Learning

Earlier this month, we invited a few experienced online instructors teaching Virtual online courses to participate in a Faculty Panel Discussion on Virtual Teaching & Learning. 

Zoom class in session.
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

One thing they all agree on – “This is different”.

The experience of teaching synchronously can be described as “draining”. Teaching virtually takes longer than teaching in the classroom. You need to have your materials prepared ahead of time and you are pretty much tied to your chair for hours at a time as opposed to being able to move about the classroom. 

Their students chose not to enroll in an asynchronous online class. They needed that synchronous component – at least some of them. Students who have never taken online courses may benefit from the interaction and structure of the scheduled class times. They liked “showing up” and preferred to participate in “live” courses. They value the ability to ask questions and get answers in real time. 

The panelists all use the Blackboard LMS – something common to both synchronous and asynchronous courses: posting weekly assignments, discussion forums, uploading materials, and linking to video recordings.

Some instructors required attendance for the live sessions, others made allowances for those who could not attend, providing recordings of class time.

There were mixed views on whether students should be required to have their cameras on. The expression “teaching to the void” was used to describe the uncomfortable experience of teaching to students without their cameras turned on. One instructor requires students to use their cameras only for online assessment, another uses Zoom for taking attendance, while another asks students to use their cameras only occasionally.

Teaching virtually includes juggling multiple activities. Here are some suggestions for streamlining the process: 

  • Use two monitors – one for the materials and the second for the Zoom session with chat open. 
  • Prepare for class ahead of time – you won’t have time during class to set up polls and breakout rooms.
  • Schedule pauses to get feedback and periodically check the chat as well as to answer questions. 
  • Use polls for interactivity and to gather feedback. 
  • Assign students to monitor the chat or let them know that the chat is for student-to-student interaction and you won’t be monitoring. (
  • Have students use the “raise hands” feature when they wish to speak.
  • Provide links to student tutorials for Blackboard and other technologies and/or a discussion forum for students to assist other students with technology questions.

Panelists agreed that despite the extra work involved with teaching the synchronous class, it is worth it! They found that their students were more engaged and saw an increase in student participation. The synchronous environment helped students to recognize one another and resulted in a more personal/intimate connection among students and between students and their instructor than the asynchronous online course.

Lastly, panelists said it is important to keep in mind when teaching the virtual online class: Remind your students that it’s not going to be perfect and that “we’re all in this together”. At times it may feel overwhelming. When the technology is problematic (connection issues, low bandwidth, interruptions) be flexible – have a plan “B”. Give yourself and your students a break.

And don’t beat yourself up – allow yourself some grace.

The full audio recording of the Panel Discussion:


Tips for Moderating Synchronous Meetings

Our team recently participated in GRCC’s annual Summer Teaching Institute. This year’s event was held virtually using Zoom. In addition to presenting on a number of topics related to online and remote learning, DLIT faculty and staff moderated several of the sessions.

SImmage of slide used in Summer Teaching Institute keynote presentation

The advantage of having a moderator when presenting real-time in a virtual environment are several: the presenter does not need to constantly monitor the chat, participants needing help with the technology can get assistance without interrupting the flow of the presentation, and by getting timely responses via chat, participants are more engaged.

Here are a few things moderators may assist with when supporting the synchronous Zoom session:

  • If possible, contact the presenter in advance of the session and ask whether they have any questions about the Zoom meeting functionality.
  • Moderators should login to the meeting ten to fifteen minutes before it is scheduled to begin.
  • Greet attendees as they enter the meeting before the session begins.
  • Assign co-host privileges to presenter or panel as they enter the session – provide host privileges if the presenter will be managing breakout rooms.
  • Ensure that all presenters have screen share privileges as needed.
  • Record the session to your desktop (unless presenters prefer not to have their session recorded).
  • Provide a brief introduction for the session and presenters.
  • Set screen to “Speaker view” and pin screen to the presenter (switch to gallery view for group discussion / questions – as needed – and back) – hide self-view if as moderator, you will not be participating in group discussions when sharing in gallery view.
  • Let participants know how to pose questions (raise hand feature, chat or both)
  • Select “Mute all” in the Participants panel to prevent background noise – unmute speakers as needed.
  • Field questions for presenters in chat – repeat the question for recording purposes.
  • Keep track of and report attendance.
  • End (or pause) the recording after presentation.
  • Release Poll for evaluation / feedback at the end of the session.

Having a moderator can significantly improve the virtual meeting / presentations for both the presenter and the attendees.

Remote Teaching shouldn’t mean “always on” – 24/7.

Experienced online instructors will tell you how important it is to find a balance between being available and responsive to your students and taking time for yourself – taking care of yourself. If you are always on and available 24/7 you run the risk of burning out. 

“Frazzled” CC-BY Bark on Flickr

Here are a few things to consider to offer students an engaging and interactive learning experience and at the same time, avoid burning out.

  • Establish a clear communications plan. Let your students know the best way to contact you, whether using your campus email account, instant messaging (e.g. Google Hangouts), or by phone. Avoid using your personal email and encourage students to use their campus email accounts. If you prefer not to use your cell phone number, have your work phone forwarded or consider using Google Voice. Voice permits you to screen calls as well as forward messages to your email. There is also a “do not disturb” feature for down time and you can set up a personalized voicemail greeting.
  • Include in your syllabus when students may expect a response to their email or instant messages. Although many online faculty respond to student inquiries throughout the day, most tell students that they can expect a response within 24 hours. Let them know about exceptions for holidays, vacations, travel, etc. Post these exceptions in an announcement, on the calendar, and set up an auto email response.
  • Set and maintain regular virtual office hours using web-conferencing technology such as Zoom which includes a virtual “waiting room”. Google hangouts is another great way to connect with students and provides for both instant messaging and web-conferencing. You can create a menu item within the LMS specifically for “office hours” including the link and schedule.
  • Be present – use the grade book, post personalized messages, provide feedback with assignments. Post short video announcements. This lets students know that you are present and fosters a sense of student-instructor immediacy – especially important in the online learning environment.
  • Set assignment due dates and times at times when you are available for questions. Rather than setting the due date and time for Sunday at midnight, try noon on Fridays. If students run into trouble or don’t understand something about the assignment, they can contact you. Or should they run into a technical issue, they can contact the help desk during regular office hours. Added benefit –  you and your students can relax over the weekend.
  • Finally and maybe most importantly, schedule some down time. Take breaks throughout the day – especially if you take the time to respond to email and student inquiries after-hours. Put the phone down, turn it off during meals and family or personal time.

Over time you will find your new normal – your own rhythm, one that makes sense for you, providing balance and is healthier for both you and your students.

Take care!