With many colleges and universities unsure of what the fall semester will look like amidst the coronavirus pandemic, at least one professor already has his plan in place.
Dr. Henry Silverman, MD, MA, is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine. In addition to being a physician of pulmonary & critical care, Dr. Silverman teaches graduate students online and leads international training workshops throughout the Middle East and Myanmar.
For someone who regularly travels to conduct multi-day and multi-week workshops over the course of the year, the spread of COVID-19 put an immediate hold on his 2020 program plans. “All my traveling had to stop. In fact, I taught my last workshop in Cairo in the first week of March; I tell everybody I got back to the U.S. just in time,” Dr. Silverman says.
He found himself in a position that educators everywhere are experiencing: he needed a way to engage with his students and colleagues despite the restrictions on group gatherings and international travel.
Finding a Solution
While he is comfortable with asynchronous online teaching (“I do all of my teaching online at my graduate school,” he explains), Dr. Silverman didn’t want to rely solely on Zoom sessions to replace his face-to-face workshops.
“There’s only so much teaching and learning that people can do just by looking at talking heads,” he says. “I knew I needed to address the situation in two ways. I needed the engagement activities, and I also wanted to give people the sense that they’re actually looking at me teaching.”
His search began for a digital whiteboard that could meet this criteria, though Dr. Silverman admits that this kind of technology was new territory for him.
“If you had asked me six months ago, ‘What’s a digital interactive whiteboard?’ I would not know how to answer that,” he laughs. “Then I came across the Vibe board, and I saw some real possibilities with Vibe, not only in enhancing engagement with the students, but also in achieving a visual.”
After a couple of sessions with Vibe’s customer service team, Dr. Silverman says that setting up the board was “not a steep learning curve at all. You go out there and try it, and you have to be prepared for some hiccups—that’s par for anything. Now it’s just second nature, running the Vibe board. There’s a lot of things that one could do with the board, and I’m still getting my feet wet.”
Engaging Your Audience With Using the Vibe Board
In a time where millions of people are working, learning, and even socializing remotely, the ability to share engaging visuals is crucial. On that note, Dr. Silverman describes teaching as a performance and says that planning ahead is important for an online setting.
“It’s basically like writing a script for a play; stage left, stage right, and so on,” he says. “It’s all in planning. Good teaching involves that.”
With this in mind, Dr. Silverman’s goal with using the Vibe board is to replicate the kind of interactive energy that occurs naturally in the classroom between the instructor and students. By having his students turn on their cameras at the start of class, they can get close to mimicking that kind of environment.
Zoom, the video conferencing app, plays a big role in Dr. Silverman’s lessons and workshops. One of his go-to tactics for collaboration is forming breakout groups in Zoom and working on case studies as a class. “I email the case study ahead of time, then when [the participants] go in the breakout rooms they work on the case study. Then, I bring them all back so they can share the case studies with everybody on Zoom. Plus, everybody can have a separate work page if you send out a multi-page Vibe board,” adding that he appreciates how easily people can annotate on the shared board.
Vibe’s annotation feature also allows Dr. Silverman to further illustrate his points during Zoom sessions or on PowerPoint slides. His students seem to appreciate the annotation tools as well, with one student in particular noting, “I liked that words were stressed by underlines or circles while explaining important points.” This seemingly small detail goes a long way in effective communication, and Dr. Silverman plans on using it more often as more of his conferences and training workshops move to being virtual events.
Another engagement activity involves “polling” on the Zoom platform; “I was talking to someone about using polling as knowledge checks. Every 15 or 20 minutes, you can ask a question and see if people took in what you were trying to teach.” Dr. Silverman adds that another technique is that “you can ask a question and have people write their answers on the Vibe board in real time”.
Finally, with so many of his students and colleagues living in different time zones and with unreliable internet connections, the ability to record his Zoom presentations is essential so that he can easily send the link to anyone who missed the live lesson.
While Dr. Silverman has already begun to find different ways to interact through the Vibe board, he still regularly asks for feedback from students and colleagues to improve his presentations. (As he says, “I always get feedback. You can’t improve unless you know what the heck you’re doing!”) His main focus: going into every collaboration with a few strategic engagement activities.
While this new suite of tech tools will enhance the classes he already teaches online, it will completely change the way Dr. Silverman approaches what used to be his in-person workshops. Because although his students have already had positive experiences via the Vibe board (even saying, “I felt like it was a face-to-face lecture” in one of the professor’s post-class surveys), there’s still plenty of room for growth and experimentation in this remote workspace.
“This summer, I’m going to do three weeks of virtual teaching in the Middle East and Africa, and I’m planning on doing two two-hour sessions every day,” he says. “And again, we’re trying to replicate a standard face-to-face workshop. I went over a few pointers with my faculty about engaging people, because I don’t want four hours of PowerPoint presentations.
“It’s almost like, when people first went to space, we started with these 15 minute launches, then circling the earth, then going to the moon. I’ve been doing these two hour sessions, but now I want to see what happens over the long haul, if you do these sessions for three days, or a week. Are people going to find that engaging over the long haul?”
With Dr. Silverman’s attention to detail and enthusiasm for creating interactive learning experiences, keeping his audience engaged with the Vibe board should be no problem.