Due to the coronavirus outbreak, and other local problems, we are seeing the need of developing most of our teaching online. Just "do a class like always" (but with no blackboard) via some network application or other doesn't cut it, not by far. Experimentally, giving readings to be discussed online nets you a whooping 5% participation (if that many). So we have to rethink classes, from the ground up. That means restructuring the subject matter, create new content (not just slides!). A particular issue is the design of online/offline evaluations.

One particular problem is how much work is this for an "average" college level course? How should we approach this problem (particularly what can we do right now, under virtual quarantine, and with very little infrastructure, no real access to specialists)?

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    $\begingroup$ I think recording lectures that you usually give is totally fine. For fun, pretend there are students there and answer their questions. For interaction, you could include a secret word in the lecture and ask them to email it to you. Or, just ask them to submit questions and respond to them as they come in. Students should take some responsibility for their learning. It's not all on you. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ The title asks "How much does it cost to...," but the question never talks about money. The question in its present form seems broad and ill-defined. So we have to rethink classes, from the ground up. That means restructuring the subject matter, create new content (not just slides!). But that's impossible given zero time to get ready, so no, we don't have to do that, and we can't. $\endgroup$
    – user507
    Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ This question looks like it is 2/3 personal take and 1/3 question at the end. Could you please scale down the first part, which does not look like it is necessary? The only context we need here is that you would like to structure your course differently (but how exactly?). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson: I agree the question is poorly worded, but I think the potential for useful replies significant. I share the periodic concerns with MSE, but this is a vastly different scenario and definitely apropos for mathematics educators. I think proactive question guidance would have broad benefit. $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ @copper.hat While I disagree with you, you have at least addressed my second concern. However, I still don't think that my main concern has been addressed: what is the actual question here? Is it about cost? If so, then the question should be rewritten. Otherwise, how is this not a duplicate of this question? $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 22:20

3 Answers 3


The Lone Ranger had escaped many dangers, but this time, the situation was hopeless. Back to the wall with 200 wild Indians surrounding him.

He turned to his faithful sidekick, Tonto, and said "what will we do now?"

Tonto replied, "who's 'we', paleface?"

The needs of the administrators, students, teachers are all different. In other words, "who's 'we'?"

Assuming you are the teacher, I would go ahead and do something reasonable that doesn't require more time than previous work. If they (customers or administrators) want more, they need to pay more. And they won't. So do enough to keep people off your back (that you did something) and don't get fired. But don't do some heroic unpaid effort. Remember, if they really REALLY needed that, they would pay for it.

Also, this is not going to last forever. So don't invest huge time (or even dollars if an administrator) on a temporary situation.

  • $\begingroup$ Here "we" is essentially me, a lowly teacher left to his own devices. $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ @vonbrand that's rather shocking. I teach for 2 depts at my local comm college and when our F2F classes were moved online they were both extremely lively with emails and discussions all over the place about how best to do this and that, etc. I get that every school is different but it's still weird to see any teacher seemingly left all alone in this. What are other instructors at your school doing? We already use Blackboard and it's very easy for us to put more items there, like recorded videos, etc. $\endgroup$
    – user6648
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 19:26

I am using zoom, and getting better attendance sometimes than in my face-to-face classes.

Modified tools for getting interaction:

  1. I ask students to put a number from 1 to 5 in the chat to rate their understanding.
  2. I ask for a brave volunteer to work with me sometimes, and I walk that one student through, asking them to give me a next step, etc.

Presentation: I did spend about $130 on a 5' x 3' whiteboard (Staples) that is currently propped on two chairs, but will soon be installed on my living room wall.

ETA on 1-4-2024: I see that someone is still reading this. (It was written early in the pandemic, and is no longer how I do things.)

I taught online for 3 1/2 years, and then retired because it was way more work and less satisfying (students did not always turn their camera on, participated much less, and cheated more).

I am not yet sure that any online course can help students learn as well as an in-person course does. The sense of community is lost. Online learning through gamified systems does seem to work well. That doesn't need a teacher or a class. I enjoy using Duo to learn languages and Alcumus (part of Art of Problem Solving) to practice math. I'm not sure how well it does when the student needs to learn new concepts. I also love this page for working on geometry constructions.

It turned out that an ipad with apple pencil does work well for me. I use goodnotes with that, and love it.

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    $\begingroup$ What camera do you use? Regular markers do show well? $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @vonbrand I wonder whether screen sharing some drawing application wouldn’t be more easily legible and more cost-effective than a whiteboard. The whiteboard might be larger than your screen, but it will have to be displayed on the screens of the students, which don’t change sizes. At least with screen sharing it’s easier to get a sense for what they see (the same as you) and the screen-space is used more fully. $\endgroup$
    – 11684
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 8:31
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    $\begingroup$ I don't write well on tablets with a stylus. That's why I chose a real whiteboard. The markers show up fine. I am using a macbook air, and the camera on this works fine. I do have problems with forgetting what part of the board is showing on the screen. I try to get students to tell me. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 20:05

I have/had a few courses on Udemy and have a few hundred YT videos, so I've been down this road a couple times.

My current set up:

  • Blue Yeti microphone, \$130. You can probably get away with a built-in laptop microphone. I needed something better because of Udemy's requirements.
  • Presentations in PowerPoint and/or $\LaTeX$, \$0. Well, PowerPoint might not be free but there are free alternatives to it. $\LaTeX$ costs \$0 but a ton of time if you have no experience with it.
  • Screen recording with Camtasia Studio, \$200. I might be wrong on the price, it's been so long I can't remember, but I do know I thought the price was worth it for what I was doing.

Previously I used a Monoprice graphic tablet to write in MS Paint. The tablet was about \$60. Looks like it's currently sold out, but I'm sure there are comparable ones available.

I teach part time at a local community college and this hasn't been much of a strain on most of our math and computer science courses. If your class requires a ton of in-person discussions or has a bunch of group work then it might be difficult, but otherwise, putting it online "almost as-is" is good enough. It doesn't need to be a flawless work of art. I can't put it any better than Ben did already in his last sentence here.

Also, reach out to other instructors. Is anybody helping anybody else there? Both departments I'm in have been very active with communication and tips. I get that each school is different, but it still strikes me as very odd that there would be any teacher anywhere who felt like they were being left to their own devices.

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    $\begingroup$ "Screen recording with Camtasia Studio, \$200" OBS Studio might do the trick for \$0; at the very least it's worth trying. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 12:59

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