Distance and online learning

Last updated 19 May 2020 with thanks to the Economics Network Executive Group for suggested resources and links

This is a collection of advice and resources for running courses at a distance, doing activities online that were previously face-to-face.

The Economics Network is running a virtual symposium over a series of Mondays in June which will provide useful tips and ideas for transitioning to online learning.

Courses and advice for teaching staff

The Open University has a free online course called Take Your Teaching Online covering many aspects of the move to online teaching.

Eileen Kennedy of the UCL Institute of Education Is delivering a free online course, "Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology" on the Coursera platform.

Online teaching - In the context of COVID-19
Blog post by Simon Halliday (Smith College, USA), March 2020
An economics lecturer describes a range of online tools and how he uses them.

Josh DiPaolo Answers Questions about Online Teaching
Crooked Timber blog, March 2020
A philosophy lecturer explains how he has made the transition from face-to-face to asynchronous online teaching mid-semester, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Basic technology

This 8 minute video from the MOOC platform Udemy looks at cameras, microphones, and other equipment for educators to record or broadcast themselves.

There is an accompanying equipment list as a PDF.

Using your phone or tablet as a camera

If you have a recent smartphone, iPad or tablet, you have access to a camera superior to many dedicated webcams. The mobile device can connect to your computer via USB or wifi. If you install the free iVCam Webcam app on the device and the iVCam software on your computer, they can connect to each other. Zoom and other video software will then show the camera as an option. The free version of iVCam adds a watermark to the video, which is removed if you pay ten dollars for the full version. In the settings, you can opt for iVCam to use the mobile device as a microphone as well.

EpocCam and Iriun are alternatives to iVCam.

Some basic tips for video recording:

(via Kalabi.com)

  • Use a tripod or stand to keep the camera (or phone) steady.
  • Have the light coming from behind the camera.
  • Keep the camera at eye level.
  • Use a plain background.


Case study: Teaching with webinars
Alvin Birdi, University of Bristol, February 2019

Case study: Use of virtual seminars in Economic Principles
John Sloman, University of the West of England, December 2002

Designing learning and teaching online: the role of discussion forums
Slobodan Tomic et al., University of York, April 2020

The Guide to Educating Through Zoom (PDF) explains some functions of the software but also gives tips for running a successful session.

Technology for live webinars

Blackboard Collaborate Ultimate is a tool built into Blackboard Virtual Learning Environments for running online classrooms. It can be used to run online lectures with some interaction from students, online tutorials or virtual office hours. We are grateful to Ralf Becker of the University of Manchester for sharing this guide to getting started with Collaborate (PDF). Alternatively see this 14-minute introductory video.

In case your institution does not have its own webinar solution, there are cheap or free tools for online meetings and webinars across many kinds of device.

  • Zoom is a videoconferencing tool with chat facility and screen-sharing. You can capture the video of the webinar as a local file. The free version has a limit of 100 participants and 40 minutes (though the 40 minute limit is being lifted for many educational institutions, so check what applies to your institution). There are clients for Windows, Mac, ChromeOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.
  • Bluejeans is a similar service to Zoom, working on a similar variety of platforms, requiring a paid subscription.
  • EZTalks is a videoconferencing tool that includes polling and a shared whiteboard. The free version has a limit of 100 participants and 40 minutes. There are clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
  • BigBlueButton is a tool that runs in a web browser and hence works across a lot of platforms. Hosts can talk through slide shows, annotate them with a pen, and record the sessions for later. This 5 minute video introduces it.

Ten top tips for using Zoom for programme delivery by Doug Parkin, Advance HE covers some social, pedagogical and technological practicalities that apply to multiple platforms.

Tip: some videoconferencing tools have everybody's microphone or video on by default. This can be chaotic with large groups, so before the webinar set the default to microphone off. This four-minute video gives a quick introduction to running a class on Zoom, including how to mute or allow student audio.

To stream from Blackboard Collaborate to YouTube (which is more familiar to students), Open Broadcaster Studio (OBS) is free multi-platform software for combining video and audio inputs into a stream. If you set up a YouTube event and paste a code from YouTube into OBS, OBS can stream live to YouTube. The process is explained in this blog post.

Getting live feedback from students

  • You can run polls within a Zoom session much like you'd use clickers in a classroom. This 9 minute video shows how.
  • Padlet and Mentimeter are free tools for getting a feedback from a large audience. You create a question, share a link with your audience, and their responses are visible to you, either raw or in summary.
  • If you have a Google login (e.g. Google Docs, Gmail) you can use Google Forms to create a survey, click "Send" to generate a web link that you share with your audience, and click "Responses" to get summary and raw feedback instantly.
  • If your webinar platform allows you to share your screen, you can use this to show students the results of the above polls.
  • Consider using a shared document, prepared beforehand with questions the audience can answer or lists they can extend.

Lecture capture

If you have slide shows in Powerpoint, it is relatively easy to turn them into videos with audio narration and pen annotations, plus video of you speaking if you have a webcam. This 7 minute video explains how.

Case study: Using Panopto for Game Theory
Giancarlo Ianulardo, University of Bath, January 2009

Technology for screen recording

Here are some free tools that enable you to capture your screen or a webcam, with audio commentary, and save as a video file without watermarks or adverts.

Online projects

Case study: Online projects using discussion boards
Michael A. Quinn, Bentley College, Massachusetts, January 2007

The lud.io economics games platform is making two of its simulation games (the Industrial Organization game and the Airline game) free to users until the end of July 2020. These can be played over one to several days and are designed to show the effect of market structures on firms' behaviour.

The CORE team are releasing a list of resources dedicated to teaching Economics during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Office for National Statistics have also created a page with the latest data and analysis related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its impact on the economy and society. In particular, the 'Coronavirus Roundup' may be useful for any projects you are running with students.

Collaboration technology: shared spreadsheets

In addition to allowing collaboratively edited documents, Google Sheets and the Microsoft Office 365 version of Excel both allow multiple users to remotely collaborate on a workbook.

Co-authoring and commenting in Excel is explained here and here on the Microsoft Office site and in this four-minute video.

Similar tips for Google Sheets are given by Google and in this video clip.

It is possible in Excel or in Google Sheets for the workbook as a whole to be publicly editable, but for a particular sheet or range to be password-protected. In Excel, use Review > Protect sheet. In Google Sheets, use Tools > Protect sheet.


Online resources

The Economics Network site has a huge database of learning resources including video lectures, simulations and worksheets. For an overview and some ideas about using resources in teaching, see these chapters of the Handbook for Economics Lecturers:

Advice for students

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