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13 Ideas and hints for online courses

In this section I would like to summarise a few hints how a lecture can be successfully implemented in an online setting.

A general list of the different scenarios and possibilities at ETH Zurich can be found on  this page .

In the following, I will on one hand list some options regarding the creation of videos and their use, each with a short description and some practical information. Furthermore I complete this discussion with some references to online tools.

On the other hand, at the end of this page, you can find some indications how a complete online-only implementation of a course is possible (including settings where no one is required to access any ETH building and everything is done remotely), see (Abschnitt 13.5)

13.1 – Own video/podcast production

This option offers the great advantage that it is independent of time and location and does not depend on the availability of a member of the multimedia department.

In the document deposited here I have written a step-by-step guide to the most important possibilities under Mac (in English)

The videos in this blog serve as an illustration, more examples and technical support can be found on Laura’s blog about multi-media-documents (in German).

If you don’t have the necessary equipment yourself, you can borrow a kit from the ETH Multimedia Department (see this page)

Presentation with audio

In this variant, visual content (slides or PowerPoint presentation) is recorded on the one hand and audio commentary on the other.

Technical implementation

All you need is a computer or laptop (and possibly a headset for audio recording).

You can follow the steps in the documentation above.


  • The advantage of this variant is the simplicity of implementation.
  • The disadvantage is that it is difficult to develop something step by step (like you could do it on a blackboard, for example).

If slides plus audio commentary are not enough, or if you want to create something more sophisticated, there is the possibility to have an «electronic blackboard» as a supplement by using an additional tablet. This corresponds to the combination of beamer and blackboard in the lecture hall. This variant is technically a little more demanding, but also allows, for example, to work out derivations or tasks step by step.

Presentation with audio AND «electronic blackboard»

In this setting, in addition to playing back slides or a PowerPoint presentation and audio comments, something is created (written, drawn) live.

Technical implementation

Here you need a computer, a tablet and possibly a headset.

Also in this scenario you can follow the steps in the documentation provided above.


  • This variant is technically a bit demanding and requires a computer or laptop and a tablet.
  • There are many more ways of explaining or working something out.


13.2 – Recording of projection and audio (possibly with blackboard) in the lecture hall

Automatic recording by the Multimedia Services

The  Multimedia-department of ETH  offers the possibility of recording lectures in certain lecture halls.

In such videos the audio information as well as the projection can be played back – either slides or what is written on a tablet (either by using an already installed tablet or by connecting your own device).

Further practical information and advice on how to proceed can be found on the corresponding website

This offer is usually free of charge for events listed in the course catalogue.

Technical implementation

Essentially, you give your lecture as usual, with the restriction that you cannot use the blackboard. Usually there is a support by someone from the multimedia department.

It should be noted, however, that a headset must be used, and that pointers (depending on whether they are controlled from a program or by an external device) are not visible.

The videos produced in this way are made available via the ETH video portal (or as a live stream on YouTube if required).


  • This setting is independent of whether the students are present in the lecture hall or not.
  • Those who are used to working with both slides (beamer) and blackboard will not be happy, because it is not possible to record both (see next point below).

A more elaborate variant is the complete video recording.

Complete recording of blackboard and overhead projector/beamer

This is also a service provided by the Multimedia-department of ETH  although it is usually subject to a fee.

Further information can be found under this link.

Technical implementation

Here you can hold the lecture as usual without further restrictions.

However, someone from the multimedia department must be present during the entire event.

The publication of the videos is the same as in the first variant above, where only the beamer (slides) are recorded.


  • This is the most complete video option since it includes features as body language as well.
  • However, it is also the most elaborate (and usually costs money).


13.3 – Online video produktion / web seminars

At this point I would like to present some hints on possibilities to produce videos online and/or to create an electronic, interactive setting.

As alternatives to the options mentioned above, you can also find online tools for creating videos / conducting web seminars on the following websites:

  • OpenCast (Mac users please use Chrome or Firefox) for example offers the possibility to create screen cast directly online. Documentation is available here .
  • ExplainEverything offers the possibility to produce videos as well as web seminars.
  •  Zoom is a possibility which is more suited for web seminars (but there is also a possibility to download created videos). This tool could also be suitable for practice lessons, as ETH members have free access to the basic version of this service (see here).


13.4 – Simplest form of online setting

The simplest form of distance learning is to provide students with material for self-study. This can be done using Moodle , the document repository or Polybox .


13.5 – Remote-only implementation of a course

In a nutshell, there are two main versions of complete online-implementation of lectures which of course can be combined in any possible way.

Version A: Podcast/video based lectures

Instead of a classical lecture, the students are provided lecture notes, interactive questions, short videos (produced remotely according to the ideas displayed above), a storyboard (with preparatory and control questions (with answers), indication about what to read and what to watch), a written version of the videos, exercises (with solutions) and a forum. All this material and interactive activities are implemented in Moodle . A written handout with all these point can be found here (the handout I prepared for the students of my lecture Analysis B (D-CHAB), in german)

Technical implementation

  • All the material – as depicted above – is put on a lecture page, e.g. Moodle.
  • In order to maintain a minimum of interaction, regular web meetings (interactive question sessions) are organised using Zoom (see also the zoom help or Guillaume Schiltz› hints )
  • Another possibility are student forums where they can discuss their questions and the lecturer / assistant can intervene if necessary. One such possibility is the forum in Moodle. Or alternatively, you can us Will Merry’s  forum page .


  • This version of a complete online-setting for a lecture lacks the direct interaction during the lectures
  • Good podcast/videos have the potential of being used again. Thus, is might be worthy investing more time and energy in such «long-living» product.

The second variant is really a complete solution for remote-only teaching which includes live interactions as well.

Version B: Live but online teaching including interaction feature in real time

In this setting the core «ingredient» is a platform like Zoom or Microsoft Teams and the following features are integrated:

  • The students can on one hand see the lecturer and on the other hand (via e.g. a tablet or another solution for content sharing) see either slides or other course contents which after (or before the lecture) can be made available.
  • The students can ask question in real time, either by using the chat, by virtually raising their hand or just by unmuting themselves.
  • In particular, the chat function gives valuable insight to both sides; the students can profit from the others by receiving answers to their questions, and the lecturer can catch a glimpse at possible difficulties or open questions.
  • Even interactive sequences can be performed via the same platform! In particular the polling options provide a most valuable alternative to e.g. the EduApp since all activities use the same communication platform.
  • The automatic recording can be shared e.g. via the webpage of the lecture.

A complete step-by-step tutorial for Zoom can be found here.

Technical implementation

The following indications apply in particular to Zoom, but can easily adapted for other virtual communication platforms as well.

  • First of all, create a (recurring) meeting and set up all the settings (waiting room, security, chat, polling options, recording etc.)
  • Then communicate the URL to your students.


  • The interaction, possibility to ask questions, in real time is extremely valuable for students and lecturers.
  • Another advantage is the fact that all possible interactions can be handled using the very same platform.
  • Handling additionally the chat and other interaction channels might be challenging. There, it might be helpful to plan very short «micro-breaks» during which the lecturer can have a quick look at the chat and identify urgent questions that have to be discussed immediately.

Personally, I have experience with both versions, A and B, and I am in favour of version B since I have much more feedback from students (where is something not perfectly clear, where did some difficulties pertain) and the feeling of being in interaction with others is very important for me.

Though, both versions had excellent evaluations and the students were happy.

So, just try out what fits best to your personal preferences! It is vey important that every lecturer chooses a setting in which he/she perfectly feels «at home».


What about exercise classe?

Once all teaching activities have to take place online, one of the best options is to organise Zoom meetings as substitutes for the exercise classes.

  • Contrary to what one might think at first, it is not necessary that the teaching assistants use tables, as Marloes Maathuis points out in her Q&A document for online exercise classes . Thank you very much!
  • Exercises are published, handed in and graded online on Moodle. Matteo Felder prepared a short manual (in german) how to set up the online inbox for the exercises and a tutorial (in german) how to grade online on Moodle. Thank you very much!
  • Other possibilities to hand in exercises include Polybox or sam-up-tool of SAM


Last, but not least, it might also be interesting to have a look at the AMS Blog on the transitioning to online teaching


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