Our first online tutorial with the folks at the Space Telescope Science Institute via Skype, and I think it worked well. Our setup was:

  • The students got together in a meeting room. Each student brought their own laptop.
  • One extra laptop was connected to the projector; its webcam was pointed at the room, so that I could see the students, and its microphone (mostly) picked up their voices.
  • I shared my desktop, so that instead of seeing me, the students could see what I was viewing and typing.
  • I (mostly) used a full-screen terminal window, white on black, with an 18-point font, switching back and forth between my editor and running my evolving program on the command line.

That was pretty much it, and as I said, I think it worked as well as live coding in the classroom works as a lecturing technique (which is pretty well). There were a few times when I wanted to see what was on their screens, and going forward, we're going to have to find a way to do that. Overall, though, I think that using Skype for connecting, and native desktop tools for everything else, works better for small groups than things like Elluminate (now part of Blackboard) that try to do it all in one. I know it won't scale to dozens of people, but this will certainly get us through the next six months. If anyone has tips to share, they'd be very welcome.

This post originally appeared in the Software Carpentry blog.