Livestream courses have changed how we teach by allowing unprecedented scaling possibilities.November 14, 2022 - Richard Darst
Part of a series on the Future of Teaching
The idea of livestreamed courses came in early 2022, during the early phase of remote work and teaching. Everyone started online courses and events, but immediately stared hiding their connection information behind registrations because "someone might do something bad if they could join". While there was a valid short-term reason for this, something seemed wrong: the promise of the internet was that we can reach everyone. Yet here we are making things closed by default.
Start of the livestream idea
I got to thinking about this, and realized we needed to re-think what it means to interact online. Our first courses used the "meeting" concept - everyone talks to everyone. But online activities with large audiences aren't like that - common mass engagement models include things like TV broadcasting, posting videos, forums, livestreams, and news articles.
So once I understood the conceptual problem with Zoom meetings, I knew what to do. We started working towards disconnecting the core teaching parts from the meeting parts. That resulted in developments like parallel chat ("HackMD") for questions and co-teaching, and lots more things which you will see later such as learner teams. Basically, it was a systematic process of re-thinking teaching until we could move on to the next step without losing essential points like interactivity or engagement.
How livestreaming works for our courses
Then came livestreaming. Livestream is a fancy way of saying live video, in this context as a public broadcast over the internet. We had a few first pilots made by having Zoom do the livestreaming directly to Twitch (there is something built-in, but I didn't like it very much) - at least this let us say "anyone who wasn't able to register can watch the stream". We also got a lot of experience with streaming in our project Research Software Hour.
The fully "proper" livestreamed course was 2021 February, our Intro to scientific computing/HPC Kickstart, and was great! There were no major problems, and it actually felt pretty refreshing because for once, everything felt like it was under control. It was too early to livestream every single course, but by late 2022 we are using it for most of our capstone courses.
How do we actually do it? Instructors teach by Zoom, but there are no learners or helpers there. The Zoom windows are captured by OBS (Open Broadcaster Software), which livestreams to Twitch. Course staff can broadcast to everyone, but the audience can't interfere with each other, except through our (moderated) channels. This lets us scale far more than we could otherwise.
Livestreaming is made possible by strategies like parallel chat and co-teaching. Because we livestream, we can now do reverse hybrid, be more open, produce videos immediately, work together, and simplify registration. Livestreaming is the mediator of all of our strategies - even if it's not technically required.
I attended several "top" conferences/workshops/seminars as well as videolectures this past year in their virtual implementations, and this event is easily the best out of all of them when it comes down to presentations and audience participation!
- Feedback from Summer 2021 HPC Kickstart
In general, feedback was positive.
Let's just say there was one surprising thing we noticed: since the audience isn't in the Zoom, during breaks (when the livestream is muted and video off), the co-instructors are free to discuss without disrupting the course. This actually is great for the co-instructors to manage the flow of the course - and students can continue interacting via parallel chat anyway. And when the audience is not in the stream, you can publish videos immediately with no privacy risk - which is great for accessibility.
Livestreamed courses aren't exactly perfect, but they are pretty good and I think they should be considered more. It does take some tech setup and some time to get used to them. Most people probably wouldn't want to use it for small courses, so there is some threshold of being worth it. Whatever the case, I think it's something that everyone teaching online should think about.
- Demo of livestream teaching (check the video description to know what is going on).
- Teaching via livestreaming in the community-teaching guide.
- CodeRefinery MOOC, which is mainly about livestreaming.
 Incidentally, since 2020 we have had a daily online meeting, our Scientific Computing Garage help session, with the Zoom link online, and have never had any problems. My hypothesis is that if you don't have an exact data listed along with the Zoom information, it's not found by those that want to troll.