How Prof. Alan Broder Changed the Game for Hybrid Teaching
This past year, as the vast majority of classes were operating at least partially online, Chair of Computer Science at Stern College for Women (SCW) Prof. Alan Broder set up a technological system for his hybrid classes that allowed for a more engaging experience for his virtual students without sacrificing the experience of those in-person.
Broder presented his slides to his students akin to a weatherman communicating a weather report. His image was displayed in front of the slides where he was able to indicate what was relevant, differing from the typical Zoom session where the professor teaches from the corner of the Zoom screen. The slides presented on the green screen were displayed to the in-person students on an additional monitor beside Broder. The in-person students managed the class by looking back and forth between the monitor beside Broder when observing content and directly at Broder when he lectured.
When Broder was having a back-and-forth discussion with a student, he shifted the Zoom image to a view from the corner of the classroom — similar to a security camera angle — so that the online students could see the entire communication.
Additionally, there were multiple speakers placed throughout the classroom for the virtual students to hear whoever was speaking at the same level of volume regardless of where the sound was being projected.
The system used two key technologies. The first was a microphone array system from the brand Acoustic Magic that captured sound from around the classroom. As mentioned before, the system allowed remote students to hear a speaker at the same volume no matter where they were in the classroom, contrasting to a typical Zoom session where a participant could only hear whoever is closest to the speaker. The core system was the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini, which was the control panel for the entire system. Broder was able to present his slides in a weatherman-type of format using this control panel along with a green screen. The Blackmagic Design control panel produced what was shown on the green screen.
“The remote students have reported to me that they’re tremendously engaged and they feel that it’s almost as good as being in person,” Broder told The Commentator.
Complicated technological systems are not foreign to Broder. He ran a computer software company for 15 years prior to teaching at SCW, where he has been teaching for the past eight years. He received this year’s Professor of the Year Award from SCW. The system he built perfectly demonstrates his dedication to his students and the effort he has put into giving them a top-quality education. “I put a lot of effort into being as engaging as I can with my students,” Broder said. “When I started watching the videos of myself using standard Zoom I knew that my students couldn’t possibly be engaged.”
Other additional equipment included theater lights to lighten up the image displayed on Zoom to students and a monitor in the back of the classroom for Broder to see the “gallery view” of his virtual students.
This system was set up at a staggering cost of under $3,000. “What I’ve demonstrated is you could use this system for not that much money,” Broder said. The system was funded by an outside grant received by the university.
Broder taught two courses this past semester, COMP 1300 and COMP 1320, which both utilized this system. “Professor Broder’s dedication to teaching gave his students an unparalleled experience on Zoom, one that came close to in person classes,” Talia Leitner (SCW ‘22) told The Commentator. “We all benefited from his commitment, and I was able to continue my computer science courses with very few glitches.”
Broder’s system exhibits that any educator willing to take simple efforts could ultimately change the quality of education given to their students. “I want other teachers here and at other universities to see how a small expense could deliver a much more engaging experience,” Broder advised. “This is not a substitute for normalcy, but if you have to do Zoom why not do it right?”
This technology was simply a temporary solution to the global health crisis. As the world returns to normalcy and as the university will be completely in-person this coming fall, the system will be unnecessary. But what Broder’s system has proven is that going the extra mile for the students generates better performance, a skill that all educators must possess in order to adapt to any situation and provide the greatest quality of education.
Photo Caption: Prof. Alan Broder has changed the game for hybrid classes.
Photo Credit: Talia Leitner