I have been teaching my spectroscopy course for NASSP for a while now and one of my goals was to make it more interactive. This has included creating online tutorials, making the course more focused on problem solving, and giving the students some real SALT data to reduce. Unfortunately, they have been struggling with the data reduction. Since I am in Sutherland this week, it has not made it easy to interact with them. Although they have sent me some emails, these have often been lacking in detail or not fully capturing where they were failing in the data reductions.
So tonight was a first for me though: Office hours via Skype! It actually worked out really well. After about a 30 minute discussion with one of the groups, I was able to answer a number of their questions, discuss a few of the topics, and help them along their way. It also made it much more clear about what to send me and how to ask questions. About an hour after the meeting, they had sent me a reduced spectra that looked pretty good. Some work was still needed, but they had certainly gotten over the major road blocks that were holding them back.
There were some aspects that did make this useful. Video did make it a bit more personal (although I have crazy observing hair right now). It would have been nice to have screen sharing turned on, but I couldn’t get it to work. I also image that it would have been much harder to explain a traditional problem set and trying to work out derivations rather than discussing images on the computer. It also helped that the reduction logs by PySALT are all saved with the details of what is done, so I could quickly see where the problems were at and with what data. Overall though, I think it was pretty successful and I think I’ll have to suggest it to the other groups as well.