Tips for student reports using online conferencing tools

Video and web conferencing tools will be used for upcoming undergraduate and graduate student progress reports at various institutions beginning this week. With my collaborators, graduate students will be using Zoom specifically to run their annual progress reports that comprise a 12-15 minute presentation followed by discussion and questions. Undergraduate thesis researchers will also present their thesis research and field questions to complete their course requirements. Previously, I have tried to best understand how to use these tools including recordings to present mini-conference talks, but the goal was primarily rapid, informal communication with limited needed for dialogue. Consequently, I have been considering how to best the support the team in the next few weeks through more effective use of video and web conferencing. Through trial-and-error this previous week, here are some ideas to consider if you are about to employ similar tools.


  1. Set up the conferencing session with a buffer of at least 15 additional minutes.
  2. Log in early, and test audio and video. I prefer headphones with mic to avoid reverberated sound. The presenter should also test turning on and off screen sharing.
  3. Check the settings when you set up the meeting. Confirm that you want participants to be able to log in muted and/or with video and in advance of the host. I choose muted entry and allow log in before host just in case this person is late.
  4. Designate a host for a meeting. With Zoom, only the host can record, and this can be handy (at least for the saved chat if not video).
  5. Discuss with all participants the rules of conduct briefly for the meeting (including whether recorded or not), and the host should introduce each participant in the conference with a brief hello or response from each to ensure everyone is seen or heard (and also that the settings worked).
  6. Mute yourself when not speaking.
  7. Consider turning off video or at least discuss because this can be very distracting to the presenters. These is also the remote possibility that this can improve sound quality (apparently participants tolerate poor to no video but not poor audio in meetings).
  8. Use the chat. Host should monitor it throughout presentations by students in case someone needs to indicate if they have a problem with the connection but do not want to interrupt the speaker.
  9. Provide an informal, shortened practice session for students that you host and monitor in advance of the formal process. This is particularly important if the student is being graded.
  10. Test a back-up plan.

A quick #openscience #STEM diversity idea for assigning readings in courses

I am about to dig in and begin teaching ecology (large, lower-level course) and experimental design (smaller, upper-year offering). The preceding hyperlinks lead to the blogs that I use to teach each course. I also use twitter for announcements, and the students set up fb working groups for labs. Students also publish data with meta-data in both courses. However, I recognized that in assigning readings in previous years, I was not promoting open science very effectively.

Here are some proposed improvements in using readings to teach open science:
1. Ensure that the readings reflect the full diversity (or the diversity we must promote) of practitioners in our fields. I checked my assigned readings for ecology last year, 80% first-authored male peer-reviewed publications were assigned; whilst in experimental design, the sex ratio of first-authored papers was 50:50.  Be conscious of the author pool you assign to undergraduates to read.  There is an opportunity to engender equality and inspire.  Consider selecting publications from different institutions, journals, domains, nations, ecosystems, or author attributes.


2. Ensure that you assign a ‘significant’ proportion of the readings from open-access journals such as PLOS or PeerJ.


3. Ensure that you offer students the opportunity to shape a set of the assigned readings (at least in the smaller, upper-year courses). This is open science in action if you include discussion on selection criteria, merit, processing the literature, and promote general transparency in why you made certain selections to assign/promote.

openscience readings

4. If you have to do the selections of readings, use reddit or any other ‘vote up’ style tool to provide students with an opportunity to generate feedback.

5. Finally, and most importantly, assign open-science products for students to read and consider more than just standard publications.  Assign pre-prints, videos, datasets, methods, blogs, open lab notebooks, slideshare decks, code, github projects, or any other product that captures process in addition to end-product science.



The readings you assign are a form of advertising/promotion for that work, institution, set of authors, publication model, and form of science to students.
Use this opportunity to show the vast pool of students we mentor that process is important, collaboration is critical, and that open science is the only solution to global challenges not just in ecology and experimental design but in all of science.


Ecology Bingo: practice Qs for terminology

Here is a quick game of ecology bingo to review a few chapters and papers in second-year ecology. Please feel free to use to use the templates. We read out the questions, give them about 20seconds to recall/find the term on the card, then move to next term.  The majority of definitions are from Cain et al. 2nd Ed. Ecology textbook.

Qs in excel file: ecology bingo

Keynote template: ecology bingo.key

Ppt template: ecology bingo

ecology bingo.001 ecology bingo.002 ecology bingo.003 ecology bingo.004 ecology bingo.005 ecology bingo.006