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Our Basic Amateur Radio Course... Interrupted!

Looking for 'novel' new ways to present our material

At the beginning of March, due to the Novel Corona Virus, we suddenly found ourselves without our Surrey Fire Services Training Centre classroom. We were in week 3 of our 9 week Basic course and just finishing up a CW course.

Our usual classroom

For several years we successfully used Microsoft OneDrive as a means to distribute pre-reading and other course content to our students but continuing on-line instruction needed a more complete solution.

I started to investigate popular multimedia conferencing solutions to try to find a way to continue instruction. My criteria were:

  • Free or inexpensive
  • Accessible by computer on multiple operating systems (preferably web browser based so there is no software download or installation required)
  • Allow up to 30 (perhaps more) subscribers
  • Have a master ‘host’ control to talk, show PowerPoint slides and video
  • Allow participant questions
  • Allow at least 2-3 hours per session
There were 50 or so options, but many only had a short, free trial period that limited time, resources or users.  Then I found the open source BigBlueButton and it's associated conference site Canvas. These two resources are used extensively by universities and other remote teaching institutions. It proved to meet my criteria and much more.

I have spent the last two weeks entering material, including PowerPoint slides, video links and questions from the Canadian Basic Amateur Radio Question Bank. The latter is accessible by our students to complete quizzes after the lesson has been presented. It scores and offers a review of wrong answers to questions. There are built-in assignment, announcement and file server features. 

This past Tuesday evening we had our first conference and presented our week 4 program. Students accessed securely on a number of different devices. As long as you have browser access on a reasonably good Internet connection it works flawlessly. All went smoothly and our PowerPoint material, including animations and video came through without a hitch. Students were able to comment by audio or the included scratchpad feature, and questions were answerable while the presentation was running. Student feedback was universally positive: "Much better than travelling to a classroom." You can also record the session so students can review it within 14 days, before it is erased.

Our BigBlueButton/Canvas Classroom

I can't say how pleased I am with this package. Now that the material is entered we can conceivably offer our highly rated course throughout the country by remote access, a boon to those not normally near a training location.

The course goes on!

~ John VE7TI

Update May 2020:

The course was completed without further interruption with glowing feedback at the conclusion. One student wrote: "Great course, this turned out better than expected. I could stay home during the presentations, in my easy chair, in my PJs with my iPad and a cup of tea."

At the conclusion of the course, students successfully wrote the exam in small groups at covered picnic tables in a local park, maintaining appropriate physical distancing.

We plan to offer another course in mid to late September 2020. It will be in the classroom unless the COVID situation requires us to present it on-line again. Either way, we're confident we have the capability.


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