Synchronous meeting dashboard

A while ago I made a site (and blogged about it) that I dubbed “my turn now” (think of a young kid begging to play when you say that aloud) that facilitated moderating a discussion. At the time I made it for in-person meetings and classes but this week I’ve found just how powerful it can be in synchronous online meetings. In this post I’ll describe how I’ve updated it and why I think it’ll be useful to me (and others?) in this time of remote learning.

Recognizing that not all of our students have fantastic internet connections at home, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to reduce the bandwidth of productive synchronous class meetings. The big culprit is the video streams. Audio is nothing compared to video from that perspective, so I started to think about what video provides.

When I talk to folks who love Zoom or Google Meets + gridview they talk about feeling stronger connections with their colleagues. They talk about facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures. Basically they’re saying that video augments audio and chat in ways that are hard to quantify and that are close to necessary for strong interactions with each other. Certainly I can attest. The big project I’ve been working on for years gave up on other online meeting platforms when we realized that Zoom lets all participants see each other. We knew it was vital and so we shelled out for it.

So what can we do if video becomes a liability, either due to bandwidth or privacy or whatever? That’s what I set out to work on over the last several days. I knew my “my turn now” app had something going for it, but it needed more.

As I reflected on positive experiences I’ve had in online meetings, I remembered the good old days of the Global Physics Department. We used Elluminate Live (later Blackboard Collaborate) and hardly ever used video (mostly a bandwidth problem back then). One thing we loved were the emotion emojis we could use (mostly “thumbs up” but also “clapping” etc). I thought perhaps expanding that a little could help with low-bandwidth community building.

So I set out to expand “my turn now” to add a few things:

  • “emotion” choices that participants could choose and display to others. For now I’ve settled on “confused”, “excited”, “clapping”, “agree”, “disagree”, and “cat on my computer”
  • Chat that isn’t lost if you have to log back in. First of all this is a very low footprint site so likely folks won’t have to log back in, but even if you join a meeting late all the prior chats will be there for you. That’s true of the hand-raise queues too.
  • Access control (don’t want to face the emoticon equivalent of a zoom-bomber)
  • “my turn now”-like hand raising facilitation. If you didn’t click out before here’s the quick version: There are 2 queues: one for follow up questions on the current topic and one for new topic questions. Participants “raise their hand” and everyone can see where everyone is at in the queues. Participants can also transfer their “hand” to the other queue which is then re-sorted to make sure whoever is earliest gets called on first

Today I ran a meeting with ~30 participants and tested it out. It worked really well! Things that I noticed:

  • We never had a microphone collision. Never did two people try to talk over each other. The “raise hand” queues worked really well and everyone knew who would talk next.
  • We didn’t have topic ping-pong. That’s when every other speaker wants to go back to the topic two speakers ago. The two queues really help with that.
  • Colleagues were forgiving of each other when people had to go from my site back to the google meets tab to turn on their mic
  • We almost never had more than one live mic
  • No one complained of bad internet connections (a few turned their video on but most didn’t)
  • The emotions were indicated with color (their name in the roster went to white text on a solid color background) and my eye tracked that pretty good with just my peripheral vision.
  • Questions like “does that sound like a good plan?” yielded rapid “agree” and “disagree” colors showing up in the roster.
  • The chat seemed more vibrant because it was front and center. Both Zoom and Google Meets makes it too easy to ignore the chat in my opinion.

Overall I was very pleased (hence this blog post!).

A quick set of notes on technology and scalability:

  • “my turn now” was PHP-Laravel based and required me to program on a windows machine, post to github, pull from github to a Hamline server, save data in a mysql database, and connect to Pusher for the real-time notifications
  • This uses Google Apps Script. I program on whatever device is handy (my chromebook works great), both the client and server are in javascript, and the data is stored in a simple to access and simple to read google sheets document. Once again I’m using Pusher for the real-time notifications.
  • “my turn now” was hard to share. Because of the free-version of Pusher limiting me to 100 simultaneous connections (think 100 people in a meeting) I never let anyone else use it. Sure they could sign up for their own Pusher but they’d either have to share their Pusher account with me or do all the github/PHP/server crap themselves.
  • This is super easy to share. Sign up for a free Pusher account, contact me to get a clean copy of my google sheet, paste a few things in and you’re good to go! At least one colleague is interested in that so hopefully in a few days I can see just how hard that is (I’m really not worried about it).
  • Access control is built in to google apps script, especially if you’re a google school
  • The chart you can see on my old post is totally doable in this version too, since all the relevant info is saved in the spreadsheet. I just haven’t coded it yet.
  • I think I’ll post all my code on github soon so people can just do it themselves

So, all in all I think this is an exciting development. I really think you can have dynamic, interactive online meetings/classes without the huge bandwidth load of video. Of course you still need audio, but a dashboard like what I’ve made can really make a difference.

Your thoughts? Here are some starters for you:

  • I was in today’s meeting and I thought it went great. My favorite part was . . .
  • I was in today’s meeting and I couldn’t wait for it to end. What really sucked was . . .
  • Once again you’ve outed yourself as a PHP user. I’ve said it before but I really mean it this time: this is the last post of yours I’m ever going to read
  • Why don’t you code this in Meteor?
  • You really like bullet point lists, don’t you?
  • What do you mean when you say “google school?”
  • Why didn’t you write that “google school”??
  • I think you should add these “emotion” buttons . . .
  • I love it when multiple people are talking over each other. It’s like a battle royale and I can’t wait to see who wins. Why are you trying to take all my fun away?
  • Here’s some other great things you get if you can literally see your colleagues . . .

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in programming, teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Synchronous meeting dashboard

  1. bretbenesh says:

    How big of role is this going to play in your online courses if we can’t have face-to-face classes in the fall? Is this something that you would use daily? Weekly? A couple times per semester?

    This is really cool.

    • Andy Rundquist says:

      That’s a great question. If I were teaching in the fall (not currently planned but who knows), I think I might use this quite a bit. The meetings I’ve been holding this week (class and meetings with colleagues) I’ve felt have been more interactive with more engagement from folks than when we use video.

  2. John Burk says:

    Andy‚ I have an idea for you. Think, Pair, Share is such a popular model for many classes, but for the most part, it doesn’t work at all using the various online chat tools built into zoom, etc. It takes too long to pair kids and then pull them into larger groups.

    But looking at your dashboard, I realized it would be easy pretty easy to have three columns of chat—one could be just for your own thinking, or possibly, for stuff you just what to share with the teacher. one could be for a chat with a “neighbor” (and the dashboard would generate these random pairings), and then one could be the whole class chat.

    I think there would be a lot of folks interested in a tool like this.

    • Andy Rundquist says:

      Ooh that’s interesting. Right now all broadcasts through pusher go to everyone, but I could either learn how to target broadcasts or just write client javascript to filter the broadcasts (ie they’d receive them but ignore them if that student wasn’t in the group).

      Very cool idea, thanks!

  3. Reece Geursen says:

    I would be interested in using this. It sounds great. I’ve been struggling with how to get more student voice in online lessons. I’ve found that just a few contribute.
    I’m just worried about the ease of implementing it. We are a Microsoft school, so use teams. It would be nice if it was available in teams!
    Either way, thanks for all your work and sharing what you have done.

    • Andy Rundquist says:

      Unfortunately this will only work with schools that do their email using google. The reason is that the authentication is done through their google account. If they have their gmail tab open, then when they go to my url it checks their email address and does some simple authentication against my known roster. In the consumer email, the command that tells you the user’s email address returns “undefined” so it’s useless for this authentication.

      If there was demand for this sort of thing at scale, I could spin it up as a PHP-driven site on a google cloud server, but the authentication will still be a pain. We’ll see.

      In case you’re interested, here’s a vid with the latest features: https://www.loom.com/share/b94205e80b31461d86e4535101fc2ff0

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