How to set up to teach online in a hurry


Japan (finally) declaring a state of emergency over Covid-19 means teachers and schools are all scrambling to come with ways to teach online. After a (online!) meeting yesterday I came away with what I think is a pretty good fast-starter arrangement for online teaching, so this post is to give you what I know so far, so you’ve got something to build on.

This method (hack?) uses google classroom as the primary method of communicating with your students to tell them about video classes, set assignments etc, and pretty much any audio/video chat application for doing the actual lessons.

(Zoom is popular, and has a great “breakout rooms” feature, tho it does have well-documented security issues – see my short discussion below)

UPDATE 2020-04-10: I realized it’s possible to simplify this even further:
You need:
1. A method of sharing links and short messages with your students: Google Classroom might be good (especially if you want to set assignments, share documents etc) but to get online teaching started all you really need is a group for each of your classes in ANY messaging app: once you have them all in one place, you’ll be able to arrange meeting etc to further organize.
2. A method of talking live with your students: any group talk-to-each-other app, some teachers may even feel that no video just audio will work, which will broaden the possibilities

How to:

1. open up google classroom from your google (personal) account

2. top right hit “+” > create a class

3. IMPORTANT: check the box saying “I’m not doing this at an institution”, or…it’ll get very complicated and slow….the simple and fast way to set this up is to treat your classes as “personal”. If you teach at several schools this will have the handy effect of keeping all your classes in one place.

UPDATE 2020-04-09: some of my students seem to have been unable to sign in with their school gmail, but their personal gmail worked fine. This *could* be related to this point….

4. fill out the class name etc

5. From the class page get the 7-digit Class Code (クラス コード): xyz123.

Send it to your students….somehow….realistically at this point the only way to do this is through your school’s official contact-the-students (連絡) system

This is the text I sent to my students – feel free to copy-and-paste (don’t forget to insert the code for your individual classes):

4.「クラス コード」を入力してください:
XXXXXcopypaste the code from google classroomXXXXXX
例:路瓶村祭文 123456 Robinson Simon



I also attached this picture, which guides the students through how to sign up on a smartphone (presumably iOS is similar…)

7. Once your class populates with students, you will be able to use the class page in the same way as you would use a class LINE group or whatever (only better): you’ll be able to communicate with your students to set assignments, arrange online meetings etc!
I don’t know what we will do about students who fail to join your google classroom, I’d suggest asking the students who DO turn up to try to help other students join up, tho this will likely work less well with 1st years who haven’t made new friendship groups yet….Hopefully your school (教務課) will also be able to help with this….

8. You can now use this to post instructions on home study assignments, and to make arrangements for conducting live classes via a chat/audio/video conferencing tool! For example, you could set up a Zoom meeting, and use your google classroom page to send the link to your students that they can join it. 

A note about security and privacy:

I realize we are all scrambling to organize this very quickly, and so are likely to opt for convenience first, which makes Zoom the logical choice as it is reliable and has some very useful features (especially the breakout rooms). 
However, I think it’s important to realize that Zoom’s security issues are numerous and serious (and some of them involve company policy: they are not just unintentional “bugs”)  , and that as educators we need to consider issues of safety (privacy and security) for our classrooms.
I’m going to conduct my first meeting with each class using Zoom because it is probably the most reliable, which is important for the first meeting. However I will be experimenting with different apps in the coming weeks and I would encourage other teachers to do likewise – I will use “online security and privacy” as a topic for conversation in class, and we will try out different apps as part of the learning experience.
On an institutional level, I would like to see the schools opt for, and if possible contribute financially to the development of (and host on school-maintained servers) secure open source tools such as Jitsi.
(The reason open source is good, quite apart from the fact that it is free for the students to use, is that since any programmer can examine the code we can be sure that it is not doing anything nefarious with our data. Although many open source projects can feel a bit bare-bones or even buggy some have a legitimate claim to be best-in-class: server-side linux, Blender, OBS).

Here is a quick lists of chat apps you might like to try: (I have not vetted this list, nor tried out all of these apps, and some or all of them may have similar security/privacy issues as Zoom). I have however tried to focus on apps that are available on smartphones.

Closed source: Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, LINE, discord
Open Source: Jitsi, Signal,, Jami, Tox, Mumble

There are many more besides: feel free to google search and experiment!

I hope this post is of some use to teachers. Obviously we are all scrambling to get organized, but looking on the bright side I think this is a fantastic opportunity to develop new tools and ways of working that will enhance our students’ education.

Good luck with it, and above all: stay safe