Teaching on Twitch
Last March I ventured into streaming my lectures on Twitch (here) and, let me tell you, I’m having a great time. A massive thank you is, therefore, due. So here it goes: thank you, folks. Thank you very much! By now we are 10 thousand strong! Imagine that…
You might ask yourselves: what? actual lectures on Twitch? by a real faculty professor? open to everyone? Yep. And in case you’re interested, I’ve published the VODs on YouTube, here. Mind that the lectures themselves are in Portuguese.
Regarding this extraordinary experience, Miguel Gamboa Carvalho (MGC) and Pedro Félix (PF) asked me several questions, which I leave you below with the best answers I could come up with.
I hope you enjoy =)
MGC: We were at the beginning of the pandemic and state of emergency and when others were discussing how to deal with Remote lecturing you take one step forward and start using twitch! Wow. Tell me, what moved you? Why Twitch?”
PP: It was a leap of faith, really, and maybe also ingenuity. My intent was simply to keep on teaching, regardless of the ongoing pandemic. As simple as that. I was aware of Twitch (I am a gamer at heart myself) and a remark from Paulo Fonseca triggered the whole thing. He and Francisco Dias pointed me to the set of tools and so it all started. One major factor in this choice was that most students are Twitch users and it seemed natural to me at the time. Becoming aware of the consequences of that choice is still an ongoing process.
MGC: Did you ever consider the chance that you were making the wrong choice and the consequences of that decision?
PP: Yes, I did. At first, I thought of it as an experiment and prepared myself to change my course of action, if needed. I talked to my students and explained my motivations. They were very excited by the proposition and also extremely helpful in the required tweaking of the setup. After a couple of lives, I asked them how they felt the experiment was going and their response was clear: they were loving it. I clearly recall a moment where a student said in the chat, translating from Portuguese, “soon we will be Portugal’s top stream in the category”. I emphasize the use of “we” because he got it exactly right: classes are never about the professor; they are about and for the students.
MGC: Now we know that it was a successful approach. No complaints and 10,400 followers on your Twitch channel! Maybe this question would be better suited for your audience than you. Nevertheless, what reasons do you believe are behind this success?
PP: I honestly don’t know. People say to me that I’m a “natural-born communicator” and a “great storyteller” but I don’t perceive myself that way. I simply am passionate about creating software and learning and teaching how to do it. Maybe it’s that passion that shows. But I still have a hard time calling it a success. Regardless of the label, It’s being a life-changing experience because it is teaching me so much. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that kindness is a fundamental trait of human interactions, especially when they are about learning and teaching. Those that visit the channel have shown me kindness that I was not expecting. They have helped me, and each other, simply because it’s in their nature. They have praised my initiative without having to do so. They could have been silent but, instead, they chose to express the praise. And for me, that is kindness: giving a compliment to a stranger without ulterior motives.
PF: What’s your opinion on how the younger generations use mediums such as Youtube and Twitch? Is it just a temporary trend or a significant new way of consuming content?
PP: Those mediums have changed dramatically the way multimedia content is consumed and, most importantly, produced. People use them for recreational, educational and professional purposes. There are, I believe, three fundamental reasons: the first is the democratization of the production, that is, anyone can create content and make it available to the masses. This opportunity for ordinary people like myself is unprecedented in human history. The second is the democratization of the choice of what to see. There’s an important part of the population that prefers to always select the content (on demand), instead of simply settling for what is being delivered to them by traditional TV networks. In this context, the offers of large companies (such as Netflix) and the offers of individuals like myself are complementary. The third is the democratization of participation, that is, people who watch aren’t mere spectators because they participate in the production of the content itself, by asking questions, making comments and interacting with each other. This combination of possibilities is unique and I would say that it is the ongoing paradigm shift.
PF: Your Twitch sessions include an open chat. How do you handle the figurative trolls that may break in? What is your advice for anyone dealing with that kind of issue?
PP: It depends on the troll and of my spirits at the time. When my spirits are high and the troll is funny, I laugh it out and it serves as a moment of relaxation, where both me and my students can take a moment to breathe. I don’t think of these participations on the chat as disruptive. They are, at most, inopportune. I can choose not to respond and usually they do not insist. If, on the other hand, we are dealing with the occasional real troll that amuses himself by insulting either me or the participants that try to put some sense into him, we have tools for that: human moderators and a chat moderation bot that can ban the troll for good. That phenomenon is not exclusive to classes; all content creators that do live recordings have the same issue and therefore the ecosystem includes lots of ways to deal with it.
PF: What are the advantages of having your classes being broadcasted in the open?
PP: My classes are planned for my students and, of course, they have my full attention. But by broadcasting them in the open I’m making my classes fully transparent. And transparency is something to be valued, isn’t it? I am also making a stand on my beliefs that a professor provides a public service, especially in a public school such as ISEL, and that sharing knowledge is the engine of progress. Forgive me for the apparent lack of humility, but deep down I firmly believe that I’m providing a service to ISEL itself, or otherwise I would close the door again not to embarrass the institution that supports me in my beloved profession. For example, during the last session, someone said in the chat “ISEL, respect”, praising the institution that houses me and, of course, I was rejoiced by it. Another gain is that many professionals drop by the stream and participate in the chat. Last semester that circumstance created opportunities for my finalist students by allowing them to speak with actual professionals besides me. In my line of work (software) openness is a valued property. So I thought, why not adding that property to my classes on the subject?
PF: Until now, what went above your initial expectations?
PP: Undoubtedly, the kindness of the community. Again, thank you very much to all of you.
PF: And want went worse?
PP: The worst is “the bad days”. I mean, those classes that go astray from what you planned, either because of your poor preparation or simply because something goes awfully wrong and disturbes your concentration. Having those days is always the worst. I deal with them by trying to prevent them with extra work and preparation, but given the nature of my profession and my limitations, they are inevitable. When the class ends, regardless of the compassion of those that assist, I always feel terribly.
PF: In most environments, the teaching process is currently not much different than it was in the last century. What‘s your opinion on this? Did we already reach a global maximum on the teaching-learning process or does it make sense to try out new methods?
PP: At least we should try new tools. The world has changed too much in the last century for us to accept the status quo as the best we can do.
PF: The statement “learning how to learn” is somehow common in educational contexts. What’s your opinion on that?
PP: The human being knows how to learn innately. It is not necessary to be an expert in medicine or psychology, or any other area of knowledge dedicated to the study of these issues, to know it: just follow the growth of a child. If the best we can do is to say that “the most important thing is to learn how to learn”, and if we design our education systems around the presumed recovery of something that is innate to us, then something is wrong.
PF: What about “sempre a codar” (always coding)? For anyone not familiar with it, what is this project and where can they find more information?
PP: “Sempre a codar” is an initiative that aims to leverage the community made up of people who share my passion for making and speaking “software”, by creating a space for that purpose. It is still in an embryonic phase and its most visible face is the same channel on Twitch that I use for my classes. There are other means of communication associated with the initiative (GitHub repository, Discord, YouTube channel), but currently what supports everything else is the channel on Twitch. There we talk, of course, of software development. The initiative is currently my responsibility, but I would like it to be as inclusive as possible. Soon… =)
PF: What is the software and hardware that you use on your live streams? What are your recommendations for anyone starting a similar project?
PP: My current setup is minimalist because, as I usually say figuratively, I’m a noob in these things. So, instead of making recommendations, I just describe what I use. First I use OBS for the live broadcast of the stream from my laptop to the Twitch channel. After the live I upload the VOD (the corresponding video) to the YouTube channel. Then I use YouTube Studio to make elementary edits to the video (especially cuts to remove the pauses). During the lives I use a setup to which Alexandre Almeida made a fundamental contribution: a bot for automatic moderation of the channel chat (Cloudbot by Streamlabs) and a stream deck by Elgato for quick access to actions on the channel. By the way, a huge shoutout to Vacalexis#3493 (identifier in Discord) and to all of those that are joining the initiative.