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Reflections on a short puzzle in Elluminate

Stephen Lee (MEI) approached me regarding a ‘Virtual IMA Branch talk’ which would be delivered by Elluminate. The advantage is that anyone can access this, even those who cannot access a standard Branch talk. We agreed I would give a puzzles talk.

Last week we did a short practice run, with a couple of volunteers, @christianp and @SundayTeaTime (Thanks!). I did a couple of river crossing puzzles. Here it is, followed by some reflection:

I found it strange to know how to pace the talk with no real audience feedback. When we allowed multiple microphones to be active the system had an enormous lag, so we set it to what I’m thinking of as walkie-talkie mode, where I had control of the mic until I released it to Stephen. This was strange, partly because you might say something and expect a laugh or a murmur from the audience (perhaps at the start when I blame Stephen in advance for it all going wrong) and you don’t get that, and also because I am used to recording a two-way conversation via Skype for the Math/Maths Podcast, where Samuel Hansen and I tend to interrupt each other.

I found it strange having no visual clues to how well the audience was understanding what I was saying. I have given this puzzle before a live audience seven times from years 11-13 (what’s that? 15-19?) to undergraduate and university staff. Then, it is relatively straightforward to get an idea of whether people are following or not but here it wasn’t so easy. I think this caused me to under-explain a few things, like the precise definition of the puzzle while we were trying to solve it, and I think it caused me to rush a bit.

Specific feedback given at the end that I need to address for the real thing:

  • The window wasn’t all on screen for one person, so a smaller window would be helpful.
  • To keep the puzzle definition on screen while trying to solve it would be an advantage.

Watching the puzzle back seems to me a little slow, but then I know what’s coming and I’m not playing along at home. When I’ve asked a question it is hard to know how long to leave it to wait for a response. Again, when I’m talking to Samuel dead air is to fill, but here you need to give people some time to think about the problems. I would be very interested to hear in the comments how you found watching it back.

A life in the IMA

I am writing to draw your attention to the blog “A Life in the IMA“, in which Dr. Dan Tilley, IMA Council member, Chair of the IMA Early Career Mathematicians Group and committee member of the IMA North Hants, Surrey and Berkshire Branch, gives his personal account of his mathematical life. His postings are infrequent (I can talk!) but worth keeping an eye on.