USF Study will be virtual - ideas welcome

Hi all,

Due to covid-19, I won’t be doing a study-group at USF as in previous courses. Instead, I’d like to see if we can do something entirely online that’s even better. I’d be interested in hearing any ideas/experiences that might help create something great.

USF has a Zoom account I can use, which allows us to create “breakout rooms” - that might be one option. So I could have a permanent zoom meeting running all the time. Although with breakout rooms you can’t freely go from one to another.

A better option might be Skype, which lets anyone create, join, and leave groups at any time. Or maybe Zoom for a main “virtual study room” and skype groups for separate project groups.

We could use a wiki post to keep a list of what project groups there are, who’s working on them, and have links to separate topics with details of each.

Has anyone participated in any “hackathon” or similar large intensive group project that’s only online, and worked well? If so, what ideas could we borrow?


I actually like the idea of a virtual study group like this for future courses as well. Last year I would have come more often, but I live all the way in San Jose, so it was a long trip.

I believe video is important for the before the lesson walk-through. I liked how the fastai2 code walk-through late last year was done.

For projects I think that is very hard. I would very much like to develop my online group-working skills, because I think it would actually be very beneficial to working on open source projects. I do think working online with other people might be great way to help extend a project past the end of the class as well, so that groups can continue past the end of the class.

I do think it is important to have someone in each group designated as a leader. I don’t know why, but for some reason I find that groups tend to split apart unless someone is actively working to hold them together. Having one person responsible for the group makes it so that people don’t sort of think someone else will take care of it. (Still trying to get these types of groups to work)

I currently host a meetup once a week, and am still working on my own skills on this topic. So I would really like to hear what other people have as well.


Hi Jeremy,

Perhaps gaming can be of an inspiration here. Discord has been very useful in my experience for organizing events, socializing, and even conducting complex activities with groups. It inherently supports groups (i.e. channels) and can be organized in a very detailed manner with roles for members, permissions, information channels, bots, and so on.

Of course there is no video, as far as I know, which might limit some activities but that is what also makes it really fast and really stable, at least in my experience so far.

Kind regards,


I can also attest to Discord, but I feel the channels etc would be better suited as forum chats :slight_smile: (Atleast for the major topics). I had debated upon this for my own study group and decided to keep it here.

Also the video/calls have a limit of 9 people. So while it is an option, I’m not sure it’d be the best choice.

Experience: 3 years with the CS department’s discord server as our main form of communication at my university. (100+ member server)

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I think video is important. We already have a good place for text discussions and wikis (right here!)


I completely agree and I love the idea. :slight_smile: one other option to look into (if you have not already) is Google Hangouts possibly

Not sure if we are looking for free option or open to any suggestions. Slack has always served me well when it comes to collaboration. You can share code, make video calls, share your screen and it will integrate with zoom and hangouts (im sure skype too but have not experienced this). It is trivial to create break out rooms and start calls in them.

My apologies, I was actually was mistaken on that.

Discord does support streaming video, so a member can stream his or her screen and present to the others in the channel. I’ve seen it myself the last few weeks and performance seems to be really good.

Also @muellerzr I don’t think there isa limit to channel members, I’ve been in a channel with about 30 people with ease, perhaps it was the moderator that limited that. Although, the video option does have a limit of 10 people so I’m guessing it won’t do for the actual course presentation but might work for 10 people study groups.

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It’s a bummer that the in person course is canceled, but thanks for putting people’s health and safety first.

I would second that leveraging the forums as much as possible would be ideal as having everything in one place is beneficial for searching later and so on.

Agreed - I’m not going to create a second place for text messaging, doc sharing, etc. I’m specifically wondering about replacing the in-person meeting room - i.e. something where subsets of people can see each other, talk to each other, and look at each other’s screens.


I was independently, while waiting at the airport to get cleared to go back home (I de-boarded my flight last second when the email from USF arrived) thinking of the same ideas posted here.

Let me summarise, please let me know if these sound stupid:

I think 1 strategy could be:

Note: I have a mental perception of the SGs at fastai, based on my interactions-I was told it’s students hanging out in the room where Jeremy is working on something and projecting on a big screen, students work independently and sometimes Jeremy walks them through of the blocks he is working on:

  • Jeremy runs a “Main Zoom call with screen shared” + these recorded for anyone who might want to check them out?
  • Co-hosts/aka sincere students who won’t create noises-can speak and talk and interact as Jeremy works-I speak with the experience of running study groups earlier and someone most of the times leaves their mic on, causing some disturbance in concentration.
  • Others and everyone can “raise hands” and talk as time or concentration permits.

Meanwhile, we have “wiki/leaderboard” of classrooms:

Independent video call rooms-Zoom/Skype/Hangouts similar to classrooms. A groups of us decide to learn how to “Do x”-Group X doing-Kaggle/etc.

These groups are held/led loosely by a leader who might volunteer to later post notes/pointers back on the forums.

In my mind, this is the closest image of a virtual classroom. I think the network issues and random disturbances might be the only drawbacks here. I’ll keep thinking of how to do those.

For a test-I’ll run a Zoom meeting tomorrow for 12 hours, while I work on something, please feel free to join.


Yeah @init_27 that’s roughly what I was thinking. It might take some iterating to find something that works.

Everyone who wants to be involved should ensure they buy a high-quality headset, if they don’t already have one (i.e. something with a noise cancelling mic; not this isn’t the same at all as noise cancelling headphones). Personally I use this:


Also as a sub-note, If the above appears slightly expensive, as an alternative we can also absolutely ensure that we join from a very silent, private room to cover up for noise cancellation with the lack of noise. (Source: While recording a lot of podcasts, many of my guests would use simple 20$ earphones, in hindsight those worked great, since the rooms were silent)

Jeremy, I think the main point to figure out would be how to create a smooth communication between the students and you. Since we might be tempted to ask a lot of things. I can think of a few ways:

  • Someone takes up the role of Rachel from the earlier courses, reads the chat, acts as a filter and asks them. Although this might be too far since it’s not the course-course but again on the flip side, there might be a big crowd since it’ll be completely online.
  • “Raise hand” and ask-again potentially many-Googleable/simpler questions might be “over-asked” (I absolutely don’t want to be disrespectful of anyone’s time/questions, but I can see myself if I was given a direct zoom link to talk to Jeremy, I wouldn’t stop at all :D)
  • Similar to how S4TF team leaves a few brackets of time to ask questions-maybe Jeremy could look into a few questions every few 30 minutes.

Alternatively, someone could curate the questions from the last 30 minutes and Jeremy could answer those.

Again, I might be speaking a bit ahead of time, so please pardon me if I’m sharing stupid ideas.

Another stupid thing I’m doing is missing the point that these SGs aren’t Q&A. So to establish a linear communication might be also a good thought exercise.


just want to mention that many fastai fellows who are regulars to Insight x fastai Meetup were looking forward to the in-person experience. I believe now that the daily study group will not be held at all, at least once a week recap & group study meeting (maybe without jeremy since we don’t want to hold him responsible if anything related to Virus happens) would be a good option -kindly asking for anyone w potential virus or who has been to china lately not to come. What are your thoughts on this?!
For the daily study group, I second @init_27 and many of the suggestions above…

Id be more than happy to do a weekly revision, host at 3 different times so that I can cover every time zone.

Also, Thanks to @MadeUpMasters, Things Jeremy Says to Do + fastai summaries from Part 1,2019 will be ready as a 3 min podcast summary (Releasing this week, probably by this weekend). If many people enjoy that. I think we could try doing the same for Part 1,2020 too.


Sounds great @init_27 … yes I’d love to do it, it’s just that i just started a new job, so not sure how much I can commit but let’s see. @marii can you plz DM person whom you contact for reserving room at USF for meetup so we’ll reach out to him? else, we can ask jeremy. I was thinking Thursday evening so it doesn’t overlap w our monthly wednesday meetups and it gives the current fellows time to go over latest notebooks. Maybe let’s take this planning to Slack and we can share channel with whomever wants to join.

I am hoping that anyone who does attend uses good judgement with respect to this. However it is important to note that this is fast becoming a global virus and up to date and accurate information is essential. The CDC has listed multiple countries. I share this information with many of my patients and this link below is probably the best informative resource I have seen about COVID 19:

For information from the CDC:


Definitely one of the biggest motivation to attend the course in person was to learn from Jeremy through study rooms which we couldn’t do when just doing the course online. It’s sad but completely practical and pragmatic that the course will now be run online due to Covid-19.

But hey! Maybe as practitioners we can all get together and collaborate online in a way like never before and bring ideas to life! Work together on Kaggle competitions, be part of active research and also learn from each other! I am totally looking forward to sharing my knowledge and more than that learning from such wonderful folks that are part of the community. :slight_smile:

Definitely agree with @init_27 and Jeremy that having a main meeting on Zoom where Jeremy could perhaps share his screen would be great.

If it’s not so easy to create rooms and jump in and out on zoom, we could always use a mix of zoom and Skype.

Zoom for a main meeting and Skype for other rooms and discussions on projects.

There might be several challenges regarding coordination, so:

  1. Having a common forum post as a wiki which gets updated with projects and project members so anyone interested can join and collaborate. It might be a good idea to have independent slack channels for these projects and one or two persons generally working as moderators on the project.

  2. Having a “Doubts forum” would be a great idea too so that some of us with the same things that we didn’t understand could get together to solve the problems on our own or take help from those who are good at it.
    For example, experienced python programmers could help beginners with code and deep learning researchers could help software engineers with ideas and explanations of neural networks.

Look forward to collaborating and working with you all. It is definitely one of those “dream come true” moments to be part of the course. :slight_smile:


Great initiative, I volunteer to help with short podcasts!

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Really thoughtful discussions going on! I would just like to add a small point if it is of common consideration. There have been many, and sometimes major, delays and increased tasks(professional and/or personal) imposed upon me and others due to the current situation.

I would like to suggest that we delay the start date by a week or two to let these responsibilities settle down, if the community agrees. I hope I am not disappointing an eager fastai fans by posting this :sweat_smile:!