When all classes went online in the spring of 2020 at Elgin Community College, teachers needed to choose how they would continue instruction in a digital format. Zoom was a popular choice, however, one teacher chose a different route. Ali Malik, a math professor at ECC for over 10 years, holds his classes on the popular streaming website Twitch, most commonly used by video gamers.
Malik had never taught online or streamed on Twitch before, but when the school gave him the choice of platform to use for teaching, he selected Twitch, a choice that his classes seem to appreciate so far.
A Twitch streaming session does not give the option for students to show their camera or use their microphone. The only way for students to communicate with the professor during class is by using the chatbox on the side of the screen where they are anonymous, identifiable only by usernames they select. This feature would be seen as a drawback of the platform compared to Zoom, but Malik’s students report otherwise.
Brianna Rios, a first-year student at ECC pursuing an associate’s in science, is a student in one of Malik’s statistics classes this semester. Rios has only had teachers use Zoom to conduct online classes and was nervous about this semester.
“I think there are many benefits of using Twitch instead of Zoom,” Rios said. “I feel less anxious and more accepted in this environment. It takes off stress and pressure and makes you feel comfortable and able to express yourself quite easily.”
Naomi Tapia, a first-year student, has taken an assortment of math classes at ECC and hopes to transfer for a psychology degree. This semester Tapia made sure she chose Malik as her professor because his teaching style has been successful for her in a previous math course. Tapia cites the relaxed atmosphere and dedication of Malik as the reason for her success.
“I’ve found that, in the past, my previous professors that have attempted synch meetings haven’t really worked [it] out,” Tapia said. “I find that math is so much more enjoyable learning on Twitch because of its relaxed vibe…but truly I don’t think it would matter if the teacher used Twitch or Zoom, because [Twitch won’t help] if the teacher is unapproachable, [or] isn’t devoted to guiding their students to success and working with them.”
David Murillo, a second-year student at ECC pursuing a degree in psychology, was pleasantly surprised when Malik began instruction on Twitch. For most of his classes, Murillo has felt a very defined and traditional student-teacher relationship, but not in Malik’s class. This relaxed format makes Murillo more comfortable to ask for help when he needs it.
“[On Twitch] it seems more like a friend who’s going to educate me and make me feel comfortable while doing it,” Murillo said. “[Malik] kind of brings himself to us to let us know that it’s okay to ask questions.”
Murillo is more excited for class because he says he feels like he is tuning in to watch a video game streamer. Murillo feels the anonymous usernames his classmate’s use does not hinder his relationship with them but actually adds to the overall atmosphere.
“There’s like a slight entertainment aspect to the class with all the transitions which are really nice,” Murillo said. “There is sometimes a little swoosh and then everything on-screen changes!
Also, I think [when teachers use] Zoom there seem to be a lot more problems with screen sharing, as opposed to Twitch where it seems a lot more seamless… like a game show type thing…It’s weird but, I feel closer to my classmates with their usernames than I do, with their actual names on Zoom.”
On Twitch, Malik goes by Prof Chibs, a username he created last spring by using a nickname he has received from friends and combining it with his title.
“I’m a professor, so Prof and then a lot of people just call me Chibs, so I just put those two and two together and that’s how I came up with Prof Chibs,” Malik said.
One of the greatest benefits for Malik is the ease of uploading past lessons for students to view.
“Students have replays of every class instantly available on my Twitch channel, but I can also export classes over to YouTube and use that as an archive, and the process to do so consists of basically a one-click thing,” Malik said.
Even with all the benefits, Malik admits there is a lot of work required to get a successful Twitch stream going compared to Zoom, but to him, it is well worth it.
“With Twitch there is work on the back end to make sure their settings and everything is set up and ready to go. It does take a little while to set up. For me it was a lot of work to get things set up appropriately, but once you do you know the payoff is worth it. If we’re willing to put a little bit extra time to figure out what kind of streaming software to use and what settings and overlays to use, then you’ll see results in every class.”
(Disclosure: While it is a long-standing policy of the Observer for reporters not to directly report on classes or clubs that they are currently involved with, this reporter is enrolled in statistics course mentioned in the article. She attempted to contact all students enrolled in this course for interviews.)