Thursday 1 October 2020

Getting into my stride...

I have posted previously about my initial reservations about, and slow conversion to, online development workshops.

This week I delivered the final workshop in a Negotiating Skills programme I have developed, that required participants to work through six short online modules, before attending. And it worked! They had done the modules and learned the model. So they came to the workshop with intelligent questions about it and ready to engage in practicing the thinking and skills that they had been studying.  It wasn't free of glitches, of course, but we have learned a lot that will make the next iteration better.  

The online modules were offered in three formats - videos, podcasts and written documents; and there was a reflective learning log for participants to record their learning in after each module.  We'll be following up with a proper evaluative survey after a few weeks, when they have had the chance to apply their learning in the workplace (or forget it) and I will be fascinated to read their feedback.

In the meantime, you can count me as a full convert. And with a convert's evangelical zeal, I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the things I am learning about making online sessions effective - and in particular some of the tools I am finding helpful.

Clearly, the key thing is to be really clear about content, and deliver that in helpful, accessible and engaging ways.  And in terms of engaging, there are some neat things you can do. Zoom breakout rooms (other brands are available, here and throughout this post) are invaluable; and there's a couple of things I've learned about using them. 

One is the need to be really clear about what people are required to do in the break out and how they can go about it (my instructions normally start with 'share the time fairly...').  I give people the brief verbally, and also put a link in the chatbox to an online word doc with the brief in writing.  I have also taken to assigning people to go to the rooms automatically, rather than waiting for them to click on the 'take me to the room' option - it just speeds things up and simplifies them. I also broadcast time checks to them in the rooms at the half way point, and when time is nearly up. And I don't go into the rooms to check up on them - I have found that interrupts their work whereas I prefer to give them the responsibility to use the time wisely; and in my experience, they do.

Other tools I have found helpful include Jamboard which is a virtual online whiteboard.  You can pre-prepare these for subgroups in the breakout rooms, and put the links in the chatbox; or for plenary sharing of ideas after a breakout; for action planning, as well as idea generation etc.  Participants can add virtual post-it notes (or pictures, draw etc) simultaneously, and you (and they) can keep the link to have a record of their work afterwards.


I also like the look of Slido, which I have yet to use as a facilitator (I have been on the receiving end, as it were...).  Slido allows polling, quizzes, question sorting, wordcloud generation etc. You can also pre-prepare things like team action planning sheets in Excel, (saved online) and include names, dates, accountabilities etc, and put the link in the chat, to get the team to complete the sheet in live time - and of course have a usable record of the action plan.

The final thing I want to comment on, is the value of investing in a decent microphone and camera. For what it's worth (and based, as is most of this learning, on colleagues' sharing their experience and recommendations,) I have a Rode NT microphone (which we cheerfully refer to as the rodent, for obvious reasons) and a Razer Kiyo camera. These mean that I can be confident that I can be seen and heard clearly - a huge improvement on the built-in mike and camera in my laptop.

As ever, I'm interested in others' experiences, ideas and recommendations, so do let me know what is working well for you in this virtual world.

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