So you’ve found yourself leading a virtual convening: Five helpful practices
Char Glassley, Andrew Biros
Many of us are shifting to online convenings, as we adapt to and take the necessary steps to overcome the COVID19 health crisis. At New Tech Network, we have spent years supporting the learning and collaboration of educators across the globe in their pursuit of authentic learning outcomes for their communities. As schools, enterprises, families and friends start to convene online more often, we wanted to share some practices we have found impactful. These five practices are meant to get you started, and we’re positive others have tips we’re eager to hear about.
A few norms can go a long way, and if you set the ground rules early and stick with them, your convening will flow. It might be slightly uncomfortable reminding people of the norms at first, but you’ll be thankful you did. Make sure learners have their mics off when not speaking (unless otherwise stipulated), and make sure individuals are in a space where they can be both focused and comfortable. Asking everyone to have headphones with a mic will cut down on any unnecessary feedback or reverb - if you hear an echo or ringing, an all headphones norm will solve it. Lastly, assign and rotate meeting roles, so all important information is captured & the time is used efficiently.
Don't lecture. People aren't listening.
Are you convening this time simply to distribute information? Then it shouldn’t be a meeting. Consider sending updates in an email, or recording a screencast of yourself. That way, people can pause, go back, and actually make sense of your information. We recommend including a google form that accompanies the screencast with a few checking for understanding questions about the information you shared. Then, you can schedule office hours for people to join and ask clarifying questions.
If you want learners to engage in sensemaking or problem solving, put them in small groups. It’s pretty easy to know the what of sensemaking (a challenge your organization is facing, an article you want all learners to read, a new policy that will have ramifications for the future) but don’t forget the how of the endeavor. Ask learners to use a protocol for processing, so their time together in small groups is focused and effective. School Reform Initiative has an abundance of protocols that can be adapted to the virtual space. A few of our favorites include protocols perfect for text, dilemmas, or feedback.
There’s a reason we’re using video conferencing and not phone conferencing. Take advantage of this technology and use it to create as congenial an atmosphere as possible. It is important to recognize that people logging onto a video call were probably just doing something else and need to recenter themselves. That’s why we always start with a check-in that builds connections on our team. Make sure to build in time for people to move and take bio-breaks. And on a technical note, make the technology work for you! If you all use gallery view it’s easy to tell when someone has a question or is having a reaction to something that was said. Keeping people off mute for connections or conversational moments mimics normal life because you can hear people react and chuckle. And if people are all working asynchronously then have them stay in the room on mute so they can ask questions if they need to (also so they don’t get “lost” trying to log back in).
It’s important to have structure. People want to know what’s happening right now, what’s coming next, and how to find it all again in two weeks when they need access to that one link you shared. Rarely do you need both an agenda and a slide deck, more often than not one will do the trick and there won’t be any confusion as to where folks should be looking. And don’t forget to consider who is speaking, and when. How long does each person have for speaking on a given topic? Make sure there is a dedicated time in your agenda that specifies when others are taking the lead in talking, when people are thinking and processing, and when learners are expected to talk to one another.
Know What Happens Next
The hardest thing to recreate virtually is the quick visit to someone’s office. Often we close our laptops or tab and are immediately onto the next thing (especially right now) so it’s imperative to have a plan for what happens after your video call and it’s just as important that the plan is clear to everyone “in the room.”
Above all, remember that this is a convening of people, not just learners. Make sure to check in as people. These are unsettling times, and while I'm sure your content is important, understand it is not the most important thing in your learners lives. While video conferencing may not come naturally or easily at first, it will soon. The secret for facilitating any type of learning are the hidden structures, and we’re confident that if you follow these practices, your time together will be and feel more impactful.