Week 2 (c) Using appropriate platforms
What were the causes of the good (or bad) experience you encountered?
My default is Zoom as it doesn’t try to do too much, making it fairly easy for people to learn to use and is low cost. I tend to use it with the video off– just screen sharing for presentations – except for a kick-off meeting, or to give each other a quick reminder of who’s in the room when it’s nice to put a face to a voice. This seems to work for the participants we have, including those in pretty hopeless internet situations.
The facility to record sessions and share in the cloud is appreciated by people I work with who are not always available for meetings and the Break Out Room functionality is efficient – I can quickly send people into separate rooms in random 2s and 3s for a three minute buzz or hand-picked large groups for practical work and they can be whisked automatically back into the “main room” – and I like being able to move between rooms as Host to check in on how things are going and send “Broadcast” messages to remind them what they’re all supposed to be doing. What works in those situations, is to give each group a slide template to report back which they can share screen and work on, in their groups.
The challenge with using Zoom though has been finding ways to keep the sharing/discussions going between meetings. I’m yet to find an asynchronous solution that ticks my three boxes (and ideally is no charge given the number of organisations that are typically involved).
However….COVID-19 hit and then most people were suddenly working from home instead of the office and there was a tendency (at least initially) to default to replacing the multiple F2F meetings in an office with video calls. This has nudged me to have to make my Zoom meetings more attractive and engaging – really focused on learning objectives, being valuable for people who make time to attend and being extra careful about timing – I aim to finish earlier than advertised because people appreciate the breaks.
Unfortunately, “zoom-bombing” hit the headlines (people crashing and disrupting meetings) and several organisations would not allow their staff to use Zoom due to security fears. I’ve worked hard to reassure participants of the security of my Zoom-hosted meetings and Zoom has made improvements to its default settings in recent months for people unfamiliar with how to manage advanced settings but there was quick shift to larger paid-for platforms e.g. Microsoft Teams, by many organisations.
I do struggle when I have to facilitate learning sessions hosted on Microsoft Teams as I am an external member. Unfortunately it seems to have become the organisational default tool for meetings now. It’s not fun and it’s not easy as an External/Guest User. I feel a bit like a supply teacher working in a new school for the first time – I don’t know where the whiteboard pens are, I don’t have keys to the room to let people in and out and if I leave, there’s a risk I may not be able to get back in! I have moved from a Break Out room (which had to be created in quite a clunky fashion) and left the whole meeting – awkward… (Cheryl Brown)
In my practice I am combing Zoom (since 4 years) with Google Drive, mainly the Slide deck. I see the slide deck as sort of a flipchart with some prepared slides and many empty ones guiding through the process, informing and instructing, serving as a parking lot, and slides for shared writing, reporting back, etc. It works fine, people do not even need a Google account to have access (you can give viewer, commentor and editor rights to everyone with the right link). By having a Slide deck on Google I do not have to share my screen which is practical and convenient, and everyone is more flexible as screens are not blocked.
Zoom is great for organizing an Open Space too. I did so in June about sharing experiences of facilitating online. It worked well - the trick is to make everyone co-host; this way "the law of the two feet" works perfectly fine online! (Nadia)
During an in-house brainstorming session on how to adpapt to the COVID-19 situation, we realised that it was also an opportunity for a continental organisation like FARA to be able to connect directly with the target user at institutional level, while it was also important to observe the principles of subsidiarity in the process of organising the interactions - not to encroach on activities that can be organised at local level or by locally-based organisations. Thus, the approach adopted was to co-organise the online activities in collaboration with the national/local organisations such that they can do the follow ups, which we plan as e-mail based discussions hosted on the Dgroups platform.
Thus, we went from using free versions of Zoom (realising that we could use the same meeting link for up to 3 times to continue the conversations) to getting a licence for meetings and upgrading to being able to run Webinars for up to 500 people. Then, came the realisation that we were limited in the type of interactions that were possible using the Webinar format when breakout sessions would have been useful. However, these realisations within the organisation happened not right at the start but gradually over time as staff got more comfortable with the technology.
Thus, the evolution of the users keep pushing the limits of what the technology package purchased can do until there is a justification to upgrade. And this is where the idea of mixing technology platforms come into play. We want to extract the most of the technology we have available without having to invest more than we need to. Thus, examples that Nadia described, of using a Google document alongside a Zoom session to capture information from the participants or group work etc. are useful. However the introduction of new tools and platforms have to be limited so as not to alienate a participant who is already not too used to online interactions - as the human conversation is the most important element of the interaction (dixit Ewen)! For example, we tried Mural but then to have Zoom, Mural and Google docs in the mix requires some level of tech-savvy and versatile participants, especially if you are introducing them in the same session. (Krishan Bheenick)
What steps did you, or a colleague, take to ensure success or overcome failure?
How I get round facilitating learning/collaboration on a platform I don’t like is to work closely with one person in the organisation (who has the permissions) to make sure they know what I need during meetings; I have multiple backup plans including a Skype chat running with my co-hosts so we can quickly check-in on tech issues and timings, and I have very detailed facilitator notes which look like Stage Manager scripts explaining who has to do what, when. So far, the meetings have been successful, but it does feel like we need a quick after-show party each time when we pull it off! I also challenge people on their default platform/tool choices to check that it’s going to work for the participants especially those who face more barriers.
I’m also doing some CPD, taking part in online learning networks and events more than usual (like this one) in part to remind myself what a participant feels like if in a Teams-based webinar, for example, and learning from other people’s experiences e.g. the IAF https://www.iaf-world.org/site/pages/making-virtual-facilitation-success#resources who ran a virtual facilitation goldfish bowl early on in the pandemic and reminded us of the importance of keeping things simple, starting with tools people use, being careful how many new tools to introduce, and always having tech run-throughs/inductions for new users, etc. (Cheryl Brown)
For keeping conversations going during and between meetings - I recently used an online tool called mural which seems promising. It allows for a white board with sticky notes. I really liked this feature during the meeting (people were connected by webex in order to speak with one another, but then followed the link to mural so we could all see the same screen) – we were able to write our thoughts on the sticky notes all at the same time on the same page, and the facilitator took a moment to categorize them, speak to trends in the comments, and host a discussion. This worked much better than the usual virtual meeting format where you have to spend a lot of time having each person speak in turn. People may be shy and want to remain anonymous – mural assigns you an animal so you can see what “animal” left the comment, but if you like you can change the assignment to your actual name if you’d like to be associated with the comment. As I get to know this tool better, I think it might be an effective way to continue conversations between meetings.
Back in the day when we used to see one another in person, I used to use an online game feature kahoot.com to create mini learning games or quizzes as ice breakers. People are competitive! It would allow you to see after each question who was in the lead (you get points for both correctness and speed) and this gave participants some visibility to one another, got their attention to engage, and put them in a good mood because who doesn’t love a game? I haven’t yet used it for a fully virtual event or engagement and they may have changed their settings and features since I last used it – but I remember it being very simple to use – you just follow the URL, put in the pin given by the facilitator and enter a name (either your name or a code name). (Yasmin Bin-Human)
Over the last weeks it was interesting to see how the learning curve on working online on Zoom was steep for many. So let's use this momentum for moving online, for combining online with f2f, for exploring and getting creative.
If Zoom is not available/ blocked/ permitted, the prep work gets more intensive to set up "breakout rooms"/ sep. meetings. What I observed with one government organisation is that the challenge is not only in security/ technology issues but also in ideas/ mindsets/ concepts/ beliefs/ assumptions on how one works/ collaborates (online) nowadays. The centralized mindset/ model of the expert(s) delivers/ instructs and the participants listen at the receiving end is hindering the networked way of working and the solution finding to do so. (Nadia)
While some us in this community could point the organisations to the most appropriate tools, based on our experience, one also has to take into consideration the pace of adoption and adaptation to the technologies within the organisational culture. Furthermore, there is a need for tools that are adapted to online facilitation, which in the context of a physical meeting/discussion/workshop, is often left in the hands of the 'Facilitator'. Now, with the technologies, every person on the platform could potentially play an equal role (making everyone a co-host, as Nadia has used) while we are faced with deciding how to make the process as inclusive and democratic as possible while still having a plan to direct the process. There has to be a period of adaptation within the organisation because not all your usual facilitators can handle online facilitation equally well and there is also sometimes a wrong perception that an online facilitator is only used/active during the period of the online event. Thus, it is an organisational learning moment as you go through the adoption of the technologies, and then, there is a need to provide evolving facilities to accompany the organisation as they become more used to the technology (and become more demanding). During this process, there is also the reality that not all your stakeholders have good internet connections (neither do you) and that they may not be used to online interactions. So these form some of the factors that shape the approach of an organisation to shifting to online interactions.As follow up to the Webinar sessions, we engage with the participants through the Dgroups platform, In fact, we get the participants to register to the Dgroups e-mail based forum as part of the registration process. We then promote the announcements of the Webinars (usually on a theme of the Dgroup) and later, we announce all new materials as follow-ups, though the same platform. Somehow, we have not been able to package the Webinar contents to be shared on Dgroups as fast as we would have liked, so there is a gap between the enthusiasm of the online meeting and the discussions that follow.
Specifically on mixing the technologies, I have also realised that the quality of the videos of Facebook live of our Zoom webinars and meetings are better to edit into short segments to highlight the contents of the webinar (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdzeYlefNGYtRocnuYCMAtvIEUKQ1MfFH). So I am currently wondering how I can have Facebook Live broadcast for any Zoom meeting in a limited access mode or event private mode, just to I can have access to the recording from FB Live? (Krishan Bheenick)
What key lesson or advice can we draw from this?
- People are more likely to adopt a platform if it is fun, easy and popular
- More widespread use of online platforms brings its own challenges
- Experiencing barriers yourself, as a facilitator, helps you be sensitive to the barriers faced by some participants (Cheryl Brown)
Thanks for sharing Cheryl and Yasmin. Your words reflect my experience. I will copy your guiding mantra, Cheryl, make it easy, make it fun, make it popular. YESSSS!
Online collaboration is about people in collaboration not about tools, so this is the right mantra. I try to make it light and simple, technology should occupy as little attention and energy as possible and not get into the way. It's just a means to collaborate. (Nadia von Holzen)
The lesson I learnt was to use tools that the participants are familiar with, or allocate some time for learning about the use of the tool during the sessions. For example, having tried Mural for collaborative editing using post-it notes in one session, we decided to replicate the process using Google Slides in the next session as most participants had already become comfortable with capturing their discussions on a slide in the previous session but now were asked to place them onto small post-it notes that could be moved around.
The importance of optimising the use of the mixed technologies by the users, through good facilitation, is best described by this anecdote: In one of the break-out groups on Zoom, where the participants were asked to organise themselves to capture their views on a Google slide, they interpreted the instructions as all of them accessing the slide and typing their comments into the slide in parallel. So it was a very silent break out group! It may have been efficient in capturing the points of all members of the group but it was not addressing the intended purpose of having a discussion and evolving to the common elements amongst the group! So they had to be made aware that they could still keep talking to each other on Zoom (one technology), while one person facilitated the discussion, another was typing the notes on the slide (using the Google technology), and another person with good connectivity shared their screen (another feature of Zoom) while they were discussing.... So, is this a function of facilitation? Participants co-learning about becoming efficient in collaboration using online tools? Sharing of experiences from other similar contexts? All of these point to optimising the ability to make the best use of technology available to the majority of participants rather than using the best technology available.