Virtual Meetings – Optimise their effectiveness

bernadette-parry-headshot Bernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support services. A self-confessed Moodle ‘geek’, Bernadette loves to discover new ways to navigate and make the most of Moodle and online facilitation. Today Bernadette offers advice on how to get the most of virtual meetings.

At eWorks we like to practise what we preach, so we have fully embraced the use of educational technology in our working lives, including the use of virtual meetings and flexible working arrangements. At any of our daily WIP (work in progress) meetings, staff join from interstate, from home, from their car… you get the picture.

Here are some great tips for how to get the most out of your virtual meetings.

Camera

Keep your camera on – you wouldn’t put a bag over your head if you were in the meeting room. Think you look terrible? You don’t! Seeing yourself on video is like hearing your recorded voice – it sounds or looks far worse to you than it does to others. And you will get used to it. You can always hide your image from yourself so that you don’t need to look at it.

Adjust the angle of the camera so that your colleagues or clients can see you clearly. The camera should be at eye level and on the monitor you are using. Other angles can be unflattering and off-putting for others.

bad-shots
Placing the camera on the screen you are using enhances the connection between you and your audience by giving an eye contact like effect. Your audience will feel you are looking at them just like you would in a face to face meeting.

Make sure you look into the camera when you are speaking – makes you more ‘engaged and present’ to your audience.

Sound

Test that your sound works – before going online!

The mute button is a great addition to virtual meetings. Turn your sound off /mute yourself unless you are speaking – background noise can be annoying and distracting, but remember to check your sound is not muted when you speak.
Speak naturally, not too quickly, and pronounce words clearly. Speaking to a screen can often make you think that you need to speak louder to ensure the audience can hear you but a good quality microphone can encourage you to speak more naturally and add to the feel of a normal face to face meeting.

Try not to speak over others. If this seems to be an issue with your call, perhaps use the ‘raise hands’ feature or messaging. Avoid side conversations – they don’t work well on a call.

And…

  • Behave as if you were in a physical meeting. Keep focussed, it’s easy for your audience to tell if you aren’t fully present in the call.
  • Limit excess movement as it can appear jerky on the screen.
  • Make sure your room is well lit and the background is appropriate for a work meeting.
  • Everyone’s time is important, so be respectful of this and be punctual.
  • If people don’t know each other, introduce yourselves.
  • Your clothing – stripes may play havoc with the camera. Pastel colours are usually recommended because red, white and black can also have distracting effects on the screen.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the software you are using, and double check your equipment before the call. Most webinar services will allow you into the room early for testing.
  • For large meetings, you may be advised to have a moderator to monitor chat messages.

Physical virtual room!

We do have a room permanently set up in the office. This suits our large meetings, and meeting with clients who come into the office – where some participants call in. If you are lucky enough to have a permanent room for virtual calls, then it is recommended that you have:

  • A booking system for the room! Make sure the room is available.
  • A PTZ camera – this is a camera that can Point, Tilt and Zoom. The camera can be controlled remotely with software such as Zoom.
  • The camera placed directly underneath the screen everyone is looking at – this helps the remote people who feel that the people in the room are looking at them when they speak.
  • Ideally two screens in each meeting room – have the faces of virtual participants on one, and screen sharing on the other.
  • Microphones hanging from the ceiling and over the table work well – they pick up voices without getting vibrations from people tapping on the table, etc.
  • If the room has lots of smooth hard surfaces that interfere with the sound (maybe an echo affect), then it may be worth investigating some form of cushioning for the walls.

When it works well, virtual meetings are fantastic! So get in and make sure your talented staff can make the most of this opportunity!

For further information, watch ‘Video Conference Etiquette for Dummies’.

Reach more learners through webinars

Allison MillerAllison Miller is a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog who is passionate about the delivery of engaging learners, to equip them with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. Today Allison teaches us how to reach more students through the use of web-based seminars, commonly known as webinars. Think you’ve heard it all? You might just be surprised.

A little about webinars

As internet connectivity improves across Australia, the opportunity to deliver training and assessment via a live web-based environment or a webinar greatly increases.

A webinar is like watching a YouTube video but with the added benefit of having a live presenter or facilitator and other participants that you can interact with. Webinars are delivered through webinar rooms which can have lots of interactive tools, such as:

  • whiteboards – so participants can brainstorm or debate ideas
  • text chat – so participants can simultaneously answer questions or offer information
  • polls and emoticons – so participants can virtually express how they are understanding the session
  • screen sharing – so presenters can share their desktop to give a virtual tour, and
  • web cam – so a presenter can either video stream themselves talking or deliver practical, hands on sessions demonstrating how to do something.

Webinar rooms also allow you to upload presentation slides, and record the session, so if learners miss a session or would like to revisit a session, they can view the recording. This also means that you can instantly create a learning resource which can be shared with others.

How might you use a webinar?

Webinars can be used to purely present information or for group activities, where participants use their own computers to access the training session. Alternatively, webinar rooms can be used in a hybrid approach, where a trainer is delivering the session in a workshop or classroom environment with students, and a few individual students join the session through the webinar room.

Webinar rooms can also be used for assessment such as viewing students in their workplaces through the web cam.  Or, a guest presenter can be beamed into a classroom environment.

Planning a webinar

As you can see webinars offer many great features and opportunities, however they do require careful planning to ensure that it is a successful experience for participants.

Planning starts with ensuring that the trainer is skilled in facilitating a webinar. Facilitating a webinar requires some rethinking about design and delivery of the virtual training to ensure that information delivery and activities are appropriate. It also means that the trainer needs to be given the opportunity to learn how to effectively use the webinar environment and its tools by having some practice sessions. Ideally, it is a good idea to have co-presenters in the first couple of sessions or with large groups, so they can help monitor participant activity or help deal with any issues.

Other planning considerations including scheduling or booking the webinar room just like you would book a classroom, so participants know where to go. Then contacting participants by email or a learning management system to provide them with instructions about the webinar room: such as:

  • having a headset with a microphone, and
  • entering the webinar room prior to the session starting so technical issues can be addressed, and to ensure participants can hear and speak before the session begins.

Lastly, ensure that you have some technical support before, during and after a webinar session to help troubleshoot any issues. This support can be offered through:

  • a link to online help information
  • having someone people can ring if there is a technical issue, and/or
  • providing a separate practice session prior to the beginning of a series of webinars so participants can ensure their webinar works on their computer and also get to know how to use some of the webinar’s features.

Facilitating the webinar

Webinar environments allow a facilitator to be as creative as they like in the delivery of their training. There are a few key things to remember, however, such as hitting the record button at the beginning of a session.

Other must haves include:

  • Welcoming participants with an introduction and a photo of the trainer so participants build a connection with him or her.
  • Explaining to the participants the different features of the webinar environment and how they can interact with them.
  • Incorporating virtual icebreakers so participants start to feel comfortable with their virtual colleagues.
  • Lots of interaction between the trainer and the participants through questions and activities.
  • Having a ‘Plan B’ if for some reason the webinar room is not available or you cannot load your slides or your web cam decides not to work.

Training online offers lots of opportunities for a wide range of students. Being an online student can feel very isolating, however, so always ensure you follow a webinar session by communicating with the participants either through email or your learning management system.  This follow-up communication will allow you to share the link to the session recording, and to ask for feedback about whether participants found the session useful.

And don’t forget your trainers!

Remember that your trainers need to feel confident enough to facilitate their students in an online environment. This means ensuring that they have been adequately trained to deliver via a webinar. But with a little thought and support you will find that webinars can be an effective way to deliver training and easily reach more learners.

Adult learning: The five key assumptions of andragogy

Darcy NicholsonDarcy Nicolson is a learning and technology expert and a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog. Passionate about lifelong learning, Darcy focuses on improving the use of media and technology to enable better personal development and learning outcomes. In part one of this blog series Darcy talked about Malcolm Knowles and the history of andragogy. Today we consider Knowles’ andragogical model of adult learning.

Knowles and andragogy

Knowles built his andragogical model on a number of assumptions about the way adults learn, and kept refining it. I have seen versions with one more and one less assumption, but his 1984 paper, Androgogy in action (Knowles, S.M., 1984) he settled on these five, which we will look at now[1].

  1. Need to know

Adult learners need to know why they would learn something before they will invest time and attention in a subject. I know myself that I tend to invest more energy in learning something if I have a problem at hand, especially if there is a tangible reward as a result – like my hobby brewing. A problem that I have is temperature control, especially with Melbourne’s fluctuating temperatures. You see, yeast requires a certain temperature to convert sugars into alcohol, and if that temperature fluctuates, the type of alcohol produced does also. (This is why a more expensive wine tends not to leave a hangover, and why people report getting drunk easily on home brewed beer.) So the more consistently you can control your fermenting beer, the better quality it is. This motivation led me to building an Arduino based – temperature controlled fermenter – which wouldn’t have happened without the reward of having a craft beer that I have brewed myself.

  1. Learner’s self-concept

The adult learner’s self-concept is more independent. Knowles said “In a traditional classroom setting an adult learner will fold their arms and say ‘teach me’”. As they hark back to experiences in previous educational environments like school, they feel that power over what they are doing is relinquished to the educator. I had an interesting experience talking to attendees of MYOB Accounting seminars. We would have someone talk about an accounting topic and then show how the AccountRight software could help. I wanted to know which topics people were enjoying and more importantly what would bring them back next year. One attendee told me that she knew everything we were saying already, so I thought I had missed the mark with the topics. I asked for feedback on what changes we could make for next year, but she maintained that she would return next year for similar material. I was confused but with further questioning she told me that it felt good to sit up the back and listen to the question from attendees that didn’t know. She invested in the learning exercise as it gave her a sense of worth and the confidence to increase her rates!

  1. Role of experience

Adult learners bring bountiful prior experience into a learning environment. On a plus side this can make for great discussion, but adult learners can also bring bad habits or preconceptions with them. I studied adult learning as an adult with a cohort of other adults at Monash University. The discussions with others in the cohort about their experiences in and on education were as important as the lecture content itself, not to mention the relationships and resulting personal learning network.

  1. Readiness to learn

penington screen

Readiness to learn is an important factor in adult learning. Similar to the need to know factor (point one above), Knowles discusses an adult learner’s priorities aligning with the educational undertaking. Recently we have worked with Penington Institute to provide the Penington Online MOOC, with has courses about crystal methamphetamine use for youth, healthcare professionals and the general public. Using this technology we are able to provide the information to those who need it, when they need it.  Login and have a look!

  1. Motivation to learn

For me the key underpinning success to any learning exercise for anyone, young or old, is the motivation to learn.  I have written previously on the subject regarding my daughter’s introduction to the world of computer programming, fuelled by a desire to make a modification to the hugely popular game Minecraft. The update to this story is that she now has a YouTube channel and is learning multimedia production, also based on her love for Minecraft.

What does all of this mean for the adult educator? 

A andragogical model is all fine and well, but how to we use it to encourage adult learning? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Need to Know: When you are communicating with your learners, think why as well as what.
  • Learner’s self-concept: Keep your learning environment informal, allowing your learns to exercise choice and control – to shape their own learning environments.
  • Role of experience: Discussion, discussion and more discussion. Make time and space for it.
  • Readiness to learn: Ensure that you cover when and how to apply the information, before starting the learning.
  • Motivation to learn: Find the Minecraft that will drive your learners to seek more. Remember why you’re passionate about your subject and encourage that passion in others.

And finally, don’t be afraid to ask the experts. If you need a hand developing your online learning content for adults, eWorks can help.

[1] Knowles, M. S., et al. (1984). Andragogy in action: Applying modern principles of adult education.

Eportfolios: more than a digital resume

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAllison Miller is a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog. Allison is passionate about providing learners with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. Here she discusses ePortfolios, often misunderstood to be solely digital CVs, but in reality offering so much more.

Isn’t an eportfolio just a digital resume?

The concept of electronic portfolios or eportfolios has been around for nearly 20 years but still many educators grapple with what it is and how they could use it.

One of the main reasons for this is that an eportfolio is both:

  • a product – a digital collection of evidence which demonstrates a person’s learning, and
  • a process – a strategy to help people manage their own learning (Barrett, 2011).

Often people get hung up on the product and view an eportfolio solely as a digital resume or CV. This is because, as a personal online space which can be shared with others, people often only see the final product of the eportfolio, that is: the digital information and files which showcase a person’s experiences, achievements and knowledge – so you can see why people think this way.

In reality, however, it is the eportfolio process, or eportfolio approach to learning, which is the killer aspect of an eportfolio, so let’s unpick this through these five steps.

5 steps to an eportfolio approach to learning

An eportfolio approach to learning involves leading and supporting a learner through a five step, iterative process which helps learners learn how to manage their own learning. It begins with:

1. What do I want to achieve? – The answer to this question may have already been determined for the learner such as:

  • performance criteria in a unit of competency,
  • learning objectives/outcomes in a curriculum document, or
  • standards set by a regulatory or professional body.

Or, it might be working with the learner to set some personal or professional goals.

2. What do I need to do to achieve it? – This step is best done through using an action planning approach which helps learners to determine the steps, key milestones and resources they need to achieve their learning outcomes or the goals they set in step 1.

3. How will I know when I have achieved it? – This step is often overlooked by educators as they are the ones who decide whether someone will pass something or not, without even including the learner in this decision-making process. However, educators should help their learners recognise when they are competent or achieved their learning objectives. The best way to do this is by teaching learners how to recognise their own ‘picture of competence’.

A picture of competence is when someone is performing what is required of them in a job role eg a barista making the perfect flat white coffee. To help a learner recognise their own picture of competence, you need to deconstruct the picture of competence so a learner can recognise when they have achieved it.

This is best done by using a rubric which explicitly describes what people are doing or thinking when they have achieved their picture of competence.

4. What evidence can I capture to show that I’ve achieved it? – once learners recognise that they are competent or have achieved their learning outcomes or goal, the learner then needs to capture evidence of this achievement. In a digital age, learners can use a variety of ways to capture this evidence and keep it in their eportfolio, such as using:

  • An audio recorder on their mobile phone to capture reflective dialogue with others.
  • A digital camera or video recorder on their mobile phone or via a Go Pro type camera strapped to their head to capture live evidence of them doing something.
  • Writing blogs or online journals (either public or private) to capture what has happened on the job or at their work placement, or writing reflections of their learning journey through describing what they have achieved and why it is important.
  • Using Movie Maker, iMovie or Photostory to create digital stories about themselves and their learning journey.
  • Adding digital badges and digital certificates that they have received from their study, training or attending workshops.

5. How can I present this evidence to third parties in a way which meets their requirements? – This where the product part of an eportfolio comes in.

This step, however, isn’t just throwing together all of the evidence that a learner has gathered. It’s a thought out process which enables the learner to present their information in such a way that it demonstrates what they are capable of, and the presentation of this evidence will change depending on their audience.

This is where a good eportfolio tool comes in such as Mahara or PebblePad, as these tools allow learners to easily reuse and repurpose the evidence that they have stored in their eportfolio. This step also requires the learner to have good digital literacy.

Why use an eportfolio approach?

As a summary, an eportfolio is more than just the final output ie the online collection of evidence. It is the process which empowers learners to manage their own learning. In an era which requires people to have higher order thinking and problem solving skills (Australian Government’s “Ideas Boom” Innovation Agenda), an eportfolio approach provides a learning-centred approach to education and training.

In simple terms, the eportfolio approach is about:

  1. Goal setting
  2. Action planning
  3. Reflection
  4. Multi-media and file management
  5. Web presence development

To learn more about eportfolios