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’.

Developing digital literacy in learners: a how-to guide for teachers

Allison MillerAllison Miller is a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog who is passionate about engaging learners, equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the world of work. Here she considers digital literacy, what it does and doesn’t mean, and the important role of educators in enhancing these crucial skills.

What is digital literacy?

“Digital literacy involves finding, using and disseminating information in a digital world” (Deakin University, 2016). Digital literacy is also a transversal skill, which means that by having good digital literacy, a person’s ability to learn and improve other skills increases through the use of technology.

In the next 5-10 years, a number of routine jobs will be taken over by automation and artificial intelligence (AI) (ACS, 2016). This automation and AI will also be ingrained in workplaces, homes and everything we do, due to the increased productivity and lifestyle gains that these technologies provide. In order to remain current in the workplace, and to be able to fully function in society, the need for good digital literacy has never been greater.

While a number of government initiatives aim to address this need in the school sector, a large proportion of the Australian adult population  needs to further develop its digital literacy (ABS, 2013). Either that, or risk ‘dying’, figuratively speaking, in a digitally disrupted world. A common misconception is that young people are highly digitally literate, because they are so active online. While it is true that many adult Australians are engaged on social media, and many of these were born into an ‘online world’, research suggests  that this does not equate to them having good digital literacy. This means that adult educators not only need to be aware of this shortfall, they play a significant role in meeting this need.

Developing learners’ digital literacy

At a minimum, the use of technology needs to be embedded in the learning and assessment process.  This can be done through a blended approach which allows learners to access and submit part of their work online. This ensures that all learners engage with information online, but in a very safe and supported environment. This approach can also help to improve the quality of the learning and assessment environment.

Using technology as part of the learning and assessment process starts by using a simple and easy to use online learning environments such as learning management systems (LMS), ePortfolios, blogs, social media and online meeting rooms, with well-designed learning and assessment activities. It is important to offer an ‘orientation’ to the online learning environment, which can be done either through face to face or online workshops using Google Hangout, Skype or Zoom. Easily accessible orientation videos on YouTube or Vimeo can also provide good support, as well as providing more traditional text based ‘how to’ and ‘help’ support while the learners learn to navigate the online environment on their own.

Digital literacy development activities

If, in the first instance, learners have had limited exposure to computers and mobile devices prior to being asked to interact online, then working with foundation skills staff / consultants to help the learners develop some basic computing skills may be required. This training could be offered through relevant bridging units. Once orientated to the online learning environment, activities which build digital literacy should be adopted.  The following table includes some approaches you might like to consider:

Activity Description
Discussion forums or online groups Learners do online research or view online videos, and then post what they have found into a discussion forum or online group.  These learners should then be asked to review other learners’ posts and comment on them.
Instant messaging or ‘chat’ Learners connect with others in real time to organise a group activity or debate ideas and concepts solely through text.
Mobile devices Learners capture evidence of their learning, or tell a story or present information about their training, through video, audio, photos or mobile apps. This digital content is then uploaded or shared via the online learning environment.
Online calendars Learners schedule when their assessments and other commitments are due. Then the online calendar ‘reminds’ learners when things are due through the pre-set alerts.
Online journals Learners keep a written record of their progress, either on or off the job. These online journals can be either shared with others or solely with the educator.
Online meeting spaces Learners come together to discuss topics, plan group activities, brainstorm problems, conduct interviews and/or present their work to others.
Online questionnaires/surveys Learners either design questions as part of their research or they are required to undertake a survey to demonstrate their knowledge in an area.
Social media Learners follow and interact with key individuals or organisations to find out what current practice or issues are happening within their industry, or to benchmark their own work against these practices.
Wikis/Google docs/Mind mapping tools Learners work collaboratively online to solve a problem or come up with new ideas or designs, either in real time or over a period of time.

Helping learners stay safe online

Before starting any online activities, however, information and activities about the correct ‘netiquette’ when learning and working online should be introduced. This can be offered as generic information to be used across an organisation as part of a learner’s induction to their training, or embedded into the training program itself.

Learners will also need to be supported to manage the privacy of their own information, and that of others when working in groups. Helping learners understand the profile and privacy settings in third party online sites such as social media, as well as reading through and discussing the terms and conditions of these sites can be helpful. Information regarding how third party online sites manage and use learners’ information should also be provided, and discussions about what organisational online learning environments capture about a learner such as ‘activity logs’ should take place.

Ensuring learners work successfully online

Interaction with technology as part of learning and assessment will mean that learners create digital objects such as Word documents, video and audio files, and images. Enabling learners to develop good file management habits should therefore be supported.

Helping learners develop strategies for remembering their login details, and teaching them to have ‘strong’ passwords which contain letters, numbers and symbols is also crucial. A lack of skill in this area is said to be the number one killer of online activities as learners cannot access their work.

And finally, discussions and/or information about copyright and plagiarism are important. Learners need to understand that just because information, resources and digital objects are readily available online, doesn’t mean that they can use these resources as their own.  Teaching learners about quoting and referencing other people’s work is very important.

Sites such as search.creativecommons.org allow learners to filter their web searches so they are only presented with information, video, music and images and so on which have been licensed for open use, as long as they attribute the work. This practice will help the learner easily transition from using other people’s information and content for educational use to more public and online use, without breaching copyright and intellectual property laws.

Guide and let go

Developing digital literacy happens best when learners are supported and guided to learn and work online. Like any real learning, however, this is best done through a spirit of experimentation and risk taking, and an adult learning environment is a great place for this to happen.

Ensure you cover all of this by using this Developing digital literacy checklist.

Is email wasting your time?

This blog has been re-published with the permission of Trina Hoefling and The Smart Workplace.

Trina Hoefling is a longstanding organisation and team development expert and master teacher at the University of Denver graduate school. For over 30 years Trina has been helping organizations and people establish virtual presence, bridge virtual distance and build strong relationships that span time and space. Scheduled to visit Melbourne in April 2017 (details below), today Trina shares her thoughts about the inefficiency of email.

Learn and use the communication technology that best fits your work and relationships!

I’ve said for 20 years that email isn’t the best work vehicle for many reasons. Information obesity is the biggest deterrent, but loss of context also contributes to email ineffectiveness. Information is sent, received, and attended to in fragments, scattered amongst dozens of other types of messages, if not hundreds. Email forces us to be redundant in our communication, never sure everyone has read what’s been sent previously. Or we leave out or don’t remember vital information because it came through in an earlier email. That previous message is out of sight – and so – out of mind, especially if the subject line becomes irrelevant to where the conversation went. If email is being used as a project management and team communication tool on your team (be honest, most of us do it), you are spending too much time gathering information from here and there or losing critical information. Project management and team collaboration solutions solve the context and recorded history problems. Effective tool users have built-in organization tools to stay on top of tasks while facilitating communication among team members.

If email is being used as a project management and team communication tool on your team, you’re most likely losing critical information.

Now that Facebook and LinkedIn (and many others) are standard parts of our lives, most people understand the interface basics and tenets of how to communicate through a collaborative platform. With business growing more social in nature as more people realize that much real work gets done through conversation, we’re truly crossing the digital divide of team relationship management. Companies use cloud-based social media solutions, finally embracing efficiencies that early adopters have benefited from for years, thanks to the ubiquity of mobility.

Now people get it. Work behavior has changed. For example, 47% of all email is now being opened on a mobile device and often inside a social platform such as LinkedIn or Facebook. As a result, mobile collaboration apps can easily become the logical default for team collaboration. The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend has reached critical mass. (It may be giving Chief Technology Officers and Information Technology departments headaches over security concerns, but it is here to stay.)
As early as 2010, Gartner was predicting that 20% of business users would choose social networking solutions over email as the main channel for communication and collaboration by now. We have reached critical mass.  That’s not to say email is dead. It is still powerful as a direct communication tool, but it can stop being a productivity killer. Leverage the collaborative platforms and let email become, again, one – but only one – great communication tool in your team tool box.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to the The Smart Workplace. Hear from frequent contributors who are experts as well as from me. We’ll be publishing weekly posts that will inspire you while providing tips, hacks, resources, and free tools to help you master the virtual work world.

Don’t miss the opportunity to meet Trina Hoefling on Friday 28 April 2017 in Melbourne.

This enlightening speaker will tackle topics such as:

  • Teaching tomorrow’s workforce today
  • An engagement-driven rapid course design approach
  • Teacher as online facilitator – role model, stringent evaluator AND slacker
  • Aligning course learning outcomes to student learning goals
  • Where and when to do what – blended learning and flipped classrooms
  • The impact of informal and formal assignments

Please express your interest in attending via this link: Express interest

HTTPS and how to view blocked content

bernadette-parry-headshotBernadette 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. She is also our ‘go-to’ for answers to random questions from our clients and larger community – here she covers https and how to view online content when our browser ‘says no’.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS stands for HTTP Secure. With HTTPS pages, encryption is added to requests sent and received. It has three main benefits:

  1. Authenticity – the browser checks that it has opened the correct website.
  2. Data integrity – the browser can detect if an attacker has changed any data it receives.
  3. Secrecy – the browser can prevent an attacker from eavesdropping on requests, tracking websites visited, or stealing information sent or received.

What is mixed content?

Mixed content is where a HTTPS web page which starts with https:// contains links to a sub-resource HTTP page which starts with http://. Examples of sub-resource pages may be images, videos, extra HTML, CSS, or JavaScript.

If you are using a Moodle site where all pages are HTTPS and you link to a video that is on a HTTP page, then this is an example of mixed content and the connection will be only partly encrypted. Mixed content weakens HTTPS as these requests are vulnerable to an attacker eavesdropping on a connection, and seeing or changing the communication.

How to avoid blocked content

Unfortunately you are unlikely to notice mixed content until it is too late and you have clicked through to a blocked page. Read on for advice about how to view blocked mixed content if this happens.

If you are responsible for creating and maintaining online content, now might be a good time to review links within your secure pages to ensure that you’re not inadvertently frustrating your readers by sending them to http:// pages and therefore blocked content. Then, where possible, link to https pages instead. You may also like to let your readers know what to expect – and what to do – should this happen. No surprises!

How to view blocked mixed content

By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer 10+, Firefox 23+ and Chrome 21+. When mixed content is blocked, you will see a blank page or ‘Only secure content is displayed’. This can be frustrating, especially when we’re in a hurry.  Try this next time it happens:

Firefox

  1. Go to the top of the page, left of the address bar, and click the shield icon https_firefoxshield
  2. In the pop-up window, click the down arrow next to ‘Options’, and click ‘Disable protection for now’.

Chrome

  1. Click the shield icon on the right side of the address barhttps_chromeshield
  2. In the icon dialog box, click ‘Load unsafe scripts’.

Internet Explorer

  1. Go to the bottom of the screen, and click ‘Show all content’.

Keen to learn more?
Good old Wikipedia offers comprehensive information about URI, TLS, TCP/IP, certificate authorities HSTS, SSL, stripping and much, much more. And I might get around to writing on each of those topics one day.