Thursday, 23 April 2020

Making the most of an online workshop (Tseen Khoo)

Photo by gotdaflow | unsplash.com
The RED team wrote a quick guide recently about using Zoom for our workshops and events.

I realised I had quite a few other things to say about how to be a good video conferencing citizen that didn’t quite fit on that 2-pager.

Now, for those of you who don’t know about the Zoom-pocalypse, a short bit of context: since the advent of the pandemic, and encouragement to work from home and exhortations to practice social distancing, many of us are working from home and away from each other. For events, then, this means we’re mostly dependent on Zoom, a video-conferencing platform to which La Trobe is subscribed.

Most of us are feeling over-Zoomed, and some of us have never loved the computer-mediated ‘connections’ that are now our only way to keep in contact with our colleagues and communities.

As this form of communicating and teaching has become the new normal, here are some strategies for being a good Zoom participant:

Number one tip for being a good participant - and to have the best development experience - is to TURN UP as much as possible!

I say this only slightly tongue-in-cheek. It can be easy to let sessions slide if other things are clamouring for attention, and we all know life happens (especially now), but committing to your own development and knowledge-building is important. Turning up is important for you, for your colleagues who are your peers, and for the hosts of the sessions. Having been a facilitator and events organiser for a long time, it is a frustrating thing to put in the thinking, work, and resources for an event and have serial no-shows (I’ve written about why I care about this).

Not everyone is at your level of tech expertise - be understanding and proactive. 

You may not even know what Zoom is right now, or you may be clocking up your 1000th hour on it and feel like a vid-conf ninja - either way, I can guarantee you that the group you’re with for any session will have big differences in how comfortable and skilled they are with the technology.

There will be times when the facilitator or host will have to do some quick teaching about functions, or set the guidelines for the workshop (e.g. all questions should be asked in the chat-box). If you already know the stuff, that’s great! If you don’t already know it, ask any questions you need to and get to know what you still need to brush up on (and follow up on that outside the session).

Participate to the best of your ability. 

We don’t expect everyone to be those mythical vid-conf ninjas. In fact, we often don’t feel like we’re completely on top of things in the Zoom world, especially with the multiple demands of any given session that aims for engagement (e.g. managing participants, break-out rooms, polls, reactions, sharing screens, chatboxing, etc).

Similarly, we know that everyone’s technology set-up and context is different. You may not have that quiet corner to work in, there may be kids and room-mates everywhere, your laptop camera may have given up, the mic might be awful to use...and more. Participating as much as you can, whatever the circumstance, is the key. We’ve had people who couldn’t use their camera or mic (shared space) but they were fantastic with the chat-box and asked lots of questions, conversed with their peers, reacted to what was being said or presented. We may not have been able to see them but we knew they were there and that they were interested.

We also understand that different people have different preferred ways to engage - not all of us are comfortable claiming speaking space in a group of 30 or more, particularly across a video platform. I am always a happy and (over)enthusiastic participant on chatbox conversations, for example and, when I’m not the facilitator, this is often where I ‘speak’ most to people rather than on the screen.

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So, those are my suggestions for being a good participant and gaining a valuable experience for yourself when you are part of an online workshop or discussion. If you have some of your own, feel free to share them in the comments!

Here are a few other articles to help you level up with your vid-conferencing game:

For general wellbeing when working from home:
For those questions that you have about candidature, scholarship, and other support, the best place to go is the Graduate Research School COVID-19 FAQs.

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