#4: Lots of Facilitated Breakout Room Use
As with in-person teaching, breakout rooms are a ‘must have’ in the virtual workshop. Small group work helps participants develop their leadership and team skills. The alternative learning strategy helps reinforce key concepts in a way that lecture cannot. Still, take care with breakout room use. Some customers prefer to work alone, or with only certain people. Plus, the facilitator must be available to monitor the sessions.
Are the people in your session strangers or friends? In the virtual learning environment, it is more difficult to break the ice. When people know each other, it is easier to work remotely. As strangers, we are often more hesitant to take the lead on an exercise. Similarly, we are less likely to challenge assumptions and opinions. I found that if I make group role assignments clear, strangers work together better.
Smaller Groups Drive Engagement in the Virtual Workshop
My preference is to use groups of 2-3 people. There are clear roles each person can assume. These roles are team lead, process checker / timekeeper, and tool use checker. Exercises are usually 20- 25 minutes in length, with a 5-20 minute debrief post-exercise. Each exercise has some form of visible deliverable that a group can share on the breakout room group leader’s screen.
Lastly, breakout room time is not break time for the facilitator. Instead, he or she is busy with room checks, gauging both progress and method. Most of the time, I just observe the group for 30-60 seconds and move on. I only interrupt their flow if they ask for help or if I see them about to pass a point of ‘no recovery.’ I also note practice strengths and weaknesses that I anonymously share during the debrief.
#5: Expectations and Deliverables are Virtual Workshop Must Haves
Clearly define exercise expectations and include the need to report out. People tend to do good work, and are more willing to share this work, if you let them know two things. First, they need to know that completion of the work is a class expectation. Second, they need insight into the quality of work that you expect. If you provide examples, it helps define such expectations.
I rely heavily on my ‘between class’ review of work that I perform. It has been very beneficial to invest the extra time to look at their exercise work as the class progresses. For example, I can monitor software work between classes and provide start-of-day feedback on what I observe. Plus, this practice allows me to request end-of-day work from them and help further encourage engagement.
The use of progressive exercises helps drive engagement and skill retention. For example, I use an exercise that builds on itself over the course of two days. Breakout room observation and ‘between class’ reviews serve as natural checkpoints. How well are the essential competencies being retained and applied?
#6: Share Content in Multiple Ways, and Do It Often
This is one of the things I like the best about the virtual workshop facilitation. It is so much easier to share additional content, such as handouts and videos. For example, I can drop a PDF document or image in the Chat box and distribute it to class in seconds. A bit more time was required for my vintage distribution process.
Also, I think it is beneficial for the content to be on screen near their face versus across the room. In the software-based in-person classes I teach, there is a computer screen in front of their face. However, it may not have class-related content on it. People can more easily see what is on the screen than they can see an image on a meeting room wall.
Take advantage of technology. Use video and animation, but don’t over do it. Use compression to keep file sizes reasonable. If possible, employ the use of a low-cost video switcher to provide multiple video input capability. Also, keep your software and hardware up to date. Know how to switch between screens easily. Get familiar with the Settings feature and general capabilities of your presentation platform software.
#7: Flexibility is Most Important in the Virtual Classroom
Finally, virtual workshop facilitation requires flexibility, in so many ways. Outages of both a hardware and software nature are possible. Students will have tech challenges of their own on their end. I have put the backup generator into use once already to sustain a class when the power went out one morning. Have contingencies and backups in place.
The use of a pre-course call or test session helps head off a significant proportion of the potential problems on the student’s end of things. This pre-course session tests platform and software usability. Plus, these tests help you determine the types and levels of safeguards you need in place for class continuity and bandwidth adequacy.
I know that I will gain more insights and learn more skills relative to virtual workshop facilitation over the coming months. Also, I look forward to the content design and delivery gains that 5G technology, plus Moore’s Law, offers us in the future. However, full class engagement remains the primary goal and biggest challenge. That is where effective facilitation skills come into play.
Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems
LIKE Great Systems on Facebook
CONNECT with me on LinkedIn
CHECK OUT my Amazon.com Author Page
FOLLOW me on Twitter: @greatsystems
© 2023 Great Systems LLC, All Rights Reserved