I’ve never been a huge fan of video in virtual classroom/webinar experiences. It seemed as often as not it was just another way for a facilitator to lecture, and it tended to eat up bandwidth, sometimes causing lagging, dropout, and other tech issues for facilitators or participants. I’m willing to evolve, though, and am open to anything that supports a better experience. It’s hard to believe, but Skype piloted group video chat (with up to eight people!) a decade ago. I know because Social Knx’s Gina Schreck and I, in an event still referred to as “the day Jane and Gina broke the internet”, tried it out with some friends. It did not go well, with our biggest takeaway being, “There’s a reason things are in beta.”
The technology has improved drastically. Pushed by COVID-19 circumstances, the recent sudden shift to online delivery has forced many organizations to turn to what might be called “emergency remote teaching”. The rapid, widespread uptake of video conferencing products like Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet, and WebEx Meeting has launched a new age of group video chats, meetings, and training sessions. As we move forward, how can we transform this to great remote instruction? The August Learning Guild Report, Evidence-Based Ideas for Virtual Classroom Experiences, can help.
One thing that has always fascinated me is the way L&D and education tend to use new technology to replicate old practice: Some readers will remember the early days of Second Life, when avatar presenters stood in front of a virtual slide presentation at a virtual podium lecturing to a virtual audience. And now, when products like Microsoft Teams announce the release of dismaying features like the “virtual lecture hall” view. When everyday activities suddenly went online I watched non-educational groups figure out ways to use the tools to support their activities: I now regularly attend ukulele jams via Zoom and have friends who participate in knitting clubs on Google Meet. And while my experience is admittedly limited, when I drop into group video-based training sessions I usually see someone pushing slides—while talking—and participants maybe engaging in text chat. It’s what we were already doing with standard old-school webinar tools.
So how can a facilitator make more thorough use of the video conferencing platforms? Here are some ideas:
- People assigned to roles act those out in a text chat.
- People assigned to roles act those out via voice.
(Note: These are appropriate ways to provide realistic practice, for instance, if a customer service rep will interact with customers via online text chat or phone.)
- Ability to display multiple participants via video allows people assigned to those roles to enact in a manner that more closely matches face-to-face encounters, with better representation of things like eye contact and body language.
- As with role play activities via other vehicles, observers can be given guidelines such as behaviors, types of questions or comments, or red flags to watch for. This can also be an opportunity for everyone to learn about and practice giving (and receiving) feedback.
- Ideas were sketched on a whiteboard.
- Participants shared their screens to show a photo, drawing, etc.
- Participants could share something in a small single video window.
- Others could respond via chat or take turns commenting via audio, sometimes a cumbersome process.
As getting multiple participant permissions to publish screenshots can be challenging, I dummied up this example with help from some game Learning Guild staff. (Figure 1)
The scenario: Discussion of ways to streamline a work process; ask people to sketch and share an idea. Here we see Bianca’s flowchart for an improved approach. She can offer an explanation/demonstration of what she’s showing and she can see reactions of others. People can ask questions or give feedback, or quickly sketch and share an alternate idea of their own. Or everyone could hold their own ideas up at once. Or the most popular three could be held up at once for a vote on the final idea. And note that in this example we were using Zoom, so we could shift to a Bianca-only screen for a better view of her drawing.
Figure 1: Participant shares idea for improving a process
Subject specific ideas
Onboarding: Video conferencing gives a great opportunity for new hires to meet critical work contacts (like managers, the HR director, the safety officer, etc.) face-to-face. This also makes it easier on those work contacts, who can drop into a video meeting for a few minutes without needing to leave their desks. And people in video meetings don’t always have to sit still: Leaders and participants can walk and talk with devices to provide virtual tours of their workplaces, offer equipment demonstrations, etc.
Safety: Live video allows for instructor/participant demonstration of safe practices, correct placement of PPE equipment, teachbacks, etc.
Collaborative problem solving/analyzing group or team dynamics
Customer service/sales/healthcare: Practice in reading body language, understanding objections or conflicting communication, etc.
Supervision/management: Feedback can be harder to give when you are physically looking at one another (as compared to text chat, for instance). A view of multiple participants can be especially useful when dealing with subject matter like difficult supervisor-employee discussions or performance reviews.
Foreign language/ESL practice: Video practice can be more effective than audio—seeing mouth and lip movement, as well as body language is important.
Learn more about the tool(s) you are using: Does it have video breakout rooms? Screensharing? What about familiar tools like text chat, polling, and whiteboards? Can you connect to other apps like Kahoot or Padlet? You have the video capability, so use it. What would you be doing if the class was happening in person? Think of ways to replicate, or even improve, that experience, rather than just default to talking-head strategies. And if you’ve seen other interesting uses of this technology for learning and development purposes, please share them in the comments.