E-moderating Reflections Week 3 – 4 | The double-edged sword of activity

I’m currently enrolled in the British Council’s eModeration course which tasks me with writing up my reflections for each unit. Thankfully, the format for the reflections is up to you and I’ve chosen to share them on my blog. Week three and four have focused on synchronous e-Moderating, the tools available within Adobe Connect, their affordances, and the activities they allow. My peers and I also attended three synchronous sessions on Adobe Connect and in two, were required to co-facilitate a lesson segment as a group … a painfully instructional experience 🙂 Just as I did in my post for week 2, I’m going to focus on one aspect of what I experienced this week and reflect on it.

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Virtual activities

The virtual classroom is an odd animal. It warps assumptions and practices, and behaves in wholly unexpected and sometimes unpredictable ways. Perhaps its most disconcerting effect is on teacher talk time. You inevitably end up yapping most of the time. One way to overcome this is to build your content around a series of activities that will compel the participants to engage with the content and each other; and preclude the need for the moderator to ‘explain’.

Some simple activities to engage participants:

  • Read out statements or copy paste them one by one into the Notes Pod and ask participants to indicate whether they are true or false in Chat.
  • Read out statements and have participants share their opinion by using one of the icons from the Status menu. For example: Listen to this sentence and decide if it’s correct or incorrect by giving it a green check or a red x.

However, even these activities involve repeated input or intervention from the facilitator. Here are some where you can set up the activity and step away:

  • Create a table with two columns on a slide. Column a has some variables and column b is really wide and blank. Give participants access to Writing/Drawing tools and ask them to place a star next to the variables. For example, participants read a dialogue and decide which language functions occur in it by placing a start next to inquiring, apologising etc.
  • Bring up the Whiteboard and divide it into four quadrants by drawing lines. Label each quadrant and ask each participant to contribute. For example, the four quadrants could be labelled ‘thoughts’, ’emotions’, ‘fears’ and ‘hopes’ and have participants share answers for each based on a text they’ve explored.
  • Divide the Whiteboard into two parts and have participants compare two items.
  • Have two jumbled lists on a slide and get participants to match the correct items or identify relationships by sketching lines from Drawing tools.
  • Create a 5 point scale on a slide and ask participants to rate something using the the Arrow stamp from Drawing tools. For example, how similar or different was the dialogue you reconstructed than the one that you can now see on the screen.
  • Type your content up on a slide and then delete half of each sentence. Then ask participants to complete the sentences verbally using their mic (you’ll need to nominate) or using the Chat box.

Activities that ostensibly have a lot of participant to participant interaction are the ones that involve breakout rooms:

  • Divide participants into breakout rooms and ask them to discuss a topic. They should also appoint a note keeper who will document the discussion and make it available later for whole class feedback.
  • Ask participants to work with breakout groups on a plan for a given scenario.
  • Get participants to co-create a document (such as an email) or a written conversation in breakout rooms.
  • Participants discuss and answer a series of questions after watching a video or reading a text.

While conducting a variety of activities like these can help engage participants, keep them attentive, and help them meet learning needs, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I observe a strong correlation between using more activities (and therefore more Adobe Connect tools), technical issues and time. It goes without saying that activities takes time and virtual activities take oodles of time. My co-facilitator and I planned a 10 minute segment in which we thought we would spend 2 minutes on giving instructions for a breakout activity, putting people into rooms and getting them to create a short dialogue for 5 minutes and then about 3 minutes for feedback. In reality, we took more than 20 minutes for the entire segment and this with a group of teachers who are forthcoming with responses and fairly efficient. I shudder to think how much time breakout room activities would take with learners. Similarly, the more tools you opt to use, the greater the chances of both you and the participants facing technical glitches. For example, sharing content in the middle of the lesson, breakout rooms, doing screen-sharing, and playing a video as opposed to a more staid point and click strategy with a single pre-loaded presentation and interaction through Chat.

It’s a difficult compromise to work with. On the one hand, you want to work with all the affordances that the virtual tools provide you but you need to be cognizant of the challenges they create, and how frustrating it could be for learners. A possible way of addressing this issue is to spend the first few synchronous interactions building participants’ awareness and responsiveness when it comes to using tools. Hopefully, this will enable them to complete activities faster where technical know-how is slowing them down. I think it’s also a good idea to run some activities that build ‘virtual resilience’; encourage participants to stay calm in the face of technical issues and explore their options because most people panic. This also involves building knowledge of meta-cognitive strategies for learning virtually. For example, if a participant is no longer able to hear what’s going on in the virtual classroom, she can try to follow along by reading the instructions on the slide, participating in Chat, requesting her peers or instructor to repeat instructions in Chat and using visual cues such as things that are being written in the Whiteboard to follow along.

Synchronous sessions can genuinely bring an online course to life but if moderators plan lots of activities without accounting for challenges, they risk disengaging learners through virtual classroom sessions that are potentially painful to sit through.

Image attribution: Black Knight by Andrew Becraft | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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