Delivery of Blended Learning Activities

Delivery of Blended Learning Activities Managing and Moderating Videoconference-Based Learning Overview Videoconferencing holds great promise for exp...
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Delivery of Blended Learning Activities

Managing and Moderating Videoconference-Based Learning Overview Videoconferencing holds great promise for expanding the reach and access of audiences in learning, knowledge-sharing and communication events. However, as a tool it also amplifies poor moderating styles and strategies. With this in mind, it is important to understand and work with the advantages and constraints of this technology to ensure a quality experience. Often, greater than normal effort needs to go toward the handling and moderating of events in a manner that will actively engage audiences — creating more effective videoconference sessions. The considerations put forward below may be new to many facilitators used to only the face-to-face environment – but they are essentially common sense for ensuring the participation of otherwise non-engaged audiences. Facilitating and managing a videoconferencing session is similar to the face-to-face encounter in some respects. However, accommodation must be made for the capabilities - and limitations of the technology. At the outset of a session, it is important to introduce participants at sites and test the equipment. During a session, facilitators use more directive means for soliciting responses from the audience. Introductions, polling for responses, directed questions, and pauses and silences are techniques to help manage the process, and the experienced videoconference facilitator learns to use these dynamics to ensure active participant involvement. Start-up Procedures To get started and as a point of departure for the discussion, we are going to look at current practices for start-up. The way in which a session opens is an extremely important feature of a videoconference session. There are three steps: • Initial sign-on • Equipment test • Preliminary introductions Sign-on Site sign-on is the first point of contact with program participants. Just as we would extend greetings in the face-to-face venue, it is important to greet participants in a videoconferencing session. But there are also technical reasons for the sign-on, and as a result, the process is more formalized: it is important to make sure that we have both a good video and a good audio connection to each site and that someone at each site knows how to operate the equipment.

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Delivery of Blended Learning Activities

Muting and un-muting the microphone is important in order to be both seen and heard. Since videoconferencing is voice activated, sites need to un-mute their microphones to be heard. Similarly, when finished speaking, they need to mute their microphone to allow other sites to take control of the system. Speaking directly into the microphone ensures that participants can be heard, and heard distinctly. Speaking too close will cause distortion, too far away and a participant won’t be heard. Speaking at a normal tone and rate is also related. There is no need to speak up to be heard other than the volume one would normally use in a face-to-face venue. Additionally, speaking at one's normal pace is also to be encouraged. On the other hand, rapid speaking will be difficult to understand. Preliminary Introductions With sites confirmed and equipment tested, you are ready for preliminary introductions. Much of this depends on the personal style and preferences of the presenter, but it is important to do the following: • • • •

State your name Confirm the title of the event Announce that you are going to ask participants to introduce themselves Explain basic videoconference protocol

With respect to the third point, as we have noted, getting participants to introduce themselves early on is important from several perspectives. It gets them using the equipment right away and sets the tone, emphasizing that their participation will be the focus of the program. Furthermore, having people introduce themselves, whether at a distance or face to face, is an important "icebreaker" and helps any group get comfortable. And it's simple: each site is polled and all participants are asked to introduce themselves, ensuring that they speak clearly into the microphone. During these introductions, it would be important to acknowledge the site coordinator in whatever capacity you are using them, technical and/or to assist with the learning activities. You would also introduce any additional resources people and facilitators that might be participating. Standard Videoconferencing Protocols You will be surprised at how quickly one can dispense with many of the more formal interactive techniques. As the group gets to know you and the other participants and is more comfortable with the technology, participation can take place quite seamlessly and transparently. This is to be encouraged. Arriving at this point, however, requires that at the beginning you carefully adhere to and reinforce these formal techniques:

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Managing and Moderating Videoconference-based Learning

When using microphones, participants need to be coached on three basic techniques: • Muting and un-muting the microphones • Speaking directly into the microphone, keeping about 20 to 25 cm (10 to 12 inches) away • Speaking in a normal tone and at a normal pace.

Delivery of Blended Learning Activities

Poll Sites Perhaps the most frequently asked question about using videoconferences for learning is how do you know when someone wants to ask a question or make a comment. Periodically and frequently, the facilitator should ask the participants whether anyone wants to ask a question or respond to a query. As far as feasible, sites are polled in a set order. This can be based on geography, alphabetically, or even by assigned site number. "We'll start asking for comments from sites in alphabetical order. Any comments from Benin?" Polling in a repeated sequence allows participants to anticipate and prepare responses. It also ensures that all sites are given equal opportunity. In the case of a large number of sites, more than 10 sites are not polled all of the time. It takes too much time. In these cases, you can work with groupings of sites. "This time around, I am looking for input from sites in West Africa, starting with Mali." Introductions and Ice-breakers It is extremely important to get participants talking right away. For certain audiences, this may require a measure of caution, particularly if they do not have a lot of experience in the new environment. In that case, simple, low-threat activities are appropriate. An example might be to ask participants to re-introduce themselves and have them describe something about themselves or what they hope to get out of the session. But even for experienced audiences, getting involvement early sets an important precedent. Your session should be designed to encourage active participation. Active participation is the key to successful videoconferencing, and one does not want to encourage passive reception of a one-way flow of information. This is an important role of the on-site facilitator: get your participants involved early on in the program. These and other ice-breaker exercises can be done either by videoconference or as an activity at the site. The specifics of what is done will depend on the details of the objectives and agenda. It should, however, have the following characteristics: • •

Involves all participants Encourages participants to speak to each other

GDLN Toolkit

Managing and Moderating Videoconference-based Learning

Poll sites Introductions and ice-breakers Directed questions Pauses and silence Listening

Delivery of Blended Learning Activities • •

Minimally involves the program facilitator, except as an equal member of the group Reinforces videoconferencing interaction techniques

Directed Questions One technique for managing discussions for both face-to-face and remote groups is through the use of questions. Again, because of the dynamics of the technology, it is important to be more systematic than you might be in the visually richer face-to-face encounter. Open-ended questions, for example, are appropriate to get discussions started. However, they can be problematic in videoconferencing because participants are often not sure how to go about “raising their hands.” Open-ended questions in a videoconference may cause some confusion. The questions are not directed to anyone in particular. These questions will either discourage participants' response or cue everyone to respond at the same time. More directed questions or statements are more appropriate. They might look like these examples. • •

"Are there any sites that do not understand the exercise?" "I would like someone in Mali to tell me why this is true."

You will note that the questions are directed, in the first case, to the one or two sites, and in the last case, to participants in Mali. We have more to say about questions in the section on managing discussion. Pauses and Silences One of the more difficult videoconference dynamics to cope with are pauses and silences. The voice-activated nature of the system creates a time delay for participating sites. Not seeing or hearing an immediate response to your inputs is perhaps one of the most disorienting features of videoconferencing dynamics. Unless the site microphones are un-muted, you will not hear the site getting organized and ready to speak. There are some things, however, that you can do about this. For instance, you can simply state to all the participating sites that we are waiting for Senegal to join us or say: “Senegal, are you ready?” Perhaps the most effective strategy is to stop expecting immediate responses to your inputs and learn to work with and manage the pauses and silences. Time lags were noted previously as a characteristic of videoconferencing sessions. Because of our conditioning and experience in face-to-face communications, we may feel the urge to "fill the dead-air space." Facilitators conditioned by the spontaneity and immediacy of reactions in the face-to-face classroom will

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Managing and Moderating Videoconference-based Learning

Ice-breakers and introductory exercises may seem like rather "soft" techniques. Some facilitators regard these interventions as unnecessary and as taking too much time: "I have a lot of information that has to be covered." But it is important to remember that the critical advantage of the technology over others is the real-time interaction. If content and information to be covered are more important than discussions between participants and facilitator, it is probably best to consider a one-way technology such as print, videotape, or CD–ROM — hence the importance of reinforcing interactive strategies right at the outset.

Delivery of Blended Learning Activities

Participants at sites need time to formulate a group response. It is disconcerting not to have the immediate feedback, but from the perspective of the participants, and given that the local site dynamics are a key part of the learning, pauses and silences allow these local dynamics to develop. All of these techniques are designed to facilitate interaction in a videoconferencing environment. The only cautionary note is that some discretion is required in the application of these techniques. You will want to remember that a virtue, taken to an extreme, becomes a vice. Too much of a good thing can be a distraction. Polling site techniques need to be done, but don’t overdo it, since it can start to seem artificial and monotonous. Listening Finally, listening skills become a very important part of the facilitator's repertoire. While not necessarily a videoconferencing protocol, it is certainly related to effective facilitation of a videoconference. Therefore it is important that facilitators cultivate more careful listening habits. Does the voice sound attentive or bored? What about enthusiasm? Hearing these nuances will greatly assist your ability to maintain participants' interest throughout a session. If you are not hearing enthusiasm, you need to change your strategy and tactics. Usually this means stop talking, start listening, and get the participants more involved. Presentation Techniques The previous section looked at start-up and videoconference protocols. Now we consider presentation techniques that apply to videoconferencing. We have been stressing that the primary locus of activity for videoconferencing sessions is the interaction between participants and facilitator and this means reinforcing the participation of the participants. However, demonstrations and presentations are essential if learning is to take place. In the previous section we talked about the Experiential Learning Model and its four components. Demonstrations, lectures, presentations, etc., tend to fall into the experience phase of the learning cycle. Therefore, they are critical if learning is to take place in the first place. However, the experience phase is followed by reflection, generalization, and application activities. These allow the participant to take new information or a new experience and compare it to previous knowledge and experiences (reflection); discover new features, patterns, relationships that are characteristic of the new information (generalization); and begin to use these patterns within the context of another new experience or new set of information variables (application). In other words, the presentation, which tends to be almost by definition a one-way process, needs to be carefully balanced with other types of individual and group learning activities. In fact, too much of any one of these strategies, tactics, or methods will ultimately unbalance the learning process itself, and this applies even to facilitator and participant involvement and interaction. This being said, what makes for a good videoconference presentation? To answer that we look at illustrations and graphics.

GDLN Toolkit

Managing and Moderating Videoconference-based Learning

find it useful to consciously plan the pauses. We recommend that at first you try counting to 15 while waiting for a site to respond. This will seem like an extremely long time, but really only to you.

Delivery of Blended Learning Activities

Illustrations and Graphics

• • • •



Ensure that what you draw is legible, i.e., is large enough, is not crowded, and is proportional to the dimensions of the screen. Use colors for emphasis and highlights of main points and concepts. Be careful that the sheet of paper (8 x 11 or A4) doesn't become "too busy." The illustration or drawing should be simple enough that it can be drawn in the length of time the presenter is speaking. In other words, the participants should not have to wait to see a finished illustration. (It should be prepared in advance if this is the case.) Use a pencil to draw attention to discrete and significant parts of a drawing. The drawing tool is especially useful for demonstrating math problems, equations, technical schematics, etc.

Another effective use of this feature is for recording responses made during the large group discussions. As participants are responding to a discussion issue or reporting back the results of an off-line learning activity, writing single-line summaries not only will help clarify the responses but will contribute to the summarizing and review of the discussions in a later part of the agenda. A particularly useful variation on this process is to have the participants record their findings and responses on a sheet of paper during the off-line activity. When the group is about to re-connect or go online, each site would show their screens containing the responses to the other sites. Another important presentation tool for videoconferencing sessions is graphics and other images. In general, prepared graphics are images that require more technical sophistication to produce than what the facilitator can produce using the freehand drawing. To a certain extent, the use of freehand or produced illustration is determined by the facilitator's skill. The quantity and type of graphics are largely determined by what the presentation or demonstration is trying to achieve. In general, graphics are used to: • • • • • •

Introduce/review a topic Highlight key points Visualize abstract images Show relationships in systems (organizational, physical, electro-mechanical, etc.) Show steps in a procedure, formula, calculation Show animation and even limited motion (on some workstations)

GDLN Toolkit

Managing and Moderating Videoconference-based Learning

For videoconferencing sessions the document camera that comes standard with most systems is an important tool. The feature can be used as one would use a blackboard in the face-to-face setting. Writing down key points as you talk is an effective attention-getter and maintainer. This technique also works for many kinds of simple, schematic diagrams and illustrations. The following criteria are recommended to maximize its use:

Delivery of Blended Learning Activities

What to Do When the Lights Go Out Technical problems are part and parcel of any technology-assisted learning session. But they need not necessarily impede or cancel your learning session. There are three kinds of difficulties encountered on videoconferencing: difficulties with the connection, equipment malfunction or failure, and improperly assembled or improper use of the equipment. The important thing for the facilitator is to be thoroughly briefed on what to do in these circumstances. The most important thing to do is stay calm. We suggest that if you experience technical difficulties, simply continue working locally until the difficulty can be resolved. The local site coordinators will get on the phone and ascertain the nature of the difficulty and inform you when you can expect to rejoin the session. Additionally, most facilities have a backup audio conferencing kit in the room. The site coordinator will arrange to have the site re-connected by audio until the video connection is restored. Technical difficulties are, as we said, unavoidable in any videoconference; thus, we emphasize the importance of strong on-site facilitation.

GDLN Toolkit

Managing and Moderating Videoconference-based Learning

Graphics should support the content and objectives of the session and not be used simply because they look good. Too many or too few graphics will distract the learner; when displaying graphics, it is appropriate to point out how a particular graphic relates to the learning.