Event organisation: My event (20th Nov 2009) was planned to be in two complimentary parts- as a lead in, I created a NING social site, for interested participants’ to contribute to, be prompted by and to engage in discussion and Q&A. The second part of the event was to be the facilitated live session Q&A with our eLearning Advisor at UCOL, Kevin Brennan. Kevin and I both thought that we would share the load, and had planned the session sequence around topics as they arose on the NING site. I was also able to introduce Donna Thompson, our Moodle Administrator, as a fervent Twitter user. I was intrigued by the use of NING during the recent eFEST conference, in September, as a prelude to a day of open-face-to-face sessions. I was hugely impressed by the level of participation on the NING prior to my own ‘event’. Thank you everyone for joining, it was a huge learning curve for me- as it got a bit busy at times, but certainly was worth it. As participants added their contributions, it gave me direction for the presentation as well. So this was where ‘relevance to the audience’ was catered for, because the audience was able to contribute and have a resource to link into after the presentation.
Promotion: Initially my thoughts on the event were posted on the Course Wiki, and with some feedback I finalised the format and used the FOC Google group, the WIKI, my own Blog (2 updates), and Twitter (with limited success) to advertise the event. I ran a poll to determine a suitable day but in the end it was down to a suitable time for Kevin, and trying to fit into the original schedule for the FOC course assessment. Colleagues at UCOL were also informed. What was quite interesting for me was that I had two Nursing lecturers from UCOL join the NING as they heard about the event via Sarah’s Tweets. A huge achievement I thought, for me, because this networking was also a follow on from the eFEST/T&L conference held here recently, so Kevin and I were able to create some dialog here at UCOL and we think we will try and repeat the experience in-house here in the New Year. If I had spent more time with Twitter before the event, I probably could have got more people involved but I decided to focus the energy into making sure there was content on the NING site as well. Twitter (or should I say actually using it) is still eluding me, but that is more of a time factor rather than an aversion. Having said that, I was blown away by having nine participants during the live session, plus there were several others who had told me they could not make it. I think as a group, the FOC09 Google group email got a bit overwhelming at times and we did not use the Wiki enough for promotion and updates, so it was quite hard to keep track of all the changes and updates. I would say that most of us probably under estimated the time need for prep and promotion, and centralizing the updates would have helped.
Technical Access and support: There was some confusion about whether my event was to be on Elluminate or not. On the Wiki I had initially advertised it as such, but I decided to engage my (second) back- up plan (sadly without actually saying so on the Wiki). However, it was notified, in time ,on my Blog, on the FOC 09 email group and on the NING site. I had described there that the back up plan was going to be implemented early, (Skype). In my mind I had planned that anyone thinking of attending by that stage would be using the NING page, so apologies for the confusion.
As I have already mentioned earlier on my Blog, I chose Skype because it was the one platform I thought could rely on. Experiences with Dim Dim around the time I was planning were not as successful as we hoped. Elluminate just was not going to be reliable enough at UCOL, and believe me; I spent a considerable number of hours working with IT Help both at UCOL and Otago. It seemed to me that it was worth the risk in Skype. I was also aware that Skype seemed to be reasonably available to most people. My presenters were confident with it. If I had a choice, the platform would be something of a combination of Elluminate and Skype- multiple participants being able to talk together with a shared desktop. In terms of support- I thought I had allowed enough time to be able to scrape up the ‘stragglers’- I knew I had one colleague at UCOL here who could not get into Skype- and I asked the group to wait, no fault of hers- she had a new ‘image’ on her PC and didn’t realise she couldn’t access Skype . One other participant went to the NING and was waiting for the Skype call- I was able to pick her up in time though. So a bit scrappy at first but we survived.
What would I do differently? Not sure if I could do anything really. It always seems to take about 10 minutes to settle into an online session, no matter what the platform. I guess just make sure that you can keep people “amused” with a story or two. I was lucky; I had my presenter(s) in the same room, and not across the globe. So we could even share the headset when Kevin’s call crashed!!!!
One of the little gems for me was seeing the Skype screen with all the little icons flashing as people spoke, and the little pens scribbling across the page when Kevin asked a question. I was kept busy keeping track of the text chat, making sure that people got their questions answered. I have checked the script- I think we covered everything and I promised during the session I would tidy up the script- and I have- shared it on Google Docs. The recording was a 50MB MP3 file. We could not record in Skype- so a downfall was that only the presenter’s side of the session is heard. But I do think that the script covers it, plus our responses. If anybody who participated takes the time to listen, feel free to add comments about your version of the session, as there was some very animated discussions.
General Comments: As others have said, it’s one thing to read about ‘facilitating’ and another to actually ‘do it’, especially in an online environment. If I was a by-stander to my event, I would say it went reasonably smoothly, with a few technical issues, mostly related to the number of users in Skype- and calls dropping out, but nothing that wasn’t handled with care. After listening to the recording, I don’t think I sounded too stressed but there were certainly a few moments dealing with people dropping in and out where I was a bit nervous. I was also aware that some people could ‘chat’ but not ‘hear’. Kevin and I found that humour worked best, and because we chose not to have web cameras, no one could see our gritted teeth. We had a session plan printed out, so we were confident of the content, but of course the one thing you can’t plan for is failure of the technology or the users. We wanted to show some twitter streams, and had practiced the sharing of the desk top- (new version of Skype) but sadly could not share in a multi-user call.
We started setting up for the presentation about 2 hours before hand; made sure the laptop worked, made sure the headsets were working, played with the audio and the recorder- on reflection, I was surprised how much time was spent preparing for the event.
I believe that I was able to provide a facilitated live session that complimented the asynchronous discussions on the NING sit, using a co-presenter/facilitated approach, with plenty of time for Q&A. My lasting impression after this session is that the facilitator is just as busy during the session as the presenter, and plays a big role in preparation and follow up support. As a facilitator I tried to make sure I was as participatory as I could be, due to the nature of my session and that certainly kept me very busy!!!
Thanks again for the experiences everyone.
Transcript on Google docs: