How do you achieve the same amount of enthusiasm and collaboration in an online setting?
When I began delivering my first virtual class, I was excited and keen to connect with students in a new way. After the introduction, someone switched off their video camera. Soon, so had everyone else! I felt like a lone survivor in a disaster movie.
“This is Adrian calling, can anybody hear me!?”
Virtual classes need lots of collaboration to provide the things we take for granted in a classroom such as a shared visible space, visible body language, social cues, and shared informal breaks. Ensuring everyone keeps their video cameras on is a big help! This can also be quite draining, so we routinely break for 10 minutes hourly so people can re-energise (grab a coffee, pet the dog, check the letterbox).
In a classroom it is very easy for a student to ask a question or to share an opinion. I’ve asked some virtual classes to respond to an open question (such as “What are your thoughts on the Agile Manifesto?”) and had nothing but silence in response.
The power of silence is a double-edged sword!
Now, I ask specific questions such as, “Which principle is most important to your organisation? Which principle will be the hardest to apply in your organisation?”. I then ask each individual student to give their opinion. This usually prompts a robust discussion. It also gives senior attendees an opportunity to reinforce key messaging, such as “I think ‘Customer collaboration’ is the most important because we have so many stakeholders with whom we need to collaborate to jointly deliver this transformation.”.
I also regularly poll students on how they are feeling (excited, bored, overwhelmed, distracted), and may respond by suggesting a break, revisiting a topic, asking students to look at a specific part of their course manuals, asking them for an analogy from their own experience, or even ending the day a bit early to give students time to revise and absorb the content.
Most importantly, model active learning.
Explain what you are doing in response to feedback.
Be sensitive to student needs and interests.
Be flexible in your course delivery.
Be empathetic to the unusual situations they may face.
Lead your class from being students to being learners.
This is how to build and be part of a thriving learning community!