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Arrive, get to know, exchange ideas and learn from each other in online meetings

In times of Corona, many face-to-face educational events become online events. Often it makes sense to stretch them out in terms of time and design them as online learning formats with predominantly asynchronous and self-organized learning phases. I blogged here how this can work. If this is not possible or not wanted, an online meeting takes place instead, in which several people meet at the same time in a virtual (video) conference room. Such online meetings can have very different functions. Probably the most common format is that of the quick and compressed knowledge transfer possible. Here, however, the actual live date is often not the decisive one. Instead - as with the current OERcamp Webtalks - you can think of the recordings.

This does not apply to other online meetings in the educational context: For example, when it comes to developing a group's strategy, an opportunity to exchange ideas on a topic, to support and bring along newcomers to an area or to set up a learning group / community, online meetings are essential be designed differently. Most of all, you need a social presence. That means: They should create space for arriving and getting to know each other, be relaxed with energizers and offer opportunities for exchange.

In the following I present some practical ideas. In addition to the basic functions of the video conference room, I always try not to use another technical level in the design (e.g. drawing together on a virtual whiteboard or integrating an external tool), but instead expand communication with facial expressions and gestures and wherever possible to include the hands and body in a very practical way. My thesis is that it is precisely in this way, in combination with the virtual reality of the online meeting, that productive learning environments can be created.

1. Getting to know each other and arriving

Anyone who goes to a face-to-face event usually has time to get to know each other and arrive. During this time, you get an impression of the other fellow learners: Who makes me feel good, who do I sit next to, who do I want to talk to later? ... Much of it runs unconsciously and observingly. Sometimes there is also small talk. In any case, a basic mood that is conducive to learning arises almost automatically: You have arrived! In an online meeting, however, arriving ’is only possible to a limited extent. Many have turned off their cameras. Small talk is usually only done by a few and is rather strenuous. Joining a small group with a coffee cup or briefly addressing a person individually hardly works. It is therefore helpful to offer activities that help everyone arrive and get to know each other.

I really like one for this ‘Virtual room layout’: While in a face-to-face workshop with this method, learners distribute themselves to questions in different corners of the room or, for example, stand in a row depending on their previous knowledge, such a room layout can be visualized in an online meeting via the webcam. For example, a query can be visualized raise hands with questions like 'On a scale of 1-5, where do you place yourself in ...?'. Each participant then shows a number between 1-5 with their fingers. With more motor skills you can move all the way down or all the way up in the webcam / come very close or move very far away / make yourself very big or very small ... - depending on how much you agree or disagree with a statement. Your own webcam tile can also be used as a map or coordinator system, e.g. with the question: If your webcam tile is the map of Germany, where are you currently? Hold your index finger in the appropriate place! (Incidentally, this trains spatial thinking wonderfully).

There are even more getting to know groups effects with one Post-it exercise. It bears her name because everyone covers their webcam with a post-it at the beginning (or something else is hanging over it). This gives a nice picture in the gallery view; You can see an example in this tweet. Statements are now read out one after the other, e.g. I have already moderated a video meeting myself ’. All those who do, take the Post-It from their webcam and give each other a short wave. Then tape up again - and the next statement follows. The highlight of this exercise is that even those who leave their webcam taped during an exercise can see who is uncovering their webcam and waving at each other.

All of these ideas are characterized by the fact that learners are curious and actively involved. If you are additionally / alternatively to one too verbal introductions If the participants decide to activate their microphones one after the other and briefly introduce themselves to the others, elements can also be incorporated here that require active thinking and interaction in this way. For example:

  • Each person introduces himself by name and three key words. Then she passes the word on to another person. Everyone makes sure that everyone gets a turn.
  • Each person introduces himself by name and activity - and adds a self-considered statement (e.g. I am a passionate skydiver). This statement can be true or false. Participants signal their suspicion with a nod for yes or crossed arms for no - then the person introducing dissolves directly and hands it over to the next person, who does the same.
  • Each person combines their idea with a 'What I do in webinars' or' What I do in the home office 'confession or a confession that goes with the topic of the webinar, e.g.' In webinars, I usually turn off my camera to relax To be able to answer emails'. Whoever this ‘confession’ also applies to, signals it with silent applause ’. Then it is the next person's turn.

2. Energizer and exercise

Even in face-to-face workshops, I find out again and again that energizers are wonderfully suited to briefly clearing your head and loosening up the mood in the group. Since you usually sit at your desk in front of your computer before and after online meetings, my experience is that energizers are often more openly accepted here than in face-to-face workshops. It is definitely worth using them in between or at the beginning or end of an online meeting.

This is the classic among online energizers Fetch items: 3-5 objects are presented on a slide (chocolate, Lego, toilet paper, a book, a hat, etc.). Whoever has brought at least one or all of the objects in front of the camera first wins. In the home office, picking up items can also be combined with ideas, e.g. pick up the strangest kitchen utensil, the item that is particularly important to you ...

The exercise is very simple but effective "Up - down - right - left". Here, all participants point with both index fingers in the hip direction. After a while it is announced that up and down have been swapped. With 'high' you have to point your index fingers downwards, with downwards you have to point upwards. But right and left remain the same. That sounds easy. But if you play it fast, it is challenging and causes laughter.

It is played just as quickly Scissors stone paper (or even funnier, because grandma, samurai and lion have a lot of gestures). Everyone looks for a counterpart, although he doesn't know anything about it. All show their mark on three - and whoever has won celebrates. This game makes it easy to see that you can't watch each other in video conferencing because everyone is looking at their webcam. In this way it is not clear who is actually playing against whom - this energizer often leads to contact in the chat.

Practical ones are also a helpful counterpart to the virtuality of meetings Doodles and handicrafts with scissors, pens and paper - which you then share with the others via the webcam. The task, for example, is nice: draw a face that shows how you are feeling and hold it in front of your face.

I also particularly like the idea of ​​the self-made color filter for your own webcam: By each person sticking a piece of tape on their webcam and painting it with a foil pen, the webinar becomes colorful (of course that would also work with digital filters. Firstly, not everyone can do that and, secondly, it doesn't make sense here either it's about tinkering).

3. Peer-to-peer exchanges

Good learning is primarily characterized by learning from and with one another. This is a similar challenge in face-to-face workshops as in online meetings. In my experience it can be a first step that Responsibility for the online meeting on several shoulders to distribute. For example, one person can be determined who observes the chat, another who keeps an eye on the collaborative notes, a third person who creates a positive mood through 'silent applause' at appropriate points ... Other 'roles' can also be used together in the Learning group are collected.

I also like to use the for groups of more than 10 people Breakout function in a video conference room - or set up additional video conference rooms and link them. A breakout room is a kind of ‘sub-room’ of the video conference in which individual people can discuss together. Here everyone actually has their say - and in an online context it is often much more relaxing to talk to 3 people than to 10 or more. The big advantage of the breakout function is that learners cannot or need not know anything themselves. You can be ‘beamed’ by the meeting host into a breakout room as well as brought back into the plenary session from there.

Where breakout rooms do not work or the online meeting is more focused on input, it is worthwhile exemplary interlocutors to involve. This means that individual participants are specifically addressed and asked to describe open questions or explain how they understood something. You then do not speak on behalf of everyone else, but you do bring a further perspective that can often be helpful for other learners as well.

After all, a nice format for sharing knowledge in the context of online learning is one Web safari. Here each person shares the link to a website that has been the most exciting discovery / helpful tool / inspiring post for them over the last week. The moderator calls up the websites one after the other - and the contributors briefly explain them.

For the conclusion there is a TIL Storm at. I got to know him at the OERcamp in Lübeck as a presence method. The idea is that each person shares a Learnig (TIL = Today I Learned) from the online meeting with others. This can be done via the chat - or via the microphone.

And what next?

As in many other areas, the best way to learn how to design such offers and how to teach / learn in online meetings is through trial and error. If you are looking for additional links, I refer you to this padlet collection on online energizers, which was started at the online Educamp and can be added to. Anja has also started a collection of games here that can be played online. This can also be a form of social interaction in online meetings.