Tuesday, January 12, 2010

• Facilitate an event for the course mini conference

My mini conference was a nightmare for me from the beginning! It wasn’t so much that I was nervous about facilitating a meeting (I felt I could bluff my way through that one) or even using the technology, it was that I was apprehensive about what the subject will be. The reason for my apprehension came from a misunderstanding of the ‘topic’ relating to a conversation I’d had earlier with Sarah (via one of our regular meetings) and later at an online meeting with Leigh. I was sure Sarah had said that any topic could be presented but Leigh then said it had to be ‘online facilitation’ related! Luckily, not everyone was as puzzled as me and a range of topics emerged so I followed suit with a related but semi unrelated(to online facilitation) idea.

So, I had my topic sorted and the timeframe for the mini conference was getting closer. Elluminate was to be the media of choice but that choice soon soured when Elluminate was “uncooperative” at UCOL. Many hours were spent by our IT department, myself, Debra and the Otago IT department trying to figure out why Ellluminate wouldn’t work for more than one user, on one computer, at a time! By the end of what seemed like three or four weeks of curfuffle both Debra and I had had enough and we both decided to go with something else. So Dimdim became my media of choice. At this stage I didn’t have a backup media but was trying out other things to find one.

In the week leading up to the conference the presenter I had arranged became unavailable on the date I had reserved. Now it was panic time!!! It was around this time I was asked to attend our BICT Degree third year industry project presentations. It was here that I met my new presenter Mark Leonard Jones with an interesting presentation on his use of Google docs to create a virtual office for a charitable organisation (which also tied in nicely with online facilitation/meetings etc). The rescheduled presentation was a godsend for Mark who was, at the time, busy writing up his final report for the degree. I updated my conference details on the course wiki which prompted a phone call from Sarah telling me if I wanted the mini conference marked she would have to be present and she wasn’t available at the date and time I’d picked. So I choose another date, two weeks on from the original date!

Call me a defeatist if you want but I decided at that stage that this was the final change: I was using Dimdim and if that didn’t work ( at UCOL, because I knew it worked superbly at home) I’d forfeit the conference (and fail the course) and so “Back Up Plan: googlegroups email for cancellation if Dimdim doesnt work!” was written to the wike

A comment was made that I could have advertised my event more fully beforehand but to be fair I did what most other people did: I advertised it on the wiki, I answered private emails from other course participants about the conference and I advertised it to my (PLN) own friends list via Facebook. Perhaps I could have sent out a Googlegroups email to the FOC09 group, but to be honest by the end of the course I hated the overuse of that email group. It seemed like every day there was at least 15 emails (including multiple replies to emails) that were beginning to clog my inbox. It was like spam gone wild! LOL. So, no that was one thing I didn’t do.

Logging into Dimdim on the day, automatically generated a reminder that the meeting was on. It is not something that I intended to send out and given the chance I would have deleted it, simply because if people wanted to attend they would have logged in by then and at that stage most people would have thought it was too late to attend (even if they had intended attending). In a normal meeting situation it is a good feature but not in this case. It was disappointing that only two people attended my event but not surprising given that it had to be postponed a week and a half later than the latest event. The date corresponded with end of course dates at my institute and I suspect at the others as well. I appreciated the attendance of Sarah and Debra and don't consider the event a failure because of the low attendance or the low attendance attributed to the topic....it was just circumstantial as far as I'm concerned.

Mark was great even when we experienced technical difficulties that I couldnt fix. The audio was intermittent and ghosty throughout the presentation. In practices we hadnt experienced that problem so I'm not sure what went wrong there. It wasn't so bad that we had to abandon the event but it was annoying and offputting to hear the delay in your ear. I can only imagine that at times the participants were left with lag during the event. That's a shame because that sort of failure can detract attention from the event. One good thing that came from this event though, was that it was possible to have a tool with multiple connections work in this workplace.....amazing because that didn't happen with Elluminate this year.

The questions flowed thick and fast from the participants throughtout the event, and I think I kept up well with replying and reiterating Marks answers via the chat facility (in case the intermittent sound issues caused the answers to be he unheard).

In terms of starting on time and finishing within the stated timeframe the event worked well. I was feeling a little flustered at the beginning of the event because when you start you meeting in Dimdim a reminder email is sent to participants and people logged in are kept in a waiting room. As I didnt want participants being held up, I opened the waiting room immediately but at the same time that caused a wee panic for me! I have absolutlely no doubt those 'nerves' would diminish with practice though, so no big deal really.

What would I have changed about the way in which this event was run? In the future I would probably get firm committment from participants that they could attend.This time around it didn't concern me that others couldn't attend (because the event had been put off for an extra week and a bit) but I do realise that it's not about me and it would have been nice for Mark to have a bigger audience. A backup plan for having the event marked could be developed for future courses so that if the marker is not available to attend an event another person can stand in his/her place perhaps. Or participants of that event could give a written evaluation (with guidelines) of how they thought an event went.

A few suggestions have been given to me, one was about providing a photo of myself and the presenter at the event so that participants can see who we are. Another suggestion was to allow the participants to introduce themselves to the presenter so that the presenter knew who they were talking to. This suggestion may be useful if a small number of participants were involved (like at my event) but not possible when lots of people attend (for obvious reasons).

Anyway, overall I enjoyed doing the event, listening and attending others events and participating in the course. I didn't (and don't) enjoy blogging, probably because I am a little lazy and because I'm not a really public person so don't really enjoy writing stuff about myself for all the world to see.


  1. Heather-

    Thanks for sharing your challenges around facilitating this event. On the audio issues, it's possible there were network issues causing the delay -- excellent choice to put the answers in the chat to be certain your attendees could see them as well as hear.

    Sorry to hear about your challenges getting it scheduled (and getting people to attend.) I've facilitated many events and find that's often my biggest challenge, you're definitely not alone in that. Great work overcoming so many obstacles!


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  2. Thank you for your reflection on your mini event, Heather. Clearly there was a lot of learning for you, and I agree with Kevin...getting people to attend is one of the greatest challenges...this is why lots of advertising is important...to keep reminding people. The other thing that happens in the online open environment is that if you advertise widely in many and far reaching networks, you get people attending on an ad hoc, spontaneous basis which is great fun.

    My experience is the more you put into your online networking, the more you get out...the more people you meet...the more people support you at times like this mini event. It takes time and work, and pulls you out of your comfort zone but I feel is very affirming in a way that you don;t get in the F2F environment. Anyway..that's enough of my preaching.

    Couple of questions for you:

    1. If you don't want to blog, how will you network online and increase your online facilitation skills now the course has finished?

    2. You described everything that happened during your mini event - can you tell me the thing that made the biggest impact or you learned most from?

    cheers Sarah

  3. I can and am keeping an online presence by reading and researching others contributions. I often question discussions I come across on the net. For me, not having a blog isn’t a big deal…I don’t think I need to blog to keep an online presence in ‘my’ network/community/peers. Another thing to understand is that while some people taking this course may have opportunity to use online skills in their workplace, I don’t! I work in face to face situations only and I work with level 3 and 4 students who in some instances haven’t used the internet before or have limited knowledge of computing. At this point in time my job doesn’t necessitate blogging or any online communication so that is one reason why I don’t want or need to blog. I assume that if my job consisted of online activity I would embrace it wholeheartedly.
    I don’t know what had the biggest impact on me or what I learned the most from to be honest. I didn’t come into this course thinking it would be easy or that it would be hard, I just knew that as the course progressed I would learn new things. Facilitating an online meeting/discussion/event didn’t worry me at all; the biggest concern was ‘how was I going to make it interesting for everyone?’ I was aware that unlike face to face meetings, online meetings were potentially less interactive (for participants and therefore subject to de-motivate or bore participants) so the facilitator/ leader has to ensure they are able to keep people motivated OR keep the meeting to a reasonable timeframe. This was why I had scheduled my event for 20 minutes…I knew the presentation would take about 10 minutes and estimated Q&A time of 10 minutes would be ample for my topic. In saying that, I know my event was not brilliant due to intermittent sound so this is something I can focus on overcoming the next time 