Way back in February I mentioned that I’d been tasked with organising an online meeting. Time just seems to have disappeared between then and now but on Wednesday I finally had the chance to run the much anticipated JISC Observatory Moot using Elluminate.
It all sounds very grand (‘moot’ has two relevant meanings here: “to present or introduce (any point, subject, project, etc.) for discussion” and “a gathering“) and it did end up being more than just an online meeting. In this post I’d like to share some of my thoughts on the meeting itself and lessons learnt.
First a little background – The JISC Observatory is a JISC-funded initiative to systematise the way in which the JISC anticipates and responds to projected future trends and scenarios in the context of the use of technology in Higher and Further Education, and Research in the UK. It is a collaboration between the two JISC Innovation Support Centres: CETIS and UKOLN. With JISC, UKOLN and CETIS that makes for quite a large virtual team. The moot was an opportunity to discuss possible topics for TechWatch reports. Our first on Augmented Reality for Smartphones has recently been released.
It was likely that there were going to be a fair number of people interested in this and so an online meeting seemed like a sensible option (to save costs, be greener etc.).
Here’s some of the steps I went through:
After looking at some different online meeting/conferencing services (Gotomeeting, JANET Videoconferencing Service (JVCS) ) I opted for Elluminate. The first reason being that I already have experience of using Elluminate, the second being that the University of Bath currently have an Elluminate pilot running
so licencing costs would be covered. I also felt that Elluminate would offer the functionality that we would require, and hopefully the scalability.
Getting a Team on Board
Although I’d used Elluminate a fair amount as a presenter and a participant this was to be my first stab at moderating and chairing a session. We have a really good e-learning team at the University of Bath and it seemed a shame not to use them. I asked Julian Prior from the Learning & Teaching Enhancement Office and Marie Salter (e-learning Developments Manager) if they could give me a hand. They were great support and did a lot of the ‘backroom’ stuff e.g. they set up the meeting, offered technical support, monitored audio levels etc. I also had support from my colleagues Paul Walk (UKOLN deputy director and responsible for UKOLN’s role in the JISC Observatory), Brian Kelly and Thom Bunting who all helped discuss ideas and test the set up.
Prior to the meeting we made sure that we clearly define responsibilities. A possible list of responsibilities might include:
- Defining purpose and outcomes of session
- Preparing main ppt
- Preparing schedule
- Organising date
- Listing any web tours or urls needed
- Chairing session
- Sending out intro info on Elluminate
- Sending out guidelines and agenda for meeting
- Scheduling meeting room
- Ensuring all users are set up correctly
- Preparing and facilitating warm up session and Elluminate training
- Recording session
- Facilitating questions
- Supporting the whole session (monitoring hand raising, controlling use of microphone, managing text chat, managing poll and publishing results)
- Watching for technical problems
- Capturing feedback on session
For the meeting itself we needed an agenda and a team of ‘champions’ who would present TechWatch report topics. The topics and champions were agreed – they were each asked to prepare a 3 minute pitch and we would allow time for brief questions. After some consideration it was decided that for the meeting to be a success the key was strong moderation and chairing, in other words we wanted to retain control over the session.
An agenda was put together and all the slides were combined to avoid having to open up different sets of slides. It was agreed that only the moderators would have microphone privileges and that we would assign the use of the mic to other speakers when appropriate. This would avoid significant audio problems. Users of Elluminate will know that the most common audio problem is an echo caused by people leaving their microphone on when not speaking.
It was decided that I was to chair the questions and answers. I would do this by encouraging people to raise their hands and then inviting them to speak after assigning them the microphone. This worked well, though I probably should have asked people to introduce themselves just for clarity. In Elluminate the name of the person who is speaking is highlighted, this is fine as long as the speaker has picked an appropriate user name!
Before the moot we had quite a few discussions on use of chat, polls, video, break out rooms etc. It was agreed that as this was a first effort we should keep it simple. Chat was encouraged as a ‘back channel’ and was used very effectively during the session. Video was avoided, primarily to avoid bandwidth issues. The same went for break-out rooms, though I have seen these work really well (at the OU Online Conference last year). We decided to present a brief introduction to Elluminate and it’s functionality at the start of the session. This also gave us the opportunity to get people using the whiteboard and marking up where they were joining us from.
We also needed to have some form of voting system and would have liked to use the Elluminate polls. Unfortunately the polls only allow people to choose from up to 5 options (and we needed 8 ) and didn’t allow for any form of preferencing (or AV). The easiest option seemed to be having a timed private ballot where people clicked the green tick if they wanted to choose a topic. We also suggested to people that they try to limit themselves to 4 votes, primarily to avoid having a full-house of ticks for all the topics.
During the moot there was a little confusion initially and we ended up calling the first vote a trial run but after that people seemed to get the hang of things. I was concentrating on facilitating the votes and the other moderators were locking the votes and totting up the scored using the polling features. There is an option to publish the results to the whiteboard but as we’d carried out 8 votes it made more sense for them to rush into my room and hand me a piece of paper with the scores on. It made for a dramatic end to the session!
I’d have to say that we still have a fair amount to learn when it comes to using Elluminate’s polling and quiz facilities, maybe something to try out next time?
Overall I feel the session went really well. We had 27 participants and almost all were connected the whole time. There was a good deal of engagement and I think most people took the opportunity to ask a question or write something in the chat box. I’m sure that a lot of the panic (hopefully that was primarily in my head and not heard by the participants) will fade as I get more experienced at moderating sessions.
I made sure that I wrote some fairly comprehensive notes that I could read out during the session when explaining things. I also had a list of points that I needed to mention at various times, for example it was important to explain that the session was being recorded but would only be shared internally, and that the voting would be secret.
I hope that we’ll be able to run a similar online meeting sometime soon and we’ll be able to use our experience, and expand on it.
A few other things
While researching the moot I found the following JISC document very useful: Designing for participant engagement with Elluminate live’.
It has some excellent mind maps of how you can engage with your audience and make sure that the sessions are interactive. Interactivity is definitely the key to keeping your audience awake!