12 Jul 2012

Running a live online workshop

Posted by Carole Kirk

Our participants bravely took part in an online workshop this Wednesday.  We used Adobe Connect with the enthusiastic support of Dragos Ciobanu who helped me to design and run the workshop.    I learned a huge amount from attempting this, and in the end I think it worked well for the participants.  These were my key learning points from designing and running a live online workshop:-

Photo credit: jjsala on Flickr

1. Do a ‘dress rehearsal’

Dragos and I ran a dress rehearsal to test out the design of the session, trying out enabling/disabling of mics and launching videos.   As well as testing the technology, this was useful for me as a facilitator to ‘feel’ the space.  It is very strange talking when you can’t ‘see’ anybody, and also is strange getting used to the differences in sound that you experience depending upon the participants’ equipment.  All of this can be very disorientating, and so to give myself confidence in getting the workshop started, I quite carefully scripted myself so I had something to follow.

2. Keep it very structured – plan everything out in advance, and tell the participants at every stage what is going to happen.

The dress rehearsal also taught me that I need to clearly plan exactly what was going to happen at each stage, and to signpost this for the participants.  I scripted all of this into the session design, which you can download here – Structure of Live Workshop.   I designed the workshop to be highly interactive – I wanted the participants to have the opportunity to reflect and share, rather than listening to me talk.  So I needed to enable the participants to communicate via audio.   If you have everyone’s audio enabled all the time, you get a lot of background noise interference and reduced sound quality.  To avoid this, we designed it so that only one participant could speak at a time.  Dragos managed the microphones, leaving me free to facilitate.  I devised a system of asking each participant in turn to speak, asking the others to participate via chat if they had a comment.  We also made use of the raised hands icon if someone wanted to speak, but on the whole, the chat worked well for comments and responses.

Photo credit: Julianrod on Flickr

3. Mute your microphone when not talking

I didn’t do this, because I was worried that I would lose my audio if I ‘messed’ with the mic.  However, the mic picked up the sound of my typing – loudly – so really I did need to mute it.

4. Make sure participants know the minimum technical requirements to run the software, and allow time to iron out any issues.

We had issues with a MAC not having the right version of a system software update, and also issues with audio streaming which I think were due to a slow computer/broadband speed.  Ideally all participants should have a list of the minimum technical requirements needed.  We did ask participants to use a headset (or mic and headphones) to minimise feedback/noise/echo.  We arranged to ‘meet’ ten minutes early so that we could set up everyone’s audio.  In the event, we needed more time to iron out some of the issues, and over-ran.   If I did this again, I think I would timetable 1.5 hours for a one-hour session.  It takes time to wait for people to type, and to switch over microphones, so do allow more time than you normally would.

5. If you are recording the session, tell the participants, and also remember to introduce yourself and the session at the start of the recording.

As I’d already been talking to the participants I didn’t think to introduce myself and the session once we started recording.  But for anyone listening to the recording, it would be helpful to have the introduction.  I did tell the participants that it was being recorded, both in the preparatory email and at the start of the session.