Avoid the Gloom and Doom of Zoom

I was excited that I had the opportunity to present an interactive workshop called Avoid the Gloom and Doom of Zoom on Tuesday the 19th of 2021. Since it was interactive workshop recording would have not made a lot of sense – so I promised some folks who couldn’t attend a follow-up blog post.

Chatterfall (or chatterfloat)

I asked participants to use the chat to tell me, in just a few words, what they thought the consequences were of bad synchronous sessions. I then read the responses as they came in out loud addressing a few directly. This technique (I’ve heard it called a “Chatterfall” – though because in Zoom messages move upward perhaps it should have been a “Chatterfloat”) is an important one in that it is technologically pretty simple and gives participants/students a chance to be heard and as a facilitator you get a sense of what participants are thinking. Overwhelmingly, the consequence that our participants were concerned with involved students: Students being disengaged, not enjoying the class, not learning, and an extreme example would be dropping out.

Give time to think

After this, I did two rounds of what were essentially Think – Pair – Shares though we were grouping off in groups of 5 or so in Zoom breakout rooms rather than just turning to your neighbor as you would if it were a physical room. The easy part of this is the “think” phase but this is something that is easy to forget about in Zoom sessions especially as you can feel like you have to always be “on” when you are watching and appearing on screens. It is simple enough to just give the students/participants a prompt and give 2min of silence for them to think, take some personal notes, maybe make a list or something and can be a powerful moment of learning.

I asked participants to think about what makes for a bad sync experience and to even imagine how one would purposefully make a bad experience.

Groups/Pairs and Shares

Flower Darby (co-author of Small Teaching Online) recently shared in a Chronicle of Higher Education article that she is not a big fan of breakout rooms and encouraged teachers to keep it simple to avoid burnout. I was lucky to have the support of my Hub colleagues to help with notetaking and facilitation in each of the breakout groups so I went ahead and used them but they can be tricky. Our turnout with around 30 people was great but if we want to really talk through those things that we were given time to think about it would take a long time for everyone to be heard.

In this case I was asking people to think about how we could make horrible zoom experiences – the gloom and doom of Zoom. Then pulling them back into the larger group to share some of their ideas, but finally then asking them to scrutinize those things and ask if there was any shred of similarity to the things that they identified as bad practices to what might be happening in their courses.

Revealing the good by looking at the bad

The whole point here was to reveal the good by looking at the bad. The example I gave was to imagine that you would purposely hide the link and joining info from students – as a way of making a horrible Zoom experience. And then the idea is that when reflecting on this one might say that while they would never hide the link from students on purpose that perhaps they had not given as much thought about the communication of the join link – which might warrant some examination.

Other examples our participants came up with of things that would make horrible Zoom experiences included: lecturing without breaks, ignoring students who are trying to interact, forcing students to share things they are uncomfortable with (for instance their cameras), being in a distracting environment with lots of background noises, not having a plan for the time or otherwise being unorganized.

Heading out of the Gloom and Doom

It is easy to look at this list and think about ways to combat some of these things. Planning sync activities and breaking up lectures is a great way engage students. I offered the broader collaboration that I’m doing with Equity Unbound and OneHE to collect Community Building Activities many of which are for online synchronous experiences but which also include async experiences.

While in breakout groups I used a google presentation with open edit sharing options so that everyone could have a slide dedicated to their group to take notes on. I likened this to giving each group an index card and drove this point home by making the slides look like index cards. I’ve now turned that into a template that anyone can copy and customize.

I’ve also created a resource sheet which links to articles, resources, tech documentation, and more presentation templates that I hope will be helpful for anyone looking to escape the Gloom and Doom of Zoom.

Photo by Nahil Naseer on Unsplash