Weeknotes for October 9th, 2020

“I think we need to lose the parenthesis around Virtual” – I was getting some feedback from Colleagues on a new resource called The (Virtual) Session Design Canvas when Tin Geber threw that one out. I had started using the virtual with parenthesis last March when I shifted my first Session Design Lab from face to face to online due to the pandemic. My thought had been that the (Virtual) would be temporary, and we would soon return to face to face meetings. Now it’s clear that’s not happening anytime soon, and even if the pandemic ends, online sessions are here to stay.

We finished six, three-hour strategy implementation sessions, with Open Rights Group that took place over two weeks. It was great to hear they felt they had worked their best since our last strategy implementation meeting in February, holding the UK government to account and raising awareness on the impacts on digital rights in response to COVID-19. I appreciated the breathing room in running these over two weeks, instead of a full two days, and also the ability to get into a rhythm. The go-round at the start of each session became a thing, and I made an effort to pick the right question to set the tone for each session. Early on, I had asked, “Who is your hero? Who is someone you get inspiration from in your work”. I then realised that with ORG’s focus on digital rights movement building, a more appropriate question is: “What are examples of orgs/coalitions/groups undertaking collective action that inspire you?”. I’ve also been quite fond of lockdown related questions like: “What is an item, without a screen or a face, that helped you survive lockdown?” and “What new behaviours or habits have you picked up during the pandemic that you hope to keep in the new normal?

Speaking of collective action, Gunner gently reminded me how successful events harness the power of collective knowledge when I asked him for feedback on wording for FabRiders latest offering on The Virtual Event Design Lab. The strategies for breaking down knowledge hierarchies to drive collaboration are vital to a productive event, regardless of it being online or offline.

Have been running follow-up interviews with a handful of RightsCon session organisers with Sarah Harper to understand better how we might better support them at future RightsCon’s. The talks reminded us what an intense experience attending convenings could be for individuals who are trying to gain visibility on an issue, their organisation or even themselves. It’s the same in the online. Now that it’s clear that virtual meetings are here to stay and people have begun to understand how to have a meaningful session – we need to start to crack how to replicate those serendipitous meetings of minds in hallways and queues for coffee. Of course, to me, this means making sure the sessions are as participatory as possible and to optimise the opportunities for meaningful exchange in small breakout groups.

Zoom has taken a step towards breaking down the power dynamics in their virtual meetings. In the latest release, participants in a Zoom meeting can now self-select which breakout room they want to attend. And you can also name your breakout rooms appropriately. I am hoping to utilise this very soon. Though slightly disappointed as this is another strong reason to keep using Zoom and their corner on the virtual meeting market is growing a bit too large. Would love to see more use and contribution to open-source platforms, such as Big Blue Button, which also allows for participants to choose breakout rooms, with the caveat that those breakout rooms must be pre-defined before you start the meeting. Oh, and the big one, you need to install Big Blue Button on your own server.

Also, note Big Blue Button is a web conferencing system designed for online learning with tools tailor-made for teachers. I’m continually reminding myself of how important it is to understand the purpose of the tool and for whom it was built. So Big Blue Button is for education, Zoom Meetings being about the ability for interaction and Zoom Webinars being about broadcasting.

Which then gets me in the groove of, what are we calling these things we are bringing people together to do online? I’ve never liked Webinar, and thanks to that differentiation between meeting and webinar in Zoom, have realised it’s not an appropriate term for what I’m trying to do online as I prefer interactive formats. I’ve long favoured the term ‘online discussion’ for bringing members of the network that I’m working with together to share ideas or compile best practices. I’m also now leaning towards the term ‘online session’ or even ‘online workshop’.