The Virtual Classroom and the Value of the Facilitator/Producer Team
Virtual Classroom facilitators have a lot on their plate – not only are they trying to communicate the lesson, engage with students, and knowledge share, they have to be aware of the virtual classroom tools, and be able to manage conversations and feedback through chat, polls, online Q&A, as well as breakout discussions. When facilitators are facing this alone, they may choose to not take advantage of all of the tools available that could greatly increase interaction. They may feel overwhelmed at the production and facilitation aspects required. In this instance, without assistance, the facilitator may be then forced to lecture to the attendees with minimal interaction.
That’s where the virtual classroom producers come in – they act as the technological expert on the virtual platform so the facilitator can focus purely on the content and engage with participants. To make the producer and facilitator relationship the most productive possible, we offer the following tips:
Have the producer assist with the behind the scenes activities of participant interaction such as breakout sessions. Engaging virtual classroom events include activities that solicit information from participants especially in a breakout session debrief. In addition to handling the organizing, prepping, and ending the breakout sessions, the producer will help collect their feedback and ensure it is available during the debrief with the entire group after the individual breakout exercise has ended. The producer is also invaluable in assisting participants while in the breakouts with any audio or connection issues that may arise. Often, the producer may just need to hop into the virtual breakout room to remind the participants how to use annotation or chat tools.
Allow the producer to look out for participant technical issues and questions. If the facilitator is taking care of content and trying to process information coming from multiple places, it is helpful to have an extra person looking out for the participants. Often, this may be seeing someone has posted a question or used the raised hand feature that the facilitator may have overlooked. Virtual classroom producers can also help keep the facilitator on track if certain activities are taking up too much time.
The virtual classroom producer helps create a seamless fast paced learning environment. By being flexible the producer can add value to the class by creating polling questions, whiteboards or breakout rooms on the fly if needed should the facilitator decide those elements would better meet the needs of the individuals of that class.
Create a leader guide that specifically outlines production tasks. For example, include instructions for participating in the breakout, typing on the whiteboard, pasting text into the chat area. The guide should be very specific and cover the ‘when’ and the ‘why’ in addition to the ‘what’. This will help clearly define the facilitator and producer roles when it comes to the interactive elements of the class.
Meet a few days ahead of the live classroom to review content and planned exercises and activities. This meeting is best held in the same virtual classroom platform that will be used on the day of the live event so that the facilitator/producer team can plan exactly how things are going to work. It will also give the producer a chance to walk through all the virtual elements of the classroom with the facilitator to familiarize them with their functionality. It will also allow the producer to familiarize themselves with the content a bit prior to the session.
Establish emergency back-up procedures. What happens if the facilitator drops offline and the producer is left with the class? The answer to that question needs to be determined ahead of time. The producer should know whether to call for a break or to ask participants to complete an exercise, such as typing into chat. Also, this is the time to test that the facilitator has an excellent internet connection and phone connection, and to discuss a back-up plan if either one goes out. For instance, if their internet goes out, should the producer run the content and have the facilitator speak to it (if they can still maintain audio connection), for example.
Create a set of ground rules. The producer needs to know how to respond to participants who get to class late or leave early. For example, if someone logs on 35 minutes into the session, should the producer tell them that class has already started and provide an alternative class time? Or offer up the class recording if it is being made available?
Ensure that the producer has all participant and facilitator materials, such as pre-work, job aids, and other handouts. This will make it easier for him or her to support the facilitator and the participants.
Hold a Post-Mortem after the session is over. After the live event, share notes about what went well and what could be improved in the future.