As it became clear, in the week before the COVID-19 lock-down was announced, that all face-to-face CAS meetings were probably going to cease – the Manchester Community of Practice took the preemptive decision to go online. It was both a triumph and a challenge as Claire Penketh reports.
Despite the current conditions, the number of CAS Community of Practice meetings haven’t gone down. CAS members are rising to the challenge of working online, and in the case of the Manchester Community of Practice, they were ahead of the curve. Ellie Overland, who teaches PGCE Computer Science students at Manchester Metropolitan University and Alan Harrison Head of Computing at William Hulme Grammar School in Whalley Range were all prepared for their usual CAS face-to-face meeting - before the lock-down was announced - when they decided to dramatically change the way they delivered it: “We had a quick chat and said we should go ahead and hold it remotely instead,” said Ellie.
But then there was the thorny question of which platform. Ellie said: “We discussed Skype, but it can be fiddly to set up,” so that wasn’t an option for them. Then there was a discussion about the new-comer on the block, Zoom – but for Alan, it was as an unknown quantity.
They decided on Google Meet. It made sense as Alan knows his way around it, and it’s already used by the National Centre for Computing Education and therefore was the easiest for him to set up for the participants. Alan added, however: “Everyone has been experimenting and there’s been a lot of jumping around.” Google Meet is also the preferred option recommended by CAS – and you can find guidance here.
Alan and Ellie decided with a mere two days notice to hold their meeting remotely Ellie said it went well – because they were prepared. “We already had an agenda and we’d set up a couple of guest speakers who’d luckily already written their slides.” Loading up the presentations into Google Meet from the PowerPoint ribbon was, said Ellie, “dead easy”.
They started with a welcome slide, as normal, while people joined online. Because of the short notice, Ellie and Alan had advertised the link to the meeting on Twitter and via email and had to hope everyone got the message. Fourteen people joined the meeting of the twenty that had registered. The guest speakers’ presentation went smoothly as they put up their slides and spoke over them – as they would have done normally in a classroom.
But then there came a challenge, as Ellie explains: “Our main focus of the meeting was going to be a shared discussion between primary and secondary teachers around transitions from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3. I put a slide up with some key questions on it for discussion – but we found that most people were listening with their mics off and didn’t jump in like you would in a normal meeting. “Maybe it’s because it’s felt you have to be braver to contribute to an online discussion. So, as chair, I picked people off the list to respond whom I knew would have good things to say.
With hindsight," Ellie added, "you need to think carefully before the session about how you chair it - perhaps have some people already in mind for the questions.” Alan added: “It might be a good idea to say to them that this question is coming, and you might think about what you want to contribute.”
All forms of communication
Another development was that people were typing questions in the chat section – so they were both listening to the presentation, watching the slides and commentating on them – and sometimes having a conversation in chat with fellow participants.
Sounds a bit chaotic but actually both Alan and Ellie said it was useful – so long as one of the hosts took over the role of monitoring the messages and feeding back answers. But Ellie said: “You have to be careful not to overload everyone with the mix of text, chat and speech.” Alan also set up a google drive folder for the presentation slides so that they could be accessed after the meeting.
The meeting itself was due to run from 4 pm to 6 pm and most people managed to join online on time, but not everyone. The advice from Ellie is: “Be prepared for people to join late and try not to be disrupted by it.”
In the end, the meeting did not run for the full two hours – for a very good reason said Ellie: “The government announcement about the closure of schools came at about 5.20 pm. Looking at the screen we read the body language and knew we had to come to a natural close.”
The conclusion was that it was a good meeting, despite the last-minute decision to hold it online. Alan said: “Overall it felt quite productive and conversational – the only thing lacking was tea and biscuits!”
Top tips for holding a remote CAS meeting
- Be prepared – have your agenda and presentation in place and ready to share ‘in a window’ in Google Meet
- Set up your Google Meet link for the participants
- Set up a google docs folder to save the presentation material in
- Send out invites with the links well in advance via email and social media – and again before the session
- Try to strike the balance between those who have signed up to the session, but don't want to contribute verbally but might be happy to type in the chat feature
- Delegate one person to deal with the chat messages and to gather the attendance list
- Understand that talking online is different than face-to-face and allow for that
- Prime participants with questions in advance to think about their responses
- You need solid content – very difficult to wing it online.
- Be prepared for people to arrive late and leave early – try not to get disrupted by that.