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Thoughts on collaborating online

It’s Day # 5 of self-isolation for me and things have been pretty hectic. I haven’t been my most organized self despite my best efforts. And I’m not sure if I should be blaming the situation or my inability to activate the disciplinarian within me or just a lot of details to deal with. Thankfully, technology’s there to save us all. It doesn’t have to be lonely at your home-office. You can still chat, collaborate, setup meetings, hold training programs, and even virtual conferences!

While I use WhatsApp and FaceTime for all my personal face-to-face communication, I’m not too sure if they fit the bill for professional scenarios at work. So, for the last couple of years I have been using Microsoft Teams and Zoom as my go to conferencing applications. The former for work-related matters and the latter for almost everything else including individual, group and team coaching sessions. But there are just tools. Making them work is our responsibilities.

And nobody does it better than Seth and his amazing Akimbo community. Here’s an excerpt from one of his posts a couple of days ago:

If we want to, we can use Zoom to create conversations, not a rehash of tired power dynamics. We can create peer to peer environments where conversations happen.

Here’s how it works:

0. The most important: Only have a real-time meeting if it deserves to be a meeting. If you need people to read a memo, send a memo. If you need students to do a set of problems, send the problems. If you want people to watch a speech or talk, then record it and email it to them. Meetings and real-time engagements that are worthy of conversations are rare and magical. Use them wisely.

1. People come to the meeting ready to have a conversation. If they’re coerced to be there, everything else gets more difficult.

2. Part of being engaged means being prepared. Consider this simple 9 point checklist.

3. Organize a conversation. That can’t work at any scale more than five. How then, to do an event with hundreds of people? The breakout.

A standard zoom room permits you to have 250 people in it. You, the organizer, can speak for two minutes or ten minutes to establish the agenda and the mutual understanding, and then press a button. That button in Zoom will automatically send people to up to 50 different breakout rooms.

If there are 120 people in the room and you set the breakout number to be 40, the group will instantly be distributed into 40 groups of 3.

They can have a conversation with one another about the topic at hand. Not wasted small talk, but detailed, guided, focused interaction based on the prompt you just gave them.

8 minutes later, the organizer can press a button and summon everyone back together.

Get feedback via chat (again, something that’s impossible in a real-life meeting). Talk for six more minutes. Press another button and send them out for another conversation.

This is thrilling. It puts people on the spot, but in a way that they’re comfortable with.

If you’re a teacher and you want to actually have conversations in sync, then this is the most effective way to do that. Teach a concept. Have a breakout conversation. Have the breakouts bring back insights or thoughtful questions. Repeat.

A colleague tried this technique at his community center meeting on Sunday and it was a transformative moment for the 40 people who participated.

If you want to do a lecture, do a lecture, but that’s prize-based education, not real learning. If people simply wanted to learn what you were teaching, they wouldn’t have had to wait for your lecture (or pay for it). They could have looked it up online.

But if you want to create transformative online learning, then allow people to learn together with each other.

Connect them.

Create conversations.

Seth Godin, The Conversation

I hope you do take the time to enjoy this conversation.