At the New York City School Library System, our number one task is to provide professional learning opportunities for librarians and teachers. When we planned the 2019-2020 school year, the pandemic and remote learning were not on our minds. Our workshops have always been in-person.
So how to translate our work into a virtual environment?
Fortunately, in New York City, the department of education set up all educators to have G-Suite (Google) accounts to connect to students and one another. So we have a platform to host workshops: Google Meets.
Our first Google Meet was on website development. One consequence of the sudden shift to remote learning is just how many educators lack a robust digital presence. We had over seventy people participate in our first hour-long workshop. The topic was creating a library website in the new Google Sites. We created a sample site to review and talked about the content possibilities from widgets to videos to images.
It was a learning experience!
When you host an in-person workshop, everyone works at their own pace. You present the content and give time to participants to work on it. Questions can be individual or for the whole group. If the latter, you can spend time with the person one-on-one while everyone else continues their work, or if for the entire group, participants can choose to pay attention or not. With online learning, whoever asks a question takes center stage. Participants are not likely to work on something in real-time because they don’t want to miss what is said or presented.
And then there is the chat…
I co-hosted my first workshop with my work colleague. We took turns presenting our screens but could not keep up with the chat. And the problem with trying to keep up with the chat is losing focus on the main presentation. It is challenging to juggle it all. So, here’s my plan for my next session:
1. Having a PowerPoint or Slideshare for the presentation. We had an agenda embedded in the invitation, but I imagine not a lot of people looked at it.
2. Reserving questions for specific times. People posing individual questions can take precious time away from the group focus; have participants ask questions at a specific time.
3. Telling participants, we will answer questions posed to the chat after the online meeting. Many video conferencing platforms have options for saving a chat. It’s too difficult to respond to individual questions while presenting. I will tell participants during my next session that I will answer their questions personally after the session is over. I think that is a great technique to make sure everyone feels the workshop was worth their time and allows me to know when their need is so I can provide adequate professional support.
Google Meets and Microsoft Teams have been fantastic tools to communicate and support librarians and teachers one-on-one. For larger groups, it is more complicated and stressful. I, for one, cannot wait to deliver in-person workshops again. But until that time comes, I will use the suggestions above to maximize my virtual time with groups larger than one.
Author: Leanne Ellis
I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.