Mastering Hybrid Meetings

March 23, 2022
Image of the book titled Suddenly Hybrid, written by Karin Reed and Joseph Allen.

The future is hybrid.  I’ve always been an advocate for hybrid learning and research has showed its benefits. As many of our meetings have moved to a mix of attendees in person and being remote, the need to master hybrid techniques for meetings has become essential.  Although I have much experience in distance learning, a new book “Suddenly Hybrid” by Karin Reed and Joseph A. Allen has given me a chance to confirm my best practices and add some new research-based guidance that I’m happy to share with you in this post.

Before I share my top five takeaways from this book, let’s consider the “why”.  It is crucial to plan for full participation and engagement in a hybrid meeting. Research has shown that a highly participatory meeting has benefits beyond just better meeting satisfaction and effectiveness.  “An engaged workforce is a high performing workforce” (Mackay, Allen and Landis 2017).

Now, here are my top five takeaways from the book:

  1. It is important to encourage a “speak-up culture” in meetings where attendees feel free to share their ideas, comments and concerns in a safe and inclusive environment.  The role of the hybrid meeting leader is to create this environment, while attendees also play a role by completing any assigned prework and encouraging their peers to speak up during the meeting.  More on that to follow below.
  2. A hybrid meeting requires more work in advance since the margin for error is smaller than an in person meeting. The authors of this book recommend answering five “W” questions beforehand.  The five “W” questions are: Who will attend? The only people on the meeting invite are those who need to be there.  What is the meeting about? All meetings will have an agenda that is sent out in advance.  What work needs to be done ahead of time?  Pre-work will be assigned to allow attendees to prepare for the meeting. Where will the meeting take place? Participants will let the organizer know what modality they plan to use to attend, in person or virtually.  When will the meeting take place?  Meetings will start and end on time, meeting participants will show up on time. Why will the meeting take place?  The purpose of the meeting is explicitly stated.
  3. It is very helpful to assign meeting roles. (I recommend asking for volunteers.) Some of these could be combined:  Meeting Moderator-their job is to track participation to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and no one is forgotten. Technology Lead-who gives basic tech support to everyone and could run polls and breakout rooms.  Chat monitor-their job is to be on the lookout for any input that should be incorporated into the verbal discussion.  Meeting buddies-this is an in person attendee who serves as an advocate for a remote attendee.
  4. Embrace and invest in technological resources.  Invest with a focus on tools that create a presence for remote and in person attendees.  There are many new technologies, like the Meeting Owl, advanced webcams (with movement controls), and microphone arrays that help to make sure all participants are seen and heard.
  5. Train the facilitators in best practices on both operating the technology and making sure all attendees are able to participate.  Additionally this includes applying techniques to fully engage all participants in the meeting topic.  “Sit and Gets” are not effective due to the lack of engagement.

Let me know what you think, especially if you have distance learning experience or have read this book.

Interactive Google Slide Decks

January 28, 2022
Google Slide icon

There are many interactive online learning tools available these days, such as SCORM packages and EdPuzzle. Each have their pros and cons.  But did you know that you can use Google Slides to create an interactive experience, similar to the navigation in a SCORM package?

I’ve been trying out these capabilities with Google Slide decks that are set to presentation/view mode for the learner.  Perhaps it’s best if I first show you what an interactive Google slide deck looks like.  Here is one I created to guide designers at Denver Public Schools (DPS) in choosing the best online platform to deliver professional learning.

Interactive Google  slide screenshot

What you should notice right away are the navigational buttons that appear on each slide to take the viewer home or to their previous selection/step.  Each of these buttons are actually text boxes that have links assigned to them.  Intentionally, most slides are also in a question format with multiple choices for thoughtful interaction.  If you look at the url, you’ll also see that this deck is shared in “present” mode.  This gives the viewer an immersive experience without seeing the slide numbers or notes.  I chose this mode instead of “publish” because it allows me to tweak the deck at any time if changes are needed, without affecting the link that was shared to viewers.  Since we use Schoology as our LMS the slide deck link also embeds directly on a course or group page, giving a seamless experience.

If you are going to try this out on your own (which I highly recommend), here are some tips I can share with you:

  1. Your first step in creating an interactive slide deck is to map out everything in a flowchart format.  This will allow you to plan for where each slide links to another.
  2. Include a “Home” button on each slide so that a viewer can return to the beginning at any time to start over.  
  3. Include “back” or “previous step” buttons so that viewers can rewind to the previous slide/step.
  4. Consider embedding videos or other media for a multi-sensory experience. You could also add audio narration to your slides by inserting audio files.
  5. Although the deck can’t report out like a SCORM package or EdPuzzle, you can include a link to a Google form to collect data and feedback.  And if you embed a video from Youtube that you own, you can get viewing/tracking data.
  6. Always include the name of the owner/designer of your slide deck so viewers/learners can follow up with questions and/or comments.

Let me know what you think and if you have any questions.

Presenting Virtually

January 19, 2022

Guide Book by Patti Sanchez of Duarte Inc.

Presenting Virtually by Patti Sanchez book cover

I just finished reading this new book, “Presenting Virtually” subtitled “Communicate and Connect with Online Audiences”.  In this post I’ll share why I think you should read this book and give five takeaways for you to consider applying in your work.

First, why you should read this book:  It is research-based with copious footnotes if you want to dive deeper. The author-Patti Sanchez-is an expert in the field of communications with over 30 years of experience. There are relatable practical examples, with detailed charts, that are actionable by anyone who is a virtual presenter or supports a virtual presenter. She covers a wide range of presentations from casual-collaborative to high stakes with large audiences. By applying the techniques in this book you will undoubtedly become a better virtual presenter.

Next, here are five takeaways to put in your backpack:

  1. Prepare, plan and practice. We all know that preparation and practice increase our skill and confidence.  Additionally the author gives us a new “golden rule”: “Never deliver a presentation that you wouldn’t want to sit through”. Empathize with your audience and adopt their perspective.
  2. Strategy- consider these important layers of communication when presenting virtually- Presenter, Graphics, Backdrop.  The presenter layer includes who you are, how you look, what you have to say and how you say it verbally and nonverbally.  The graphics layer includes what you show, when you show it, and how it supports what you are saying.  Finally the backdrop layer includes where you are speaking from, what your environment says about you and how it supports your message.
  3. Story-a specialty of Duarte Inc. and essential to effective education.  Grab and hold attention with story hooks and arcs of storytelling.  “Compelling content, rooted in storytelling principles, lures remote audiences away from their inboxes and keeps them engrossed in a virtual presentation”.
  4. Visuals-employ good graphics, large fonts, minimal text and be able to pass the “Glance Test”.  Nancy Duarte introduced the “Glance Test” which is the ability to understand the message of a slide in three seconds.  Obviously, text heavy slides (with scores of words) do not pass this test.
  5. Delivery-consider non verbal expressions with particular focus on Amplifiers, Signifiers and Delineators.  Amplifiers are motions used to add emphasis such as facial expressions and hand movements.  Signifiers are motions used to convey concepts such as using hands to point at objects, mime acts or using fingers/hands to form shapes everyone can understand.  Delineators are motions used to specify qualities such as using hands to designate volume or distance, and tracing the arc of a line on a chart.

There are of course many more details and concepts that you can learn and apply from this book.  I highly recommend purchasing a copy.  (Note: I have no financial stake in Duarte Inc.)

Let me know if you have read this book and what your thoughts are.

BONUS: Here is a recording of Patti Sanchez and Nancy Duarte talking about the book and recommended techniques for presenting virtually:

Benefits of Online Asynchronous Learning

December 3, 2021

So much of our world has revolved around online synchronous meetings the past two years that online asynchronous learning has faded into the background.  But there’s no reason for hiding the benefits of online learning in an asynchronous mode.  It has distinct advantages over the ephemeral setting of synchronous sessions.  The top four benefits that I see are:

  1. Content can be self-paced which allows for different rates of acquisition.  And learners can select material that is most relevant to their immediate needs-AKA just in time training. Online resources have staying power-allowing them to be reviewed whenever learners need them.
  2. If something wasn’t clear in a video or audio file, learners can pause and/or rewind at any time.  They have time to take notes and annotate written content.  Additionally they can dig deeper into the material with other learners via a discussion board. 
  3. Designers and facilitators have time to develop the material and make changes to the content given feedback from learners.  Additional/updated material can be added at any time.
  4. The resources housed in a course can be shared across teams, departments, schools and regions, creating universal availability.  Online courses can be copied for later iterations or leveraged by learners for their own courses they are building.

For your own use, I’ve created an infographic with a condensed version of the top four benefits. Click on the image for a higher res image:

Benefits of asynchronous learning infographic

Owls Change the Room

November 1, 2021

Since our District bought some Owl Meeting Pros I’ve been trying one out for multiple scenarios.  Their most common use is in large meeting rooms where attendees are split between in-person and virtual.  Here’s what one looks like: 

Owl meeting unit sitting on a table

The Owl sits on a tripod, or a table, in the center of the room and everyone faces it in a circle, square or rectangle arrangement of seats.  It has six built-in microphones with an 18 foot pickup radius. Next to the microphones in the body of the Owl are three speakers so we can hear the virtual attendees.  Finally on top is a 360 degree camera.  Once you plug it in to your computer with the USB cable the Owl acts as an automated external camera, audio mixer and speaker.  There is no software to load and you can use it for  “plug and play” live videoconferences or recording.

We’ve started experimenting with using it to capture classroom footage of teachers and students.  Since it doesn’t need a camera operator or sound person there are less distractions to students when recording.  The Owl has AI technology built in so it automatically turns on the microphone nearest the person speaking and then the camera switches to show that person.  All the while, in a split screen, at the top of the video we see a 360 degree image of the room.  This 360 degree view also compensates for any delay in switching to the person who is speaking.  Here is what the image looks like: 

screen capture of Owl meeting interface

During our experimentation we’ve discovered some best practices.

  1. It’s best to set up the Owl on a tripod or table with the top of the unit level with the mouth and nose of the people in the room.
  2. People need to be facing the Owl for the best audio pickup and to show their faces in an engaging way.
  3. If you are going to have breakout groups in a live webconference in a hybrid setting, then it is best to mute the Owl and have one person, who has joined the online conference, use the microphone on their computer along with headphones or earbuds.  When the full meeting reconvenes then you can unmute and enable the speakers again on the Owl.
  4. If you are running a hybrid meeting, then it is extremely useful to assign someone to be the liaison between the in person group and the virtual attendees.  This person can monitor the chat and advocate for the distant attendees when they want to speak.
  5. It’s important to keep the Owl up to date with its software.  To do this, you must install and use the app on your phone or other mobile device.

Our Owl unit has become so popular that I had to create a Google calendar for it so that team members could make reservations.

So…I’d love to hear from you.  Are you using an Owl unit or something else to aid in hybrid meetings?  Are there other best practices, that I haven’t mentioned above, that you have incorporated?

Learning in a Pandemic Year

February 2, 2021

For my faithful blog readers I apologize for my absence.  As you can imagine I was called to serve Denver Public Schools (DPS) for long days weeks and months supporting online learning.  Now that I have a moment to catch my breath (not that it’s over) I thought it would be helpful to share things I’ve learned over the past year.

1.  Google Meet Enterprise is just as good as Zoom for meetings and learning.  With the enhancements Google added to its Enterprise version the playing field has been leveled.  Take a look at this chart I created for the side by side comparison. 

2.  Just because you know how to use an online tool, doesn’t mean the learning will be effective.  We are still in need (if not more so) of training/development for facilitators of synchronous and asynchronous courses.  I’ve been active at DPS creating support materials, models, and starting two communities of practice that meet monthly.  One  is focusing on our LMS-Schoology-and the other group concentrates on synchronous delivery in Zoom or Google Meets.

3.  Non-verbal cues become very important in managing meetings online.  Especially in larger meetings protocols using hand gestures make online meetings run more smoothly and quickly.

4.  Two monitors are better than one, for catching non-verbal cues but also managing a presentation and meeting tools at the same time.

5.  Blended/hybrid professional learning will return.  I predict that after we emerge from COVID restrictions the value and efficiency of blended/hybrid learning will remain a viable delivery system.

6.  Video and audio production skills come in handy and still sound. Top five pieces of advice I give out are:

a. Use landscape format on your phone

b. Record in a quiet room/space

c. Get close to the camera

d. Avoid bright backlight (e.g. windows)

e. Add light to your face if needed (with lamps)

7.  The time for short and engaging webinars has arrived (thankfully).  For years I preached the benefits of shorter webinars and the importance of engaging the attendees throughout the session.  I believe the benefits of these practices have been made evident.

8.  We need breaks from technology too!  Spending all day at our computers in online sessions can be draining on our bodies and minds.  Don’t forget to take a break!  Now that you’ve finished reading this blog post, it’s your turn!

Virtual Stickies Continued

September 13, 2019

As part of my PaperSavers initiative I wrote previously about virtual stickie or “post it” notes.  Recently I came up with a very simple solution that anyone with access to Google apps can use.  We used this as a collabortive tool during a webinar and it worked out really well.  And, unlike paper stickie notes on a poster board there was no need to transcribe it later.  Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Open a blank Google slide presentation in Google apps/Drive
  2. Next, populate the slide with a text box that is the approximate size of a post it note
  3. Fill the text box with a color that simulates the stickie note
  4. Copy the text box and move it to another location on the slide
  5. Repeat the above steps until you have filled the slide with enough boxes/stickies
  6. Share the slide so that anyone with the link can edit.
  7. Share this link to your participants.

Here’s what it will look like after participants have filled in the boxes:


Of course you or the participants can move the boxes/stickies if you want to do some sorting/organizing during your activity.

Here’s a tip if you like this process/activity:  After creating your first slide with blank boxes, make a copy and title it as your template to use over again.  Another tip is that you can adjust the slide size to mimic a vertical poster and it would look like this:

stickies vertical board layout

You can actually make the slide any size you wish.  And, you can copy the slide to have as many “posters” as you like.  If you are going with the standard slide size though I recommend that when you create the text boxes choose a 9 pt font size so text fits easily.

In the end, you’re not only saving paper, you’re saving these collaborations in a way that can be searched for, revisited, commented on and copied later.

Hope you have fun creating virtual stickie notes and helping save our resources one piece of paper at a time.  Don’t worry, they’ll add up!

Challenge Accepted

February 26, 2019

PDSA-cycleMy team has been leading sessions on Improvement Science and using a video on PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act) cycles to orient workshop participants.  The problem with the intro video they had been using is that it is focused on the health care industry and not education.  My boss challenged me to create a new introduction video with an education focus.  To up the ante, my team also  requested that I include references to Culturally Responsive Education.  I accepted the challenge and with the help of two teammates-Jenny Jackson on scriptwriting and Alex Maddock as narrator-I produced a concise (3 minutes in length) new video that is getting good reviews among our team.  Here’s a look at the video:

Are you teaching about PDSA Cycles?  If so, feel free to use this video.  And I welcome your feedback and questions.

My Year Without Paper in Review

December 31, 2018

Well,  it’s the last day of the year and I couldn’t let this end without posting a brief review of my year without paper.  I was successful in not printing anything at work this year and I rarely use paper anymore.  When I do, it’s second chance (immediately recycled paper).  I’ve found many creative solutions to using paper in my every day work.  Even at home I’m using less paper as I’m relying more on my Rocketbook and Elfinbook (a less expensive alternative) for note taking, list making and even songwriting.

The PaperSavers tribe at work has grown and we found an ally at the Office of Sustainability.  Also, the head of our Division funded us for 50 papersaver gift baskets.  We’ve begun distributing them via contests and targeting of teams who use the most paper in the District.  I’ll be sharing our tech alternatives at a national conference next year on online learning.

Here are some photo highlights:

money bags

The money bags on top of my desk continue to be a good conversation starter.  They represent the 3 million dollars spent on printing at our District copiers.

tips near printer

Members of the PaperSavers tribe have placed informative signs(written on second chance paper) near the printers on our floor.

gift baskets

These are some of the assembled papersaver gift baskets.

Rosie Christian

This teacher was one of the happy recipients of a gift basket.  She won this through a district-wide contest where we asked employees to share their papersaving tips.

So, what’s next? Our work and my avoidance of paper will continue into 2019.  The next goals are to distribute the remaining gift baskets-along with training sessions-, get budget numbers for our teams to compare, and find ways to call in rather than call out people using large amounts of paper.

Here’s to a wonderful and productive new year in 2019!

Closed Captioning Made Easy

November 9, 2018

153px-Closed_captioning_symbol.svgThe demand for closed captioning for video and webinars is increasing at my workplace.  I agree that it is essential for us to create accessible material.  In the past Youtube videos were one DIY way to comply.  You can read a past post from me on this here.

This week though a brand new free tool appeared and it has me really excited.  You can now do live closed captioning with Google Slides played in the Chrome browser.  This tool is free and easy!  I can see facilitators using this in face-to-face presentations, webinars and screencast recordings.  The only possible drawback is that there is no way to edit the captioning, but I have found it to be 95% accurate in its voice to text translation.  Here is a very short tutorial I created to help you use this tool right now: