Virtual Showcase – Reflections on shared approaches, strategies and resources… Should we do it again?

November 12th, 2021 by Monika Jankowska-Pacyna

The summer months are a blur at this point, but the memory of how excited and inspired we were after each of our Virtual Showcase sessions still energizes us and we wonder if we should do it again…

 

Setting up for the second session with ASL interpreters

The idea

It all started with a Zoom call in 2020. “It would be great if you could organize a conference/sessions where others would share what they use and how they use it,” said Gay Douglas from Literacy Link Niagara. “And then you can spend some time training us on some of the tools discussed,” added Tina DeLuca from Niagara Catholic District School Board as we were reviewing our recent coaching project together. “It would reach and help so many other instructors and programs,” she added.

This got me thinking… Through our technology coaching services, we work directly with a selected group of programs, but what if we could open it up and make it more accessible to instructors and program coordinators who aren’t engaging with us in this way? Would that be helpful? Would there be interest? 

We explored this idea at our team meetings and decided to add it to our business plan for 2021.  

We were so excited when the sessions got approved in April but also a bit scared — as we had until September to make them all a reality!


The sessions

With the full team support, my colleagues Tracey, Aletheia and I set out to plan, organize and deliver four AlphaPlus Virtual Showcase sessions via Zoom. 

We used Google Sites to set up a website, https://virtualshowcase.alphaplus.ca, where we announced the upcoming sessions and guest presenters. Afterwards, we posted the recordings, slides and additional resources shared by the guests and participants. It’s now a great resource collection to explore! Check it out!

Our goal was to elevate and showcase how innovative programs and instructors use digital tools and approaches to connect and work with learners remotely. We realized that we often meet these amazing instructors and programs through our coaching and other projects, but this was a chance to really showcase them and in a different way. ASL interpretation services were provided and allowed the Deaf community to participate as well.

We even tried to be clever about our session titles, but it wasn’t always that easy, so we gave up after the first one. 🙂

The sessions focused on:

  1. Fighting the Zoombie fatigue: Making online learning more “human” for teachers and learners
  2. Online tools to the rescue: Engaging learners to collaborate together remotely
  3. Digital resource collections: Extending learning and critical thinking beyond virtual meetings
  4. LMS in LBS: Figuring out if a learning management system is the right fit for your program

Each session featured three guest organizations — representing a community program, school board and college — that shared their approaches, strategies and tips on how they connect with learners and build a virtual community using online tools and resources.

The Learning Place team sharing what collaboration tools they are using

We loved how guests used slides or simply shared their screens to show us their approaches and how participants got involved, asked questions and shared their own experiences and resources in the chats and breakout rooms. It really felt like a community coming together to a virtual event. The Tech Q&A part of the sessions allowed us to discuss the tools in more detail and offer additional tips. They weren’t easy sometimes, as we weren’t sure what specific information participants would want to learn, but we were thrilled to receive followup calls and emails from participants telling us how they’re trying and implementing some of the things they learned about in our sessions.


Feedback

We received a lot of encouraging feedback from participants:

“Very helpful to see how others have created very useful resources for their learners and tutors. It was especially helpful to hear about challenges and possible solutions to problems.”

“The information presented will be very helpful for me to help my learners. I was not aware of there being so many resources that are out there to assist us in our everyday teaching.”

“I liked having people from the field speaking and then having some tech information at the end. It was a good combination.”

“The testimony of LBS instructors and their experience using LMS. That was terrific.”

In retrospect

We, as a team doing this type of showcase for the first time, learned a lot too and are sharing our reflections as lessons and tips:

  • Our biggest worry was that the sessions were organized during the summer months when many instructors are on vacation or away. It turned out that for many participants, it actually worked better because they weren’t as busy teaching yet. In total, we received 508 registrations for all four sessions, averaging 127 registrations per session. 
  • As the registrations were coming in, many participants followed up by email telling us that they were registering so they could get the recording but wouldn’t be able to attend live. On average, we had 75 participants actively join each showcase session. This made us realize that not everyone participates in online sessions in the same way. Some come to the sessions, and others prefer to watch the recordings. We all recalled how often we do the same thing, and that was OK too.
  • The sessions were set up to have a facilitated discussion with the guests, followed up by Q&A and breakout rooms, then a break and finally a Tech Q&A. We quickly learned that it’s hard to stick to the plan, so we had to adjust the schedule and, on occasion, change it if needed. This made it more real and unscripted in a way, but thinking on our feet and being able to connect via private chat between the host, moderator and facilitator really helped. Since we were using Google Slides, we were also able to seamlessly adjust and reorganize them as needed.
  • We really wanted participants to have a chance to connect with others and reflect on what they heard/learned. The breakout rooms were a great way to do that but, on occasion, we had to forego them. We all agreed that if we had a chance to do it again, we would allocate more time for those.
  • Our guests and participants were amazing with sharing tips and resources. We often saved the chat to pull out all the links that were shared there. This really made us feel like members of a community that wants to collaborate and share with each other.
  • As a team working with various sectors and streams, inclusion was important to us, and we learned a lot when organizing and hosting the showcase sessions. To engage with the Deaf community, we provided ASL interpretation services, where we quickly learned how important it is to share session information, slides and other materials in advance to allow interpreters to prepare for the sessions. We worked on “spotlighting” the interpreters to make sure their videos were always on top and visible to participants needing ASL support — a Zoom feature we greatly appreciated. We also needed to speak at a pace that allowed time for proper interpretation. During our first session, an Indigenous participant reminded us about a land acknowledgment, which we included in the following sessions and will be using when organizing online events in the future.

Some of our guests taught us that you don’t need to use new and fancy tools to be effective. You can use and adapt existing tools too. For example, the Excel database spreadsheet shared by Leo and Denise from the Frontier College team was a great hit with participants. We got a lot of requests about it so we created a sample sheet to share their formula and are working on a video to provide more tips and details. 
 

Fleming College team showing how they explain math virtually


Should we do it again?
I’m extremely thankful to everyone — the AlphaPlus team, our guests who agreed to come out and share with others, and participants — for the support and encouragement we received. It wouldn’t be possible without all of you!

As we were wrapping up the sessions and reviewing the feedback, a question lingered… Should we do it again? What should we focus on? What would be helpful?

We decided that it might be best to ask you.

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us using this SURVEY