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IEA Affiliate Week: Pivoting and Adapting during COVID by Jennifer Bellville

Jennifer Bellville
Jennifer Bellville

Hi! I’m Jennifer Bellville, a Consultant at Diehl Consulting Group and President of the Indiana Evaluation Association (IEA), a local affiliate of AEA. I am excited to start off IEA’s posts about pivoting and adapting during COVID.

Like many of you, my projects, interactions, and work environment are different during this season – and so are things for our evaluation organization. As a board, we started the year with a strategic plan that included organizing regional in-person networking events and gradually testing virtual technology.

Then came COVID. Of course, in-person gatherings were paused, and our plan for slowly testing technology became a rapid change to offer entirely virtual professional development within a month. We are so thankful that our April presenter, John Gargani, who presented on Scaling Impact, and our July presenter, William Cox, who presented on Breaking the Bias Habit, were extremely flexible and more than willing to join us in the virtual space. We also had an incredible group of board members and volunteers who came together to help us transition and facilitate breakout rooms during our virtual trainings.

Lessons Learned: Transitioning to Virtual Trainings

  • Practice. Practice. Practice – Set up at least one practice run-through and join your meeting early day-of to test technology one more time. (There’s always something that comes up!)
  • Build in Interaction – When possible, create space for attendees to interact and connect with each other through ice breakers, polls, the chatbox, breakout rooms, and more.
  • Breakout Room Facilitators – Recruit facilitators for breakout rooms (in Zoom). It is incredibly helpful to have someone in each room who has the discussion questions handy and is ready to prompt conversation. (Hot Tip: Discussion questions from the presenter’s slides do not appear in the breakout rooms.)
  • Video & Microphone –Encourage breakout room attendees to have their video on and mic unmuted, so the conversation can be more spontaneous. Then once you move back to the main session, automatically mute all microphones so attendees can hear the presenter without distractions.
  • Bathroom Breaks – We all need to use the restroom, stretch our legs, or just look away from the screen. Remember to build time for this into the presentation.
  • Extra Time for Discussion – It takes time to transition attendees from the main session into breakout rooms. And attendees have not had the chance to chat with others at their virtual ‘table’ before the meeting starts as they normally would in person. Try to build in extra time for introductions and transitions.

While virtual cannot replace in-person, offering virtual training has allowed us to work toward our mission of enhancing evaluator knowledge and skills in new ways. Virtually, we can reach more evaluators within our state. Our virtual trainings are also shared with our fellow AEA affiliates across the US, allowing us to contribute to the evaluation field more broadly.

Rad Resource: Local Affiliates

  • Join a Local AEA Affiliate– Affiliates are a great way to get connected with evaluators in your area. Once COVID has subsided, you can even meet-up in-person 🙂

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Indiana Evaluation Association (IEA) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from IEA members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

4 thoughts on “IEA Affiliate Week: Pivoting and Adapting during COVID by Jennifer Bellville”

  1. Hi Jennifer,
    Thank you for sharing your own lessons learned for others who are new to the transition from in-person to virtual. Although the Covid-19 Pandemic has been keeping the world at a standstill for more than a year now, I think your points on transitioning to virtual training are still extremely relevant for all occupations. I am a student completing the Professional Masters of Education program at Queen’s University. Although I am not a teacher by trade, I have always worked as an educator in different fields.
    Your article stood out to me specifically due to the usefulness and universality of the information you provided. I really like that all of your ideas are not orientated towards one specific occupation and can be applied universally.
    I could not agree more with the note you made specifically regarding the use of video and microphones during breakout meetings. In that, attendees should be encouraged to have their videos on and mic unmuted during these discussions. This communicative spontaneity is so important in a Covid world, where the use of technology incredibly limits conversations and interpersonal interactions. This simple change allows dialogue barriers to be broken but in a safe space. I feel that individuals rely heavily on a picture to represent themselves for meetings when they are not specifically required to have their video on, and I feel it fractures the group’s interactions as a whole.
    With the Covid-19 Pandemic continuing internationally, I feel virtual adaptation will continue to be the way of the future. The points for the practice you describe will become the norm, as well expanded on as new technology develops.
    The information you shared is and continues to be extremely useful. With nearly six months past since you posted this article, my only question is, do you have any other recommendations for virtual training?

    Look forward to hearing from you!
    Cheers, Emilee

    *On a side note, I think educators specifically forget the use of bathroom breaks during long presentations and group meetings, forgetting about the human side of those involved. I had to laugh while reading your article because these breaks seem like a given
    but are easily forgotten or overlooked.

    1. Jennifer Bellville

      Hi Emilee,

      I really appreciate your feedback! Definitely hoping that these tips can be used across a variety of fields and meeting content/topics.

      Agreed with video and microphone use! Especially with so many meetings continuing to be virtual, it’s helpful to distinguish between expectations during a “lecture” portion of a meeting and the breakout rooms, since we really are looking for different things from participants. In a lecture it’s ok to be off camera; there will likely be some levels of engagement like chats or polls, but you don’t have to be “on” or “put together” and in front of a camera. But for breakout rooms we’re really looking to foster conversation and allow for more natural and spontaneous dialogue, which is just so much easier when people are on camera (so you get some of those visual cues and get to actually see the other people) and off mute. I’ve found it’s helpful to share these expectations up front when possible, so people know whether there will be an on camera expectation at some point during the meeting.

      One of the things that we’ve been talking more about as an affiliate since this post is how do we foster additional connections/networking time in a virtual space? We just don’t have that informal time before or after meetings to connect. One platform we’ve used a couple times is Gather Town (https://www.gather.town/). It’s been a fun way to have people interact like they’re in an in-person environment, where they can virtually walk around a space and start up conversations.

      How about you? Are there other things you’ve found that have worked well in the virtual space? Or other things that you’re testing out virtually?

      Hope you’re doing well!

      *Haha yes bathroom breaks are so important!

  2. Great info you shared. Despite all I’ve seen on virtual meetings, you included a couple I hadn’t seen that are very helpful, especially as I am planning for a meeting that will include breakout rooms in a couple weeks. Thanks!

    1. Jennifer Bellville

      Hi Sue – I hope your virtual meetings have been going well! Do you have anything that’s been your go or been especially helpful or fun in a virtual setting? Always looking to improve virtual meeting experiences! Thanks!

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