Hello, I’m Sondra LoRe, Ph.D. Since 2014, I have been learning from conducting focus groups, interviews, and observations with educators and students in virtual spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly amplified the use of virtual spaces for evaluation. Before joining the National Institute for STEM Evaluation & Research (NISER), I worked as an educator evaluator, teacher, and school principal, so I’ve been on both sides of the virtual pond. Here are some tips that work to make the most of virtual spaces for evaluation and teaching.
1.) Less is More. Focus groups in a virtual space, even with the ease of video recording, are complex with a group of 6 or more. Grab a colleague or two and leverage the use of breakout rooms. Making groups small increases the participation level and engagement.
2.) Infuse visuals. There is so much truth in the expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Leverage the “share screen” option in virtual meetings to engage people. The visual could be materials used in the program, a map of activities, or a list of intended outcomes for discussion.
3.) Observe overtly. There is no hiding behind a ficus plant in the corner of a classroom in an online space, so make the most of it! Be purposeful! Ask the hosts to introduce you and then share your goals and purpose for the observation. Again, make use of those breakout rooms, observe and record.
4.) Document discourse. Make the most of the chat in virtual spaces. Following a discussion or observation, the saved chat can be a resource of rich information about what people value and need in the program. Leave your contact information in the chat to encourage folks to reach out to you after the meeting.
Your brain will try to make sense of your face on the screen, so if you find your eyes gravitating toward your face as you speak or observe, change the display settings so your face is hidden. That will help you keep focused on others.
Smile and wait, wait, wait. Responses to questions in virtual space will take a bit longer for various reasons, particularly finding that unmute button! Slow your roll by extending your time a bit long for focus groups and interviews in a virtual space. If the background is quiet, consider asking participants to leave their microphones unmuted so people can respond “popcorn style.”
Learn more about the virtual platforms you are using by checking out books for educators on the topic. The more you understand the virtual platforms, the better you will be at using the spaces effectively.
Teaching Effectively with Zoom: A practical guide to engage your students and help them learn by Dan Leavy https://www.teachingeffectivelywithzoom.com/
Holly Clark has some great books about using Microsoft Teams and Google Classrooms on her Infused Classroom website https://www.hollyclark.org/the-books/.
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