Highly Functional Virtual Teams

One of the “happy accidents” I discovered while coaching virtual instructors is that they told me the techniques were really useful in engaging a virtual staff during meetings. I’ve also found them helpful as a cross-site or cross-geo team lead. (I’ve led several virtual project-close celebrations using shipped party favors, video conference rooms, and annotation tools.) I wanted to share the info on this free learning session. I’ve studied under Jennifer Hofmann for a while and she is always enlightening. She’s been managing virtual teams for many years.

May 27, 2015, 1-2 PM US Eastern Time:  Jennifer Hofmann, President of InSync Training, presents Creating Highly Functional Virtual Teams.

Can a virtual team be as effective as a co-located team? This is a question that organizations are debating, and the arguments on both sides are very compelling. Factors like work-life balance and organizational savings need to be balanced with the value of face-to-face collaboration and managerial oversight.

Whether you personally embrace the concept or not, chances are you will participate as a virtual team member during your career.

The reality is, a virtual team can be very effective if the correct conditions are met and maintained. It’s about putting together the right personalities, ensuring they have the right tools, and leading the team successfully. After discussing the arguments for and against establishing a virtual team, this workshop will use real life examples to address six key enablers for success.

LEARNING OUTCOMES:

  1. How to form the virtual team: Identifying the profile of an effective virtual team and its players, and how to engage existing team members in selecting new team members.
  2. How to enable the virtual team: Ensuring the right technologies and processes are in place to ensure success.
  3. How to maintain the virtual team: Creating inter-reliability, trust, and teamwork.
  4. How to protect the virtual team: Identifying and managing issues before they become destructive.
  5. How to lead the virtual team: Establishing credibility while maintaining the right balance of oversight and empowerment.
  6. How to reward the virtual team: Creating team building opportunities across the distance.
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Webinar Report-Out: Making Virtual and Blended Learning Work for Adult Learners

I attended Jennifer Hoffmann’s Making Virtual and Blended Learning Work for Adult Learners. She modeled the session after Malcolm Knowles’ six principles of adult learning, which promotes collaborative learning over lecture:

  1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  3. Adults are goal oriented
  4. Adults are relevancy oriented
  5. Adults are practical
  6. Adult learners like to be respected

I agree with all of these principles. As we design for and facilitate sessions in the live virtual classroom, they should guide our treatment of adult learners. They don’t want to be treated like novices or children.

Additionally, I always use Wlodkowski and Ginsberg’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching as a rubric to make sure I have built in activities that address learner needs to increase the likelihood that they will apply the learning. The framework suggests fulfilling these four criteria:

  1. Establish Inclusion– Create an environment of mutual respect and connection. This can be done by posting participant and instructor bios, allowing participants to choose their own work groups, and creating a quick orientation to help students learn how to learn in the VC. An excellent example of an orientation by Insync TrainingLearn How to Learn Online
  2. Develop a Learning Attitude– Set ground rules and mutual expectations as a class. Facilitators can gauge the needs of the participants using annotation tools to involve everyone.
  3. Enhance Meaning– Meet learner needs by making the content relevant and personally meaningful. Use polling and annotation tools to help participants provide feedback. Find out why they chose this class. Are they trying to solve a problem? How do they plan to use what they learn?
  4. Engender Competence– Create experiences where participants can perform–>receive feedback–>make adjustments–>perform. Provide simulations and simple performance assessments via the VC, web-based resources. If it is impractical to perform in the virtual classroom then give an assignment to perform back on the job with criteria that a  peer or manager can use to give feedback.

Don’t Punish the Learner

Jane Bozarth posted a great piece on her Bozarthzone blog called Punish the Learner. Don’t worry, she isn’t advocating punishment. She speaks of the crippling power of a single bad learning experience and how it sometimes takes decades to recover. In particular, she gives the example of a six year old girl at her first piano recital. High expectations have been placed on her to perform in an unfamiliar environment with a large audience and no sheet music. The result was so devastating that she didn’t touch another musical instrument for more than 50 years.

I’m a huge fan of providing a safe place to practice new learning within the Learning experiences I design. I model this on step 4 of Raymond Woldkowsi’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Step 4 focuses on Engendering Competence. This means providing the learner a supportive environment to practice application of the new skill, receive feedback, and try again.

I think it’s also important to have performance support tools in place once the learner has walked onto the “stage” of the workplace to perform with peers and the boss watching. Some refer to this as a supportive scaffolding. I like to call it the Life Line. If you’ve ever watched the program Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? you might remember the available “life lines” a contestant may use if they get stuck answering a question. The original three life lines were:

  • Fifty-Fifty–remove two incorrect answers
  • Phone-a-Friend–a thrity second phone call to a smarty pants friend for help
  • Ask the Audience–audience members use feedback remotes to tell the contestant which answer they think is correct.

What if workplace learning had life lines? What if every learner was given permission to call the instructor for help if they got stuck? What if former students joined an alumni group and answered questions from those who just completed the class and were trying things out back at their desk? What if every learner had the equivalent of sheet music to get them through the performance?

I constantly challenge myself to think of ways to support learners well after the initial Learning Event is over.

What are the most successful “Life Lines” you have provided to learners?

Live Virtual Experiences *Can* Be Intimate

If I told you that a live virtual experience could actually be intimate would you believe me? What if I showed you? Imagine you were preparing to play an instrument and record a song with someone in your studio. Now imagine that “someone” is orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station. Have a look for yourself.

ISS

On 7 Feb 2013 Canadian Chris Hatfield recorded a song with the Bare Naked Ladies. From Space. From. Freaking. Space.

I find this to be a beautiful example of how we can use technology to virtually bring special guests to a physical classroom. In Spring 2011 I attended a Video for Learning Lab at the Masie Center and experienced this technique. We met with virtual visitors from the CIA and CNN via Skype. Our facilitator asked them to speak for a few minutes about how they used video for learning, then we opened the floor for questions from the students. One of the visitors even asked to be “left on” so he could attend the next exercise we were going to do.

I was still at Intel at the time and working on the New Employee Orientation (NEO). One of the chief complaints from new employees was that we did not have a section on benefits during the first day orientation class. The benefits class is a virtual class offered once a month because the benefits team didn’t have the bandwidth to have someone teach the full session every other week when NEO was run. If you know anything about new employees or remember what it’s like to be a new employee, then you know that one of the biggest thing on their minds is benefits. I tried to convince our organization that we should partner with the benefits team to have someone virtually visit the class via video for 15-20 minutes to answer some of the students’ burning questions. It wouldn’t be as robust as the class, but at least we could calm some fears and show we care with a real human touch.

It didn’t end up happening at Intel but I keep this idea in my back pocket, waiting for the right opportunity. I’ll let you know how it goes.

10 Tools: Pinterest Review

I’ve been using Pinterest for a few things over the course of the month. I was eager to see how I might use it to organize a project or utilize it for a learning activity.

Pinterest Basics:

  1. Pinterest is a way to organize photos, images, and videos. They are called pins and you share them by pinning them to a board.
  2. You create boards to act as a album for a group of related pins.
  3. You can create secret boards that don’t show up for others in searches.
  4. You can invite others to pin to your boards by entering their email addresses.
  5. You can follow other Pinterest users. They can follow you.
  6. If you log in via facebook it will post on your behalf unless you tell it not to.

I created three boards to play around with in Pinterest. One collected ideas for a kindergarten Valentine’s party. The next is an on-going collection of ideas for an end-of-year gift for my child’s teacher. The last was an unsuccessful attempt to gather ideas for a welcome/info book for my beach house.

What I learned

  • Pinterest is spectacular at providing inspiration. Keyword searches connect you to incredible creativity and delightful results. I’m beginning to suspect that Martha Stewart is no longer needed. Popular pins include DIY, home decor, crafts, wedding planning, travel, cars, and art. 
  • It really is photo-based. The website you link to has to have a photo or it won’t pin. I ran into this issue when I found some great templates I wanted to pin for my welcome/info book, but I couldn’t pin them. It doesn’t work well for project planning for this reason.
  • I don’t really enjoy following others in Pinterest. I use it more to farm for ideas via searches.
  • If you do the “shelf elf” at Christmas time Pinterest is the place for you.

Application to Virtual Learning

I could see utilizing Pinterest in a couple of ways for virtual learning. If there isn’t a mechanism in your platform for creating student profiles or sharing headshots you might give the following instructions:

You’ve been invited to post on the XYZ Course Pinterest board.

  • Please pin a headshot on the board.
  • Tell us in the “Describe your pin…” section why you are taking the course and how you hope to use your learning after the course.
  • Look at pins from other students. Comment on at least three of them.

It could also be a way to gather ideas for a class project to apply the learning or a way to demonstrate how they applied the learning back on the job after the class.

How would you use Pinterest for a learning event?

Next Tool: Flipboard

10 Tools Challenge (1-5)

I had a really difficult time coming up with a list of 10 tools. I used Jane’s list of Top 100 Tools, but I already use a great number of them and others required subscriptions. I’m sticking to 100% free tools and apps for this challenge. I also fretted that new tools would debut this year that I’d like to include and I didn’t want to be married to a specific list. As a compromise, I chose 5 that I promise to review. The other 5 I’ll discover over the year. Deal?

Here is the list of 5:

  1. Pinterest. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m just now getting around to Pinterest. I thought it was just DIY and wedding planning, but I can see potential for gathering classroom resources and asking students to contribute. I’m also using it to plan a kindergarten Valentine’s Day party.
  2. Flipboard. This one really intrigues me and I think it will help me clean up some clutter of buttons on my phone and tablet home screens. It’s a customized one-stop shop for your news and social networks. It’s also visually stunning if you can trust the demo.
  3. Open Badges. I love having quick, visual ways to scan information. I also really miss my Girl Scout sash and all those badges. People love earning badges and will go a little farther just to get one. It’s motivation to learn by status and recognition.
  4. Pocket. I am forever emailing myself links to read later. They clutter my inbox and end up getting deleted during angry inbox cleaning sessions, never to be read. Pocket is a bookmarking service that delivers content in an organized way to your phone or tablet and stays the heck out of your inbox.
  5. Avatar Generators. I love sharing avatars in virtual learning environments. Many people don’t photograph well and dread sharing photos. Avatars are fun and can be customized to reflect hobbies and interests. I’ll review a number of avatar generators and share what I create with each one, features, etc.

For each tool or app I share I will try to demonstrate how it can be used in the virtual classroom. It’s possible I’ll find something that I can’t tie in, but is so great I just have to share. I’ll be clear if that’s the case. Stay tuned. I’ll review Pinterest and share my boards at the end of February.

Take Jane Hart’s 10 Tools Challenge in 2013

10_tools_challengeThe idea: choose 10 tools you’d like to investigate to use personally or professionally and try one out (roughly) each month this year. You could take the challenge yourself or follow my investigations.

If you choose to participate, I suggest following Jane Hart’s guidelines, summarized below:

  1. Select the 10 tools now or as you go. Make it something personally or professionally useful. Here is Jane’s list of Top 100 Tools to inspire you.
  2. Write an initial blog post or tweet to kick it off. Optional: leave a comment on Jane’s bog, Learning in the Social Workplace, to let her know you are participating.
  3. Write a monthly post featuring your tool review.
  4. At the end of the year, write a reflection post summarizing the experience.

Look for my list of ten next week and my first review in February!