The Voice of a Facilitator
As we enter into the 15th month of what most of us could not have imagined, we find ourselves grappling with how to continue providing engaging professional learning.
In March 2020 we started down a road of what we thought were temporary measures of meetings and learning on ZOOM. As the weeks turned into months, weariness started to occur. Zoom fatigue became a real thing.
Now, we are into our 2nd pandemic year and ZOOM may very well be the new reality for many of us in how we engage in teaching and learning.
This realization has brought to the forefront questions such as, what does engagement look like on a virtual platform? How do we make our own learning meaningful? Is the camera off or on? Can we be engaged without the camera? Should having the camera on or off be mandated?
As we have discovered, there is no easy answer.
In my role as a Professor and lifelong learner, I have turned to learning new strategies for engaging those without a camera on.
Virtual platforms have brought many considerations forward that in 2019 we would never have fathomed. The number one factor being privacy issues and etiquette when a camera is on.
In the early days of the pandemic, platforms struggled and internet capacities often determined how many cameras could be on. Where you are when you turn your camera on is also important for both the learner and the facilitator. Zoom backgrounds and other digital features have been developed so participants can protect their privacy when and if needed. Photos can be added to the screen when cameras are off.
Having considered all this, it still remains a vastly different experience as a presenter who previously relied on reading the room, the faces of the learners, non-verbal communication, and other visual cues to gauge the engagement of the group.
I am leaning into this new reality and rethinking my perspective.
Insights from Katie Novak in her article, To Turn the Camera On or Off, have been particularly helpful.
“I think it really comes down to firm goals and flexible means. The goal is not that we see people but rather the goal is that people are actively engaged in learning, both professional and educational” (Novak, 2020).
What we do know for certain though, in the words of Glennon Doyle, is that “we can do hard things!”
The Voice of a Learner
When arriving at a virtual learning session as a learner, I have found my comfort level with my own camera being on or off, as well as how I may feel about or interpret the camera status of my peers, has been dependent on the context of the session.
During a Professional Learning opportunity largely centred around a facilitator lecturing, for example, personally, whether I can see the videos of my fellow ZOOM attendees or not, has no consequence for me.
This feeling changes rather drastically, however, once the context changes to a session more reliant on discussion and interaction. In the silence after a question is posed by the facilitator, I find myself wondering if others are actually attending the session, or if perhaps they have left. If I find myself being the only attendee with my camera on (and this circumstance has arisen) I feel a heavy sense of responsibility to be the one who answers the question, to be the one who fills the silence.
I attended a virtual learning opportunity not too long ago where I was the only one with their camera on in my assigned breakout room. I tried to start a conversation with the other attendees but didn’t get any response. Faced with black squares and silence, I turned off my camera and waited for it to end. I felt embarrassed and sorry for myself.
I think I had expectations of my fellow participants to make the session engaging and meaningful, and I felt resentful that I wasn’t getting what I needed from them.
Reflecting on these experiences, I wonder if it is really so different from being face to face at an event? I have been to conferences where the people sitting at my table have been reluctant to engage, yet somehow, it didn’t evoke the same intensity of feeling for me as the empty squares on ZOOM seem to. Why?
In both scenarios, it isn’t the responsibility of my peers to ensure I get the most from my professional learning, it is mine. It isn’t up to me to decide the validity of what other people’s engagement looks like, it is up to me to be a reflective professional and ensure I am learning, adapting, and evolving my practice based on my own learning journey and goals.
Maybe the black screens on ZOOM are there to remind me to give my colleagues and peers the space and autonomy over their own learning journeys that they are entitled to and deserve.
It is hard to believe that 15 months after shifting all of our professional learning offerings online, we would still find ourselves here, living and learning in this way. The pandemic has disrupted our ways of being, working and connecting and altered Strive operations dramatically.
At a recent community meeting, we were discussing the challenges of virtual learning, pandemic fatigue, and the whole cameras on or off debate. We were marveling at, regardless of the status of the cameras, how absolutely blown away we have been by the ongoing commitment to professional learning demonstrated by the child care community.
Despite it all, the stress, the anxiety, the enhanced screening and cleaning protocols, the disrupted connections with families, coworkers and the community, and the general malaise of living through a global pandemic, Early Childhood Educators and early years professionals have shown nothing but resilience and dedication to their practice. We know you are tired. We know it has been hard.
And yet, there you are.
Logging on after a long day to learn something new, to connect with other professionals, and to continue working toward your goals.
A colleague shared with us that in speaking with her Educators, they described that in a time when there has been so much loss, when so much has been out of our control, their professional learning journeys have been something that they alone have autonomy over. It is something they CAN control. And the ownership and empowerment that derives from that has been very meaningful. We don’t know if that resonates with any of you but for us, it was profound.
When planning and hosting professional learning opportunities it can be easy to get caught up in our own expectations of how we think things “should” go or “should” look. This dialogue about virtual engagement has had us revisit and reflect on our why. There is no playbook for how to navigate professional learning in a virtual world. We are all just doing our best. And even if we can’t “see” you, we do see you, and that is what counts.
Katie Novak perhaps describes it best when she says; “since many people are learning in their own environments, I think it’s important that we share that we do encourage video, and we find great value in seeing faces, but understand there may be barriers to that” (2020).
We are proud to be a part of this community, we are grateful for your participation, and we thank you for all the important work you do.
We look forward to continuing to support you virtually, and, hopefully, some time, not too long from now, in-person again!
Written by Sheryl Third, RECE, MA., and Amanda Seabrook, RECE, Hons. BA. With and afterword from the Strive Team.
What has your experience with virtual professional learning been? Share with us in the comments below!
Sheryl Third, is an RECE and fulltime faculty member at Fanshawe College in the Early Childhood Education Program. Sheryl has a passion for teaching and learning and is active in her community as a member of the Strive Advisory Committee and Professional Learning Committee. Sheryl has a Masters in Educational Studies. Her research interest is in mentoring and reflective practice as tools for professional learning. Most importantly however, Sheryl is a mother of three and a proud Nana to two beautiful granddaughters.
Amanda Seabrook is Strive’s Project Coordinator and a Registered Early Childhood Educator. Amanda is bilingual and has lived in London all her life. In her spare time Amanda loves birding, being out in Nature, reading, knitting, and cross-stitch.
I feel for me there is less question about this as time goes on. I have developed a good sense of what is appropriate for me in a particular session. If we are in small groups I feel as though the camera on is the best fit. In large lecture style sessions I feel less pressure to have my camera on. The problem when I do this however is I busy myself with other things and am not attentive as I need to be. Many people can have a session on as background noise and get the full understanding of the information but I know that’s not me. I need the camera on to be more accountable to my own learning.
Sheryl and Amanda:
Thanks for this perspective.