Put it in the Chat

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Once upon a time, when there was a seminar you got up very early, spent a large amount of money on a train fare, and a few hours later you arrived having in the meanwhile tried mostly unsuccessfully to do some meaningful work.

The upside of this was that whilst there you got to make a comment, often skilfully disguised as a question, and if you didn't like the response, you could say so and ask it again.  This offered you a modicum of agency which sometimes nearly made up for a disappointing experience and tedious journey.  And you got to talk to people over indifferent coffee.

Not any more.  With the rise of Teams/Zoom you can pitch up to a meeting with 2 minutes to go and take a stimulant of choice in the comfort of your own home.  What's not to like?  After all, it's easy and cheap and there's much less wear and tear on body and mind.

Well, there's a lot not to like as all we regular Teamers/Zoomers know full well.  Firstly there's the social isolation; not only are you incarcerated but you're in solitary confinement not able to talk with other participants.  There's no social interaction at all.  You are nearly always invisible and sometimes not even your name is on the screen and so no one has any idea who else is there.  You're always muted and so there's no hope of heckling – not that this is a regular seminar experience, but it's a useful safety value to have.

Worst of all, I think, you're completely in the hands of the chair / moderator who can do whatever they like, and you come across a lot of people who really do seem to think that they are very good at that sort of thing.  And moderators get little direct feedback about audience mood in the room largely because there isn't a room to worry about.

Ah, but what about the Chat, you say.  There's always the Chat.  And it's true that you can use that facility to send messages – mostly to moderators and sometimes to everyone or individuals, messages that they can ignore at their pleasure.  But the immediacy is completely lost; that face to face uncertainty which comes when someone stands up, opens their mouth, and you've no idea what's coming out (sometimes that includes the speaker).  Do you remember those moments in proper seminars when a presenter was caught short or completely caught out by an impactful left-field question?  I certainly do, having been on both ends of it a few times.

And there are no golden moments shared in the audience like that memorable day in Reading Town Hall at a CEE (blessed memory) conference with the UK's most prominent environmental educator talking on the stage when a student turned to me with a loud whisper: "That is rubbish, isn't it".  It was.  Alas on Zeam/Tooms it's all gone.

I began this post intent on writing about a 90 minute webinar I attended yesterday which was run by a multi-academy Trust [MAT] that takes itself very seriously.  It was on climate etc education.  It followed the usual format: an overlong intro, a few talking "expert" heads (several of whom talked too much), questions from the moderator to the experts, and then time for a modest bit of audience input via the Chat.  That's pretty standard.  What was unexpected was the final 10 minute puff extolling the virtues of a slick resource that the MAT was selling.  In the end I concluded that pushing this was probably the whole point of the event.  I'm not in the market.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • Another excellent story, this time about technology (couched within a seminar theme) and the inherent love many technocrats have with their 'toys.' This new electronic joy generation might be happy enough with the format, but the inherent need for humans to actually talk through social interaction (at coffee, over a beer, etc.) seems increasingly a more rare occurrence. Especially so since the Lockdowns. While for many of us 'older' generations, the non-verbal and non-formal interactions are a crucial component of our cognitive awareness of 'things' beyond the expectations, we are now seeing a generation of upcoming leaders who are incapable of hearing the nuances within a narrative.