It has been two weeks since I wrote a post about dealing with the coronavirus outbreak while being far from home. Back then, the situation was pretty different: we were just about to start working from home, the virus had just appeared in Turkey back then and we were more concerned about our families back in Poland then the society here. For those two weeks, the situation has been becoming more and more serious in Turkey, the numbers skyrocketed and now the country is dealing with more than 10,000 cases of contamination.
We have been at home ever since I wrote the last post, we only leave our home to go shopping for food once a week. Our courses and all other activities went online and this has been a great occassion to discover (or rediscover) some useful tools of collaboration through the Internet.
Online language lessons: the new facet of Conversation Clubs at Pi
First of all, we moved our Conversation Clubs (3 groups for English and 1 for French) online: from week to week we had to arrange the meetings with participants as conference calls and find a good online space to store the materials. Finding a solution was not a problem; there are so many tools accessible for both needs. But after the 2 weeks of trying some of them out, I can recommend some verified solutions that worked well.
Online conferencing tool
- First we tested Zoom https://zoom.us/ and I have to say that if only we could, we would stay with Zoom as it offers many interesting options, but unfortunately they have a 40-minutes limit on meetings with free accounts, and this is a big drawback in our situation as the lessons take 2 hours each. But if you need to connect with less than 100 people for less than 40 minutes, with a Zoom meeting you can not only share your screen, record the meeting and have a chat with all or selected participants, but also make notes on your presentation and save them afterwards – as shown below:
2. Then, thanks to a connection with the office team, we got to know about Google Meet https://meet.google.com/– part of G Suite for non-profits that allows you to host team meetings for your collaborators and people from outside your organization. It gives you all you need during a usual team connection – sharing your screen, having a chat or recording a meeting. Some drawbacks are that you cannot simply shedule a call with Google Meet – to do so, you have to go to your Google Calendar, schedule an event and add conferencing details – then you have an automatically generated Google Hangouts Meet link that you can share with the prospective call participants.
Alternatively, you can just create a meeting on https://meet.google.com/ giving it a specific name, save the link to the meeting and send it to your participants. This way you can also reuse the same link for many meetings. If the people you invited are from outside your organization, you will have to manually let them into the meeting. We now jumped to Google Meet from Zoom as it enables us to have longer meetings without interruptions.
3. Some other solutions – a usual Skype call ( https://www.skype.com/en/free-conference-call/ ) – all the basic functions you need for up to 10 participants (3 after 3 months). It might be a good solution if your meeting participants have been using Skype before and are not keen on testing new technologies. One more option is Jitsi meet ( https://meet.jit.si/ ) – a nice conference call tool if you do not need to schedule your call in advance.
Platform to store your materials for the lessons
If you are sharing your screen, you theoretically do not need to share any materials. Theoretically. We are all already aware that as so many parts of our lives went online worldwide, the connection standards are in most of the cases far from perfect. So, if some participants fail to join your classes because their Internet connection is not sufficient, cannot hear you or see your screen as frozen most of the time, or face any other type of technical difficulties – it is good for them to have acces to the materials from the lesson after the class. Also, it makes it much easier and more effective for the coordinator of the class. From the beginning, we have been using Google Classroom ( https://classroom.google.com/ ) and can sincerely recommend it as a nice tool for teachers. You can create here a stream for every class and manage materials in folders. Before making them visible to the participants of your courses, you can co-create them with another teacher (you can add collaborators with this role if you co-organize courses), save them as draft, schedule a material to be published on a particular time and edit it (as a teacher) all the time – before and after publishing. You can also share announcements with your class, i. e. share the link to the next video class.
Supporting each other and sharing best practices for the difficult times
Muhsin, one of the colleagues from the office team, responsible for the partnership department – me and Martyna are proud members of his partnership sub-team since November – came up with a highly appreciated idea of connecting with several partner organizations from European countries to have some space for discussion, mutual support and simply sharing thoughts under coronavirus lockdown. The call went really well, I was glad to participate in it, we shared many warm-hearted messages and I think that all of us felt stronger after this online connection (performed with Google Meet, by the way :)). I suggested we can also share some best practices for online communication and exchange links to nice software one can use while working remotely. Here are some of them:
- https://www.mindmup.com/ – free online mind-mapping tool that can be used for brainstorming, illustrating complex problems and discussing possible solutions.
- https://streamyard.com/ – a streaming platform where you can register calls, sessions or interviews and stream them directly to Facebook, Youtube or LinkedIn.
- https://biteable.com/ – a website you can use to prepare short explanatory videos without advanced video-making skills – many nice templates are available 🙂
I am striving to find some positive sides of the remote work resulting from the unexpected pandemics. I would say that the discovery of many tools I have not known before or just heard about but never decided to use is one of them. I am even thinking sometimes – maybe the current situation will have such a big impact that it will speed up the digital transition of many workspaces and of education systems in general?