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Case Studies: Balzer

Facilitating at the Crossroads: The Emergence of Multiple Venue Productions/Presentations (MVPs)

Dan Balzer, MA
Teaching/Learning Instructional Designer, ILCCO Learning Academy


ABSTRACT
This paper describes the logistical and pedagogical elements of facilitating a “multiple venue production/presentation” (MVP). An MVP is defined as a synchronous event with both an online and face-to-face audience. The case study is based on a professional development workshop conducted at the ION – Faculty Summer Institute in May 2004. Virtual classroom software from Elluminate Live was used to connect an online facilitator, based in Minneapolis, with a f2f workshop in Springfield, IL. The paper explores the key role of the facilitator in being “pedagogically intentional” toward both audiences. Recommendations are made on how to incorporate MVPs into professional development and higher education courses.

KEYWORDS
live, synchronous, face-to-face, f2f, online, conference, facilitation, professional development, virtual classroom, workshop, Faculty Summer Institute, scenario-based teaching, Elluminate


INTRODUCTION

The problem
Randall Kindley, a colleague, and I were invited to facilitate a one and a half hour workshop at the Illinois Online Network - Faculty Summer Institute in Springfield, IL. The Faculty Summer Institute is a three day conference for Illinois community college educators that focuses on tools, tips and strategies for enhancing online teaching and learning. Our topic was The Art of Scenario-based Teaching Online. We had designed a model for creating scenarios that could be used to engage online students in solving real-world problems. I felt Randall’s experience in corporate eLearning would greatly enhance the session.

Randall, who lives in Minneapolis, had planned to fly down for the three day conference but a schedule conflict made it impossible for him to attend the event in person. I was very disappointed since I had counted on his expertise in co-facilitating the event.

The solution
A couple weeks later it suddenly dawned on me that we had the necessary tools to have Randall participate. I sent Randall an email saying, “Let’s have you there virtually using Elluminate [http://www.elluminate.com/] in LearningTimes. [http://www.learningtimes.org/]” The virtual office which LearningTimes.org had made available to us uses Elluminate Live as a synchronous presentation tool within a virtual classroom space. Always willing to try something new in the online environment, he immediately agreed to give it a try. We decided that Randall would participate from Minneapolis through an audio/chat feed using Elluminate and I would facilitate “on-the-ground” in Springfield, IL. I had worked with guest presenters in my online class before using asynchronous discussion boards but I had never attempted a live online co-facilitator in a f2f setting. It promised to be a clear test of my facilitation style and skills to facilitate a f2f real-time workshop with an online co-facilitator.

In a subsequent dialogue with Jonathan Finkelstein, founder of LearningTimes.org, about this type of dual delivery event he referred to it as “Multiple Venue Production/Presentation” (MVP). The name (and the acronym) have stuck! A straightforward definition of an MVP is simply this: A live learning event with online and face-to-face participants. The diagram below depicts the various configurations that MVPs can take. The red dotted lines indicate the participants involved in this MVP.

Historical context of MVPs
The hosting of events that combine participants through different types of technology is not a new concept in higher education. Satellite broadcasts offered through such organizations as Dallas TeleLearning [http://telelearning.dcccd.edu/] regularly bring educators together from many different physical locations for professional development. For years, instructors have been using multiple modes to speak to two audiences or more in real-time. Some examples are two-way interactive television between satellite campuses, cable to the home, and even teleconferencing.

However, the emergence of internet-based virtual classrooms equipped with two-way audio, chat and whiteboard tools provide educators with an intriguing permutation of the former approaches. Software developed by companies such as Elluminate and HorizonWimba [http://www.horizonwimba.com/] make it fairly easy to bring online and face-to-face (f2f) learners together in real-time. Virtual classrooms and f2f classrooms can now be joined together through an internet connection, a user interface and multimedia projector. Based on my recent exploration of this approach, it is evident that MVPs are a rapidly growing phenomenon, particularly for professional development. I also see great potential for using MVPs to enhance activities in f2f classes. The dilemma I was facing at the ION Faculty Summer Institute gave me the opportunity to explore a new mode of facilitation at the crossroads of emerging technologies.

METHOD

In the following section I will describe how I planned and delivered the MVP using an “as it happened” narrative style. I will highlight the challenges that I faced in regards to both the process as well as the pedagogy. My intention is that you will gain insight and inspiration to develop and deliver an MVP of your own.

Pre-event planning
I contacted the ION staff to determine whether the room where I would be presenting had a high speed Internet connection. They confirmed that this would be available and I knew I was set. The other tools I would need were my laptop and a basic microphone. I also obtained a small pair of external speakers to hook up to my laptop.

For the next several weeks, Randall I used our virtual office in LearningTimes.org to plan the session. The virtual office used the Elluminate software and this was the same tool we planned to use during the actual workshop. It was helpful to develop confidence in the interface as we held our planning meetings.

An hour prior to the session I set up the computer in the training room with speakers and a microphone and logged into our office in LearningTimes.org. I uploaded the PowerPoint presentation and also opened an identical copy on my desktop. At 9:30 am, 15 minutes before the official start time of the session, I conducted a sound check with Randall. I greeted him and he said, “How are you doing, Dan?” I responded with a “doing fine” and then quickly let him know that he was already live. Randall was not aware that he was already being heard in the room as participants were signing in.

Randall and I had decided ahead of time which parts of the PowerPoint he would present. As the face-to-face facilitator, I felt that it would be easiest to have him present content segments that could be done without requiring back and forth dialogue with the participants. So my assumption was that he would basically be a “content provider” while I facilitated the questions and fostered critical thinking around the activities we had planned.

During the Event

Challenge 1 – Connecting through audio
We began by introducing ourselves and then moved into the first activity. I asked everyone in the room (12 people) to briefly share an insight they had gained in the conference so far which they hoped to implement when they went home. As soon as the first couple people started sharing and were out of ear shot of the microphone, Randall posted this comment in the chat area, “Can you summarize what they are saying?” A simple solution would have been to have additional external microphones placed in the room closer to where the participants were sitting so that Randall could hear them when they spoke.

Challenge 2 – Involving the online presenter
I realized we had not made a plan for how Randall would know what was going on in the f2f room. It dawned on me that he was expecting to take a much more active role in the whole session than I had assumed. He needed a way to “hear” and “see” what was going on in the room.

What should I do? After about 6 people had spoken I stopped and said, “I would like to summarize your stories for Randall” and proceeded to select 2 stories to share.

We then continued, but I realized that it would be redundant and time-consuming to repeat everything that was said. I decided to use the chat area to “blog” the participants’ comments and questions. This meant I was both looking down at my computer while typing and trying to give full attention to the participants. This felt a lot like simultaneous interpretation – typing with my hands, while listening and interacting with the participants.

Challenge 3 – Ignoring the participants
As this scenario emerged I wondered to myself: Did the participants find my typing distracting? Did they feel a little less heard by me since I was multi-tasking? Did it perhaps encourage a greater learner-to-learner dialogue since I was clearly putting important energy into interacting with my virtual co-facilitator as well? I was thankful for my experience as an oral interpreter and actually quite enjoyed the improvisational challenge in which I was engaged.

Challenge 4 – Fostering dialogue
Throughout the workshop, I left the Talk button selected in the Elluminate interface so that Randall could hear at least some of what was happening in the room and could follow my facilitation. He resorted to using the chat area to provide feedback on what he heard the participants saying. At opportune moments I would share his contributions with the rest of the group. At one point he even commented on an example I had given saying, “Great example!” So we even experienced “blended collegiality”.

After the first half of the workshop we took a break. Randall typed, “Taking a break. BRB.” When he returned he typed, “I’m back.” This kind of detailed information about his movements was very helpful to me in knowing how to effectively draw him in.

Challenge 5 – Generating engagement
The plan for the second part of the workshop was to walk the participants through a 7 step process for writing a scenario they would use in an online learning module. Rather than clicking through the PPT slides in Elluminate, at this point I switched to the identical PowerPoint slides which I had loaded on the desktop. In this way the full functionality of PPT was available to me. At this transition I said to Randall, “We are going to work our way through the scenario-building activity so we won’t have interaction with you at this point.” I made sure to leave the microphone on so he could follow my facilitation of the activity.

Challenge 6 – Ending well
Participants were very focused during the scenario-building activity and showed real enthusiasm for what we were doing. As we neared the end of the session we had to move quite quickly through the final elements of the scenario-building sequence. Time ran out and. I gave Randall a moment to make final comments and he said, “I really want to hear what you have created.” Reading the nonverbal communication in the room, I realized that the participants were preparing to run to the next session. But Randall showed so much enthusiasm that I asked for several to share their scenarios which they did. When I heard the creative and well-written scenarios that they had created in such a short period of time, I was gratified to recognize that our intended outcomes for the session had been realized.

Post-event reflections
In retrospect I am very glad for Randall’s persistence in asking for a demonstration of the “product” that the participants had created using our scenario design model. What we heard from the participants during the demonstrations confirmed that the session had been a meaningful learning experience. The way the final moments of the workshop played themselves out revealed to me that our “co-”facilitation had been just that. Though not physically present in the room, Randall’s virtual facilitation had a direct impact on the progression and ultimate success of the workshop. I should note that Randall and I had worked together on other virtual projects in the past and went into this session with a high level of comfort and trust. (We have actually never met face-to-face.) Randall and I were both very cognizant of our intended learning outcomes for the workshop and so were both able to make adjustments in the facilitation in a fairly dynamic (if not spontaneous) manner.

Meeting the various facilitation challenges while delivering an MVP requires what I call “learning live”.

In facilitating the MVP, some previously invisible “process elements” became part of the mainstream interaction. At times, it was necessary to make process comments to Randall in the hearing of the participants. For example, as I made the segue to the segment on scenario-based elearning, I said to Randall, “I’m keeping an eye on the clock and let’s do this segment in 3 to 4 minutes”. The response from Randall was, “OK, that’s no problem.” In a 100% virtual setting, these kinds of interactions are typically done using the private chat feature. In the f2f setting these process adjustments are typically communicated either nonverbally (e.g. Pointing at a watch) or in side conversations between the facilitators during transitions. So I realized that in an MVP the facilitators have to be comfortable letting the participants in on their decision-making process to a greater degree than in single venue workshops.

Evaluation or What I will do the next time

  • I will be much more intentional in creating meaningful activities that connect the two venues and foster interaction between all participants. For example, I will plan the session with specific interaction questions that the virtual facilitator injects into the session. When the f2f participants ask a question that can be addressed by someone in the virtual classroom, I will refer the question to the online participant. I call this being “pedagogically intentional” toward both audiences.
  • I will have a “blogger”/moderator in the f2f room sitting at a laptop interacting with the virtual facilitator and being his/her eyes and ears. In this case study, there was just the co-facilitator in the online venue, but when there are more online participants it is even more essential to have someone working as the link between the online participants and the f2f participants.
  • I will place additional microphones throughout the room so that online participants can hear everything that is being said in the room. This is easily done with a multiple jack adapter.
    I will provide more information at the beginning of the session for the virtual participants – ie. number of people in the room, transitions being made with late-comers or disruptions. One strategy I will use it to take a digital picture of the f2f room and upload it into the virtual classroom for the online participants to see.
  • I will definitely project the virtual classroom interface on the screen (as I did in this first session) in order to provide a balanced focus on participants in both venues.

Educational Applications of MVPs

MVPs, like all emerging technologies, should be used not for their innovative qualities, but to implement clear learning outcomes. That being said, I encourage you to try it out. As long as you tell the learners what you are doing and why, they are usually very tolerant and even interested in being part of an experiment where they are able to contribute in a meaningful way.

There are several useful applications of MVPs for both the f2f classroom and in professional development activities for faculty.

Applications for the f2f classroom

  • Web-enhance a f2f class with an online guest presenter.
  • Co-facilitate a f2f class session with another scholar.
  • Engage in collaborative international projects by bringing students together from another part of the country or from overseas.

Applications for professional development

  • Make your f2f professional development events more accessible to adjunct faculty by adding an online element. NOTE: Even if the online attendance at the given event is small, the archive of the session can be re-used as part of future professional development sessions.

Tools for Designing an MVP

A follow-up webinar was held on July 15, 2004 after the initial MVP to bring together “MVP enthusiasts and practitioners” from around the world to give shape to the concepts, roles and approaches that are essential in designing and delivering an MVP. Several insightful rubrics and job aid elements from that session helped refine the concepts presented in this case study. I offer them here for your consideration.

Rubric on How to Design and Facilitate an MVP
This rubric was developed by Carole McCulloch, LearnScope Manager at the Swinburne University of Technology (TAFE) in Australia.

Reasons to use MVPs
These suggestions were drawn from the chat comments during the follow-up webinar.

Roles on an MVP Design Team
During the follow-up webinar, participants also fleshed out the key traits of some of the roles needed to successfully design, develop and deliver an MVP. The roles include: onsite facilitator, online facilitator, producer, online and/or onsite technician, participant, armchair commentator, skeptic. NOTE: It is not uncommon for one person to play several of these roles. In my MVP, I played the role of producer, onsite facilitator and technician.

These charts present the traits of three key roles:

Online communities that frequently host MVPs

  • eLearning Guild – http://www.elearningguild.com (subscription based)
  • LearningTimes.org – http://www.learningtimes.org (free)
  • TLTGroup – http://www.tltgroup.org (primarily subscription-based, some free events)

 

Conclusion

The case study presented here is just one example of how emerging technologies can be used to add a dynamic dimension to a learning event. I am challenged by a few closing questions:

  • In what contexts would an MVP add value to the training that I do?
  • What role would I play most effectively in an MVP event – online facilitator, f2f facilitator, producer, participant?
  • What “means for learning” (ie. technology tools) do I have readily available that could combine in a new way to create a learning event?

I am sure that one burning question you have is, “Where can I get access to the virtual classroom software to create my own MVP?” If you are interested in facilitating an MVP for a local (or global) event, feel free to contact me at dpbalzer@onebox.com. I would be happy to put you in contact with several organizations that could facilitate this type of event with the software and expertise to get you started.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to the ION FSI workshop participants who were willing to experience a new form of professional development. The ION staff were very supportive and provided the physical space and Internet connection in which to conduct the MVP. It was a great pleasure to team up virtually with Randall Kindley. The colleagues at LearningTimes and Elluminate were also key in making the virtual classroom space available for this MVP.

The follow-up webinar in LearningTimes.org was an extensive collaborative effort. Thanks to Randall Kindley for the graphics, Jonathan Finkelstein, founder of LearningTimes for key definitions and sample MVPs, and Carole McCulloch, LearnScope Manager at the Swinburne University of Technology (TAFE) in Australia for the MVP design rubric.

BIOGRAPHICAL STATEMENT
Dan Balzer is the Teaching/Learning Instructional Designer with the ILCCO Learning Academy based at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, IL. The ILCCO Learning Academy serves the faculty of all 48 community colleges in Illinois through the design, development and delivery of faculty development programs for online teaching. In this capacity, he has facilitated face-to-face and online faculty development workshops on a variety of topics including accelerated learning, effective use of electronic publisher resources, and adapting face-to-face courses for the online environment. Through the ILCCO Learning Academy, he has also piloted a unique series of scenario-based online faculty development courses in Illinois. Dan has recently designed and delivered a scenario-based online course on Cross-cultural Issues in Health Care Interpreting: English/Spanish for the Health Care Interpreting Program at Waubonsee Community College.

Dan has a B.A. in History from the University of Winnipeg in Canada and an MA in education from Wheaton College Graduate School. Having completed these degrees prior to the rise of the Internet, Dan considers himself a “digital immigrant” and has found it exhilarating to “move into” online communities and listservs to explore new models for designing effective learning experiences.

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