Thursday, 26 May 2011
Assumptions in a Virtual World
In one of my previous blogs, I talked about my daily commute to London. One morning recently, my train pulled in to City Thameslink station and the usual crowd got up and left the train. In the ensuing - and brief - silence which followed, a woman standing at the door of the carriage called out "Is this City Thameslink?" Without giving it any thought, nor looking over my shoulder to see, I made a very presumptive judgement about her. "The station name's written on the wall! It's just been announced by the driver! Stupid woman." I didn't say that obviously, but I most definitely thought it!
But then I had another thought, "Hang on, who's being stupid here? What assumptions have I just made without checking? Maybe she's blind; or deaf; or both! Maybe she has learning difficulties, or is Dyslexic! Did I hear a foreign accent? Is English not her first language?" You see where I'm going with this. Because I couldn't see her or be bothered to find out anything about her, I made a horrible, knee-jerk, inappropriate judgement about her because of that one heard question. There, I'm glad I got that off my chest - confession is good for the soul!
Then I got to thinking how similar that situation is to that in which I have found myself when running virtual classroom sessions or webinars. My guess is that the majority of us don't use webcam or video in these sessions (bandwidth, etc), so we rely on our participants' voices, their web chat, their interaction with mark-up tools, responses to questions or polls, for us to get any sense of who they really are and the circumstances in which they are participating in our session.
But what don't we know or can tell from this? Are they private? Are they in a shared office? Can they interact freely? Are they shy? Do they have difficulty in seeing the screen? Do they need glasses? Are they 'newbies' to this environment? Do they not like the sound of their own voice? Is English not their first language? Is this session engaging enough? Am I encouraging participation with my questions, my polls, my arguments?
In the classroom, we identify some of these issues because we can see the learner and actively flex to engage them as we go along. Do we pay enough attention to the quiet ones in our online sessions, without those clues?
We talk a lot about non-verbal communication and how we rely on it to contextualise our face-to-face or classroom sessions. As my team and I look to retool, revitalise and revive our Virtual Classroom sessions and uptake, maybe we need to pay even more - and urgent - attention to our virtual interpretation and communication skills.
Have you got any similar experiences and/or hints and tips to share?