Virtual vs In-person meetings in the Covid Era

Lyall Lukey, Convener of Education Leaders Forums (ELF), suggests that while in-person conferences are the ultimate, in an uncertain Covid environment and with barriers to participation such as time, travel and accommodation, spaced virtual sessions have compensating advantages-if run properly and if participants are not left to their own devices.

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Lyall Lukey, Convener of Education Leaders Forums (ELF), suggests that while in-person conferences are the ultimate, in an uncertain Covid environment and with barriers to participation such as time, travel and accommodation, spaced virtual sessions have compensating advantages-if run properly and if participants are not left to their own devices.

Elves BC

When I started planning the inaugural annual Education Leaders Forum in 2007 “ELF” was just an in-house acronym. But with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series, featuring interesting creatures, it was worth wider currency.

Elves were the first, fairest and wisest of any race of Arda given sapience in Tolkienian mythology. They were not subject to the depredations of age and, in a pre-Covid world, they were immune to illness. They could be killed only by violence or by extreme despair.

Elves have a short reproductive cycle and can hold their breath for a very long time. The evolutionary utility of the former is obvious; the futility of trying to change the latter, in a forum for educators who are sometimes more oral than aural, should not be underestimated.

Muddle Earth AC

In the third decade of the third millennium educators need to reflect on the learning changes and challenges accelerated by the twin Covid and Misinformation Pandemics and the urgent need to move to a low carbon future with new energy solutions.

Covid-19 and resulting variants have made us all participants in a global experiment reshaping how we learn, work and live. A year after New Zealand’s first lockdown some discernible education and leadership trends are emerging. One such is having more meetings online. This means using meeting technology appropriately and playing to its strengths and flexibility, not trying to mimic in-person meetings.

Ubiquity v Ubiety

Because of Covid disruption ELF20 Leading Change & Managing Transitions became a spaced series of 5 x weekly 90 minute interactive Zoom Meetings. It comprised a balance of stimulating Ted-type input and small group breakout conversations, supported by follow up digital resources.

In my first experience of Zoom hosting on a largish scale I tried humanizing the on-line experience by making good use of the key Zoom feature: the breakout rooms for involving participants in small group, genuine conversations to process each speaker’s input. At the start of each short session I avoided an initial goldfish bowl view of competing unmuted mouths reminiscent of the social use of the platform during lockdown. Instead I used relevant short video clips and icebreakers to ease people into each spaced short Zoom session as they came on board. See the largely positive feedback.

Many online events are still being run in the same time spans as previously in-person fixtures. This makes no sense educationally now there are widely used alternatives for replacing in-person feasts followed by famines with a spaced and digestible digital diet of food for thought and action. Via ELF the virtual, sampled live or asynchronously by members of the senior leadership team of a learning community, can be followed up in-person with their immediate colleagues.

This cost and time affordable, spaced approach will be followed for Virtual ELF21, which will comprise two short series in June and September under the umbrella theme Shaping Tomorrow Today-Big ideas and growing trends.

ELF21 Series 1: Knowledge Ecology in the Covid Era

 Series I picks up on ideas, technology and trends that are defining future learning and work practices. 4, weekly 90 minute Zoom Meetings from Wed 9 June to Wed 30 June feature interesting speakers and breakout conversations, supported by digital resources.

In the words of Edward de Bono “A trend can be toward something or away from it. There is a considerable advantage in noticing and acting on a trend before others.”

The theme and strands cover lockdown leadership lessons for educators, global energy challenges and local solutions, lateral thinking and innovation and the acceleration of online learning, as well as major changes to vocational education and training in the wake of the formation of Te Pūkenga and in response to changes in the nature of work.

ELF has always placed an emphasis on providing useful digital resources for ELF participants to share with their colleagues to work on their own issues in their own learning communities. The built-in video recording options of Zoom Meetings simplifies this and the screen sharing feature allows a range of other resources to be sampled.

 Education Evolution

“It’s always important we continue to think about how to evolve schooling so the kids get the most out of it.”  Miguel Cardona, New US Education Secretary

New Zealand’s national and regional Covid lockdowns, through shorter than elsewhere, affected most aspects of education at once. It was not just the move from classrooms to remote devices; it tested basic ideas about teaching and learning, the role of Edtech, attendance, assessment and the human nexus that holds it all together. Lockdowns have also pointed to obvious inequities in resources and support for learners at the school family and workplace levels.

Back to the Past?

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Peter Drucker

A year after New Zealander’s first lockdown, despite lots of a rethinking, it is not a given that some education changes caused or reinforced by Covid will last. In Session 1 of ELF21 Education Futurist Derek Wenmoth, will suggest that the pandemic has thrown back the curtain on a great deal of what needs to be improved or addressed in our current education system.

He questions whether Covid lockdown lessons in leading and learning have been applied or just forgotten. The responses we saw during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns promised some transformative action and outcomes. But slowly we’ve seen a ‘return to the old normal’ mindset. The big ideas that were evident have faded into obscurity as the old patterns of thinking and acting take over.

 Forward to the Future!

“2020 reinforced the fact….Network is just omnipresent,. We aren’t going online. We live online.”  Om Malik, True Ventures

What are the forward facing big trends and ideas with which educators and others need to grapple? To start with there has been a deepening of online living, learning and working, at least for those with devices, bandwidth and digital skills. Teaching, coaching, meetings and conferences have been rethought: originally for convenience, then for safety, later for effectiveness and efficiency in a giant acceleration of ongoing trends.

 Ecology Knowledge

“From early humans rubbing sticks together to make fire, to the fossil fuels that drove the industrial revolution, energy has played a central role in our development as a species. But the way we power our societies has also created humanity’s biggest challenge. It’s one that will take all our ingenuity to solve”.  Justine Rowlatt & Laurence Knights

Dr Amelia Sharman, Head of Policy at Ara Ake, New Zealand’s Energy Centre, will help shift thinking forward to the future with her presentation Tomorrow’s Energy: Climate change imperatives and energy-related innovation: implications for educators and learners.

 Ecological thinking is a powerful lens for understanding complex adaptive systems in terms of the relations of organisms-and organizations-to one another and to their environment -and their interdependence. It helps focus on understanding dynamic systemic change requiring adaptability, resilience and flexibility. These concepts are useful models and metaphors for leading change.

 A new era of innovation?

“….Today a dawn of technological optimism is breaking. The speed at which covid-19 vaccines have been produced has made scientists household names. Prominent breakthroughs, a tech investment boom and the adoption of digital technologies during the pandemic are combining to raise hopes of a new era of progress.” The Economist 16/1/21

Despite or perhaps because of ongoing Covid uncertainty, according to the Economist there is a realistic possibility of a new era of technological innovation that could lift living standards, especially if governments help new energy and other technologies to flourish. This will reinforce the need for new knowledge and new skills.

X10 Thinking: Total rethinks not tweaks

“Thinking outside the square- total rethink-not just tweak… involves two basic processes: escaping from your current view of the situation and searching for a much better view of the situation.” Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, School of Thinking

When it comes to doing things differently and better how many of your education colleagues appear to have been inoculated against real change? What can you do as an education leader to engage them in a process which lowers change resistance and openness minds to fresh possibilities?                                                

In Session 2 on 16 June Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, School of Thinking, Sydney addresses the challenge of leading change and innovating. Why is it hard to get buy-in? “Because the most difficult feat in human thinking is to escape from your present point of view”.

How do you overcome change resistance in yourself and your colleagues? In the human brain lateral thinking is not natural but it can be done. Michael will demonstrate how to tap the Power of x10 Thinking- new software for your brain to accelerate your and your colleagues’ innovation capacity and speed of thought.

Sharpening Skills and Trading Up

The Covid Economy has underscored shifting priorities for Vocational Education and Training and amplified the need for a re-balancing in tertiary education between universities and Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), now under the umbrella of  Te Pūkenga. Session 3 on 23 June will provide interesting perspectives in a conversation between Diane Lithgow, Skills Consulting Group, Helen Down, Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce and Ben Naughton, WITT.

Leaders Leading Better

The final session on 30 June will address the twin challenges for education leaders of overcoming resistance to change while building mentally healthy leadership teams.

Cathy SheppardBSI People Skills, suggests that Covid has shown we need to prepare students for a very different world from what we grew up in, with the pace of change increasing exponentially. She asks how can what we’ve learnt recently change the way we can lead better when it comes to communication, adaptability, resilience and culture change, so our students will be better equipped to respond to the unfolding needs of humanity.

Mentally Healthy Workplaces

In many organizations there is now a major focus on mentally health. How can a learning community be an open, safe and supportive mentally healthy workplace?

Anne Riches, The Mindfield Navigator, Sydney, in a conversation with ELF convener Lyall Lukey, will discuss the importance of creating mentally healthy workplaces and learning spaces.

Drawing from her own personal and professional experience as a change leadership specialist working with hundreds of organizations in Australia and around the world, Anne increasingly works with leaders to be mentally healthy themselves; recognize, support and effectively manage colleagues who are struggling and create psychologically safe places to work and learn.

 PD to Go 

In-person meetings may be the ultimate, but the interactive Zoom Meeting platform, ranked the Best overall video chat app, has many compensating advantages.

Not only are the time and money costs of virtual sessions much less than in-person, meetings and training sessions are more accessible to more peopleThe simple-to-use Zoom free app takes meetings to where registrants are. Zoom breakouts enable high quality dialogue, networking and knowledge sharing.

The spaced, varied menu of food for thought and action is sounder educationally than the big dollops delivered in the traditional feast then famine approach of all day or multi-day events.

2017 study suggested that “bursty” communication, where people exchange ideas rapidly for a short period of time, leads to better performance than constant, but less focused, communicationThis is very relevant for remote teams or groups of colleagues in the Covid era.

Virtual ELF is a great way to sample global professional development resources that can then be shared in-person in a local environment. Replicability is a very ELFful benefit!

 Lyall Lukey, Virtual ELF21 Convener  More about Series 1


ELF21- Registrations Now Open

Series 1 features thought and practice leaders in live TED-type presentations and small group conversations, reinforced by post-session digital resources Register Now