Teaching in the age of COVID-19: Small group conversations
Although you can still use technologies like Zoom or Webex to conduct small group meetings, residency programs may find it prudent to stick to known platforms rather than trying to upskill a large group of faculty and trainees. This is where technologies like Skype and Google Meets (which is the reinvented version of Google Hangouts) can come in. Of note, Google has recently announced that they have made their usually paywalled platform (Google Meet) free during the age of coronavirus, as their way of helping those schools and teachers looking to continue their practice during these difficult times.
These platforms that are already on most computers and phones make for easy connection. So whether you’re converting your IRL mentorship coffee shop meeting to a virtual meet up with a medical student mentee, or whether you’re linking a group of collaborators together to brainstorm new ideas for teaching content – these “classic” platforms may be quite useful.
P.S. For many people quarantined and some of our elderly friends and family that we are sure to visit, remember that Skype, Google Hangouts Meet, FaceTime, or even just a phone call can brighten someone’s day. With all this social distancing, it’s important to stay connected to friends and family. While you’re out there in the trenches fighting the fight to protect them, remember that some will feel rather isolated since we are advised to avoid visiting. You can share your love across these private chats or other social media, so don’t forget that. Lastly, avoid ageism and the assumption that your grandparents cannot handle social media. In the age of coronavirus, even Nonna’s can become YouTube famous!
Founded in 2003, this app-based product is primarily used to conduct an online video conference, or host an asynchronous chat. Skype has been used for both educational and clinical purposes ranging from transcontinental learning opportunities to various telemedicine applications [1,2]. The software supports both desktop and mobile users and is just fine to keep in mind for smaller programs or for organizing break out-groups. Up to 50 people can join in the video conversation at a single time.
- No account necessary to generate a meeting code to share or participate in a call.
- Free login to save recorded calls and chats.
- Ability to display a presentation or supplement materials.
- Ability to record the session and download as a file for up to 30 days after the event. If a member shares their screen, this will also be included in the recording.
- Potential to develop in-call polls.
- Registration provides an additional instant messaging function to use with others who have accounts.
- Voice-to-text transcription option available.
- Notifications when a newly written message is posted during the conference.
- Skype is a Microsoft product. If you are a superuser you can integrate plug-ins for other applications including PowerPoint and outlook.
- Not all web browsers are supported. Your options are Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or the Skype app.
- Without a registered account, there is no option to schedule a meeting before the event or save a recorded video.
- Saved videos do not include the chat bar used during the session. Tip: Make sure to copy-paste into another document if you want to save the written parallel conversation.
- The chat function is grouped by participants rather than by designating projects or topics.
Tips for success
- Know the limitations. This is a great, low to no cost application that allows for simple group interaction and content sharing.
- Log in early to get comfortable with the interface and ensure your internet connection will hold.
- Work on using interactive slides, questions, discussions, and audience participation to keep the learners engaged. Watching a floating head talk for an hour can start to get painful.
- Use the parallel chat function during your lecture for people to ask questions or participate. If you can designate a moderator to keep their eye on this, they can interject additional information as needed.
- Place a light source in front of you as you look at the screen/webcam to avoid a backlit screen.
- Try to turn off other applications before the call as the program can eat up a lot of computer memory.
- Test your audio and video before and use headphones.
- Make sure to remember to mute other participants who may be inadvertently contributing to ambient background noise.
- This is a very similar concept to other web-based video conferencing platforms we have reviewed in previous posts. Make sure to check out all of the other great tips for this type of presentation earlier on in this series!
Google Hangouts Meet
Google Hangouts Meet is a team-based conferencing service that allows for click-to-join video and audio meetings. Google Meet is part of the Google G Suite package, it is more commonly used for business meetings and webinars. Though not a free app, you can host up to 100 people depending on the plan you choose, although Google just announced they would give an expanded version to the world for free until July 1, 2020. Learn more about their set up here.
- Can join pre-scheduled meetings with ease using either calendar invites, via a link or phone access
- Integrates well into Gmail and Google Calendar.
- Easy to use on both mobile or desktop devices.
- Offers services like polls, recording meetings, and live streaming on the highest level plans.
- For certain packages, participants can join by phone which is helpful if WiFi is unreliable.
- Right now (and later, with the enterprise version) you can do a live stream for up to 10,000 people within a domain.
- Requires membership cost to Google G Suite, unlike the free (and now retired) alternative, Google Hangouts. The price ranges from $5/month to $25/month, normally. During the COVID-19 outbreak, Google is making it free to the world (until July 1, 2020).
- The bundled services of G Suite might not all be necessary There is no option to buy the app in isolation.
Tips for success
- Set ground rules about interruptions and pausing for others to finish their thought to minimize overspeaking
- Avoid meeting in loud places, private offices/rooms with reliable wifi or cellular service are ideal. If you do have to use public spaces, remember people may be able to hear YOUR side of the conversation, even if you have earbuds in.
Stay tuned for the rest of this burst series, and if you missed them, check out our introduction post and posts highlighting real time videoconferencing, and recording technologies, For more information regarding remote work and education, check out ALiEM Remote.
Don’t want to reinvent the wheel for your weekly resident conferences? Check out ALiEM Connect, a live educational telecast with a concurrent moderated backchannel discussion.
- Armfield NR, Bradford M, Bradford NK. The clinical use of Skype—for which patients, with which problems and in which settings? A snapshot review of the literature. International Journal of Medical Informatics. 2015;84(10):737-42. PMID: 26183642
- Boatin A, Ngonzi J, Bradford L, Wylie B, Goodman A. Teaching by teleconference: a model for distance medical education across two continents. Open journal of obstetrics and gynecology. 2015;5(13):754. PMID: 27239388/
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