Experience from leading my first virtual class

Until today we were accustomed to leading/attending classes in person. Due to the extremely complex situation we experience in terms of pandemic, we needed to adapt with the speed of light. The opportunity for us is to learn something new that may benefit in the future.

Switching to virtual classes may raise some reluctance or even fear from both sides – trainers and trainees. 

However, with a dedication, thorough preparation, rethinking how to make participants experience similar to an in-person class, you can create an unforgettable experience for your students!

The article is dedicated to both students and trainers.

Preparation

I knew that only the reduced number of tools used for the virtual class might work. I wanted to avoid context switching and confusion. Therefore, my goal was to have a maximum of two means – video and a workspace.

I had experimented with nearly 20 tools over a week before I made a final decision. I hypothesized that the tool must have:

  • Video with breakout rooms
  • Screen sharing
  • Whiteboard
  • Workspace easy to understand and intuitive
  • Possibility of adding pictures, graphs, charts, pictures, etc.
  • Virtual post-its
  • Ready to use templates

Finally, I decided to use Mural and Zoom. I do not mean that other tools were much worse. These two, I found the most intuitive and accessible, fulfilling all my criteria.

Besides tools, you must be prepared with a good microphone, camera, headphones, fast internet connection (for students stable Wi-Fi should be OK, however, if you are a trainer, I recommend Ethernet). Additionally, you can consider proper lighting. I also had physical flipchart and markers. 

The virtual class.

That was a Scrum.org’s Professional Scrum Product Owner – Advanced course. Two full days. Went great! We did the same exercises as during the in-person course. Using the virtual workspace and facilitation, continually asking for feedback, observing the group, their needs, I created comparable experience.

Virtual class by Magdalena Firlit
While leading the Professional Scrum Product Owner – Advanced class

Tips for trainers:

  • Timeboxes for virtual classes may be different. Sometimes the exercise went faster, or participants needed some more time. Observe them when they are working in groups.
  • Hide upcoming exercises in your virtual workspace. People might be curious and look at the next activity instead of focus on the current one. I had this situation and learned from that!
  • Use facilitation structures to increase creativity and collaboration during the class.
  • Ask for feedback and adapt accordingly.
  • Short lecture timebox, up to 15 minutes, in between exercises.
  • 10-15 minutes break every 50-70 minutes to keep people refreshed and active.
  • Lunch break. We had an hour.
  • Ask people to stand up or during the class or for a break.
  • Ask questions, give some tasks to run exercises to enable learning by practicing.
  • Don’t run the class as a boring lecture only with slides. You will send people to sleep!
  • A sense of humor is helpful from both sides.

Tips for participants:

  • Ask your trainer questions in a manner as during the in-person class. Use this time as the opportunity to practice and learn.
  • Give often feedback. A trainer might not catch everything like during physical contact with you.
  • Make sure the task to do is understandable. If not, raise your concerns with a trainer.
  • When you feel tired, do not hesitate to ask for a break!

Let’s compare the two types of classes. 

In-person class   Virtual class
Sometimes it requires travel and accommodation (both trainers and trainees). No travel or accommodation is needed, but you must fulfill minimum technical requirements.
A trainer must be prepared with all materials—no specific preparation for participants (besides pre-class prerequisites). Technical preparation for both students and trainers.  For trainers needs a demanding and time-consuming preparation (workspace). Requires solid technical equipment and connection to avoid any interruptions.
A parking lot often required 🙂 No parking lot needed 🙂
Physical exercises using walls and floor. A virtual workspace can replace physical activities creating a similar experience.
You can see all groups at once, observe them as a class. Using breakout rooms, you can follow the particular team by joining them. You cannot see all groups working at the same time; instead, you should ask for feedback more often.
Less technical interruptions, you can run/attend the class despite a lack of internet or projector. At least me. Possible issues when outage or internet connection. May spoil the whole class.
Surprises when the classroom is too small, or you are not allowed to hang posters on the wall. You can add to your workspace whatever is needed.
Physical contact. Lack of physical contact.

Final thoughts.

Despite some apparent differences, the learning value in my classes is the same. I gathered very positive feedback after this virtual class.

I can recommend virtual classes for those who are interested in gaining experience and knowledge, having in mind fewer possibilities for making long-term relationships.

I would recommend in-person classes for those who also value experience and knowledge and direct, F2F communication, wanting some additional events after the course (like having dinner, wine, beer, etc.), so making likely long-term relationships afterward.

I will be researching continually more tools to seek even better ways of course delivery. Tools are only tools; the most important is the trainer’s experience and facilitation; when it comes to students – openness for the exploration of new virtual reality, good mood, and sense of humor.

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