Last week I delivered a one-hour webinar to a global group of 100+ learning professionals for a client. The content was very well received, but do you know what impressed them the most? My PRODUCER! She managed so much more than the technology; she acted as my instructional partner, and convinced our client that she needed to add producers to her virtual learning team.
A producer can help transform virtual training into trouble-free, fast moving, interactive events that keep learners involved and the facilitator on track. In short, the facilitator can stay focused on content while the producer takes care of everything else.The traditional classroom facilitator is a very busy person. In addition to delivering content, he or she facilitates interaction between participants, manages tools such as the LCD projector, writes on whiteboards and flip charts, and interprets the body language of learners. Constantly gauging participants' interest and comprehension, the facilitator also makes on-the-fly adjustments to the program design; for example, shortening breaks, lengthening days, or skipping content. By any standard, the facilitator's job requires constant attention and total concentration.
In the new virtual environment, many facilitators choose to not take advantage of all of the tools available to increase interaction. They can't see themselves being able to multitask to the extent required, so they limit participant use of chat, whiteboard tools, and other interactive features of the virtual classroom. The facilitator's role is then reduced to pushing content and lecturing, instead of facilitating interactions and knowledge sharing.
The solution to this dilemma lies in the role of the instructional producer.
Virtual instructional producers act as the technological expert on the virtual platform as well as a co-facilitator. These professionals are also familiar enough with the course content to be able to offer comments on content topics.
Using an instructional producer in a team teaching setting provides the following advantages:
- Opportunity to maximize engagement. By adding to conversations, offering opinions on content, and helping to deliver pieces of content, participant engagement can truly be increased. With multiple people taking care of their needs, they are more likely to not feel lost in cyberspace.
- A different voice to debrief exercises. Engaging virtual classroom events include activities that solicit information from participants via chat, whiteboard activities, and polls. The instructional producer should be ready to collect, summarize, and provide opinions on the results of these activities.
- Advocate for the participants. If the facilitator is taking care of content and trying to process information coming from multiple channels, someone has to look out for the participants. Instructional producers keep the facilitator in check! I ask the team members that support me to let me know when I am confusing and when I am talking too much. Also, I expect advice on the customization of exercises based on the needs of the specific audience.
- No learner left behind! The instructional producer should keep an 'eye out' for all participants during the session to make sure they are engaged, and then suggest strategies to the facilitator (via a chat backchannel) to re-integrate individuals back into the session.
- Creates a trouble free, fast moving environment where students are able to be engaged by the facilitator. By being flexible the producer can add value to the class by creating in the moment whiteboards or breakout rooms via the facilitator’s prompting to meet the NEEDS of the class.
Here are 10 tips to maximize the relationship between the virtual facilitator and instructional producer:
- Manage communication with participants. In virtual and blended learning situations, participants can often feel very disconnected. This circumstance can result in a very unmotivated participant. The instructional producer should create a communication plan so participants know what to expect, and also have some availablity to respond to or even meet with participants who require instructional or technical support.
- Always take the advice of your instructional producer seriously, and solicit contributions. He/she has a different perspective than you do, and that can only add to the success of your class.
- Create a leader guide that specifically outlines production tasks. For example, include instructions for writing on the whiteboard, conducting warm-up exercises, and pasting text into the chat area. The guide should be very specific and cover the 'when' and the 'why' in addition to the 'what'. Formatting the guide so that the production tasks can be quickly identified will help the facilitator be better prepared for times when a producer isn't available. Reading over the lists of tasks, the facilitator can make informed decisions about which items he is able to manage on his own and which need to be modified in the absence of that second pair of hands.
- Meet at least a week ahead of time to walk through and discuss the exercises. This meeting is best held in a virtual format so that the facilitator/producer team can plan exactly how things are going to work. It will also allow the producer, who may not be a content expert, to familiarize herself with the content. During this walk-through, the facilitator should lay out how the producer should respond to content questions that arise in the chat area.
- Establish emergency protocols. What happens if the facilitator drops offline and the producer is left with a room full of participants? The answer to that question needs to be determined ahead of time. The producer should know whether to call for a break or to ask participants to complete an exercise, such as typing into chat all of the questions they have for the facilitator when he returns. Or, short self-paced exercises can be included in course workbooks so that the producer can direct people to them to while they're waiting for the facilitator to return.
- Establish course ground rules. The producer needs to know how to respond to participants who get to class late or leave early. For example, if someone logs on 20 minutes into a program, should the producer tell her that class has already started and provide a schedule for future offerings?
- Ensure that the producer has all participant and leader materials. This will make it easier for him or her to support the facilitator and the participants.
- Rehearse in a realistic environment. Consider whether the facilitator, producer, or participants will be logging on with dial-up modems or behind firewalls. If the facilitator and producer will be at remote locations during the live event, then the rehearsal should be conducted that way as well.
- Create an environment of trust. The facilitator/producer relationship should represent a true team. For example, if the producer suggests that the facilitator take a moment to review the questions in the chat area, the facilitator needs to trust that there are questions there that are worth considering.
- Debrief the experience. After the live event, share notes about what went well and what needs to be changed. Make sure you document lessons learned for different facilitator/producer pairs who may tackle your class in the future.
Try team teaching in your next virtual class. Although you may discover that some courses don't require two people to manage, many will be improved by the second set of hands. At the least, a second person will become familiar with the course content. At the best, team teaching can help you feel as comfortable in the virtual classroom as in a traditional one.