Last night I ran an online training session for YouthNet’s chat moderator volunteers (I’ve written a post about what is is like to moderate real time support chat for young people here). We all joined a chat room in YouthNet’s online volunteer community for an evening session.
The focus of this chat was talking therapies – learning more about them and sharing knowledge as well as discussing how they might come up in support chats and what we, as moderators, can do to make sure the young people who come to the session get the right information.
Using a chat room for training sessions enables you to have more real time discussion. It brings everyone involved in a project or role together at the same time. It’s particularly useful if those being trained are spread out around the country. Some of the things I’ve learnt from running online training chats include:
- Establish ways of working at the start of the session.
- Clarify what the session is going to involve at the beginning to avoid misunderstandings – these can be harder to clear up later than in a face to face session.
- Establish personal boundaries at the start of the session – sometimes the online nature of the session can mean people open up more – or feel more able to argue inappropriately.
- Keep the discussion as a group rather than having lots of individual conversations.
- Suggest people put a persons name at the front of a response if they are replying directly to a point that person has made.
- If people are not used to a chat room environment, give them five minutes to get to grips with it.
- Reassure people that there will be a transcript available so they shouldn’t worry if they miss anything (edited transcripts can make good learning content too).
- Don’t worry too much about typos – it’s ok to type a bit more informally and faster typing helps the chat flow (although perhaps avoid text speak). Let the trainees know this is ok too.
- Have a series of questions or discussion points that you raise one by one – asking people to reply with their own thoughts and then read what other people have said. Make sure you have some concluding remarks before you go onto the next topic.
- Ask lots of questions of trainees so they stay engaged and don’t start ‘quickly checking Facebook’ in the middle of your session.
- Make sure you have useful links up in tabs already so you can include them.
- If you’re making a long point, send half of it through so people can get started reading it – otherwise it can look like you’ve disappeared!
- You need to be flexible – keep to the plan as best you can but it’s hard to judge how fast people will type or what will come up.
- Time always goes faster than you expect so leave a ‘buffer zone’ in your plan.
- An ‘opening round’ where everybody introduces themselves and says what they want from the session and a ‘closing round’ where everyone says one thing they have learned can ensure everyone gets a say and the session feels complete.
- Don’t be afraid to pull attention back to the training if conversation goes off into other areas. Some extra discussion can help the group atmosphere but in a limited time it’s important to make sure the focus is on the learning.
- If possible, continue the discussion in a forum thread or even an email list after the chat. Chat sessions are often good places to get people enthusiastic about a topic which can continue to be talked about elsewhere.
- If you are training with another facilitator, have another chat or Skype window open so you can talk privately during the session if you need to.
Chat rooms are really useful tools. You can use them for online support groups, expert Q&A sessions (I recently did one on Mindfulness) and online training (both one on one and in groups) – but also for feedback workshops, quizzes, focus groups and consultation sessions. The consultation workshop I ran for Mind’s Elefriends community was done through a Facebook workshop over three days, but an online chat element might have improved it.
Do you use chat rooms in your training or support work? Or in a completely different way? What is your experience? What would you add to my suggestions?