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Some honest thoughts on virtual training

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This week, I gave my first ever virtual training course and I wanted to put some notes down for those thinking about giving virtual training or those considering attending a virtual training course. I used Zoom.

Firstly, I am indebted to Nick Bearman; I reached out to him to ask about his experiences having read his excellent post. Please do go and read it, and consider doing one of his courses.

Secondly, I am indebted to the GRSG who offered this course for free. In fact, they refunded all attendees who registered for the training course which was due to be held in March in London. Without the GRSG this would not have been possible.

I’ve been asked in the past about giving training courses online, but I have always been reluctant. I think it is very helpful to the learners to be in the same room. However, in light of what has happened with COVID-19, things have had to change.

Some of the lessons learnt (there are probably others)

  • Definitely allow for an hour the day before the course to check that everyone is set up with whatever technology they need. This means that on the day of the course you can start promptly, safe in the knowledge that everyone is ready to go. Make this a prerequsite.
  • For a coding course, I sent the code the day before to the attendees. I think it is a good idea to let attendees get a feel for the content before the day.
  • Attendees really need to have two screens, perhaps three, so they can follow your instructions and also work through material themselves and perhaps to see you, which leads me to…
  • It’s very helpful if everyone has a webcam on. If it’s off, is your audience present?
  • Everyone needs to take a break. That includes the trainer. I left the meeting running and the webcam on but told everyone when we were going to resume
  • Interaction is different, but in some ways it’s similar.
    • I asked attendees to share linkedin profiles and write a little about themselves in the group chat.
    • The chat feature I found very useful for feedback, but occasionally when I glanced at it I lost my train of thought.
    • Attendees thankfully were happy to interupt verbally – I like getting interupted; it shows engagement.
    • Zoom has polls. I had some pre-cooked and, if I am honest, kept forgetting I had them. I am not sure they are ideal for coding courses. The questions need quite a bit of thought.
    • Zoom has breakout rooms. I didn’t use these this time, I don’t think my courses are suited to them without an additional facilitator – but I do think they are a neat feature
  • If you can have a facilitator who is familiar with the content then that could be really helpful. There are many logistics to think about (like polls, time keeping and questions). If you can’t – keep the class size small.
  • It is hard as the presenter to remember the potential latency issue. I had a note on my desk to remind me to slow down and pause every so often, allowing for catchup and questions.
  • I was incredibly grateful to all the attendees, they were all really patient and understanding. Really this is what its about, trying to form a bond with each other and learning at the same time. Final tip – work with great people!

I enjoyed the training and I definately plan to do more. If you are interested in online virtual Geospatial Python training then you can email me here I hope this brief post is useful to those thinking about holding or participating in virtual training.

Here is another really good summary for virtual training based on experiences giving it.

I have a totally free online teach yourself course (based on blog posts) here

Or if you’d rather checkout and teach yourself I have a list (of over 300 resources!) of awesome-earthobservation-code here

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