Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) has hosted more than our share of webinars, conferences, and online meetings over the last 13 years using tools like Meet, Hangout, and Skype. We began our online conferencing years ago using Elluminate (which is now Blackboard Collaborate) and for many set the course for engaging online events. But more recently, our webinar tool of choice is Zoom. It meets the need we have for the work we do from coaching to courses and to our premiere Connected Learning Experience. (We are accepting applications for teams now for the 20-21 school year.)

Very recently, we have been facilitating learning with the University of Guam and the Guam Department of Education. PLP had the need to facilitate 200-250 member breakout sessions. We kept looking for a way to allow the participants in the web-conferences to self-select their breakout room of choice and move again, if needed, during the two hour learning sessions.
The only help we found in Zoom’s documents required everyone to preregister before the conference or a couple other labor intensive workarounds that just didn’t make sense for what we wanted to do.

Necessity the Mother of Invention

Last month, PLP launched an online 3 Day conference called the Make and Think Micro-Conference. The archives are for sale if you missed it. We had five session (breakouts), repeated 2x each day. Amazing content. Top name speakers.

The structure of the conference required folks to log in to Zoom and then choose which breakout (session) they would attend and after 50 minutes choose their second session. After the conference everyone was sent the archives, tips and tricks sheets, and other resources for all the sessions. It was seamless.

How? We found a work around for participants to self select!

How We Did It

Everyone logged in to Zoom on Day 1. Prior to their arrival we created six breakout rooms, one for each of the presenters and one called “The Park”. Once everyone arrived we did some trust building, house keeping and then explained the process.

  1. We made everyone a co-host. Now at first, I was concerned about that. I mean what if someone caused a ruckus? However, as I thought it through I realized a couple things. First, we had everyone register for the conference. We knew who was to attend. Everyone had to use a password. As we were getting started, the PLP Team checked the roll and made sure we knew who was there. No surprises. We wagered that our attendees would be fine as co-hosts. At PLP, we believe in empowered learning. Everyone can always share their screens, share files, use their mic, and video etc. in our sessions- so no big change.

  2. We created a common space we named “The Park”. When it was time for the first breakout, we moved everyone in one swoop to the park. We decided to call it the park because we all were social distancing and knew folks would be able to relate to a virtual stroll outside at the park. Once there, each participant could see all of the breakouts. They simply used the Zoom menu to choose where to go. It was wildly intuitive and very few learners had an issue, but for the few that did we supported them with a two-pronged process:

    1) The host went to the park and manually moved people who couldn’t quite “get it” on how to get where they wanted to go.

    2) We kept one of our staff in the main room in case anyone was kicked off during the session and needed to get back into their chosen breakout. We would ask individuals where they wanted to go and move them right back in. Super smooth.

  3. What did we do when it was time to switch rooms? When Session 1 was over we moved everyone back to main and took a 15 minute bio break. When it was time to start back, we reminded everyone of the various sessions (most presenters repeated their content a second time) and then moved everyone to the park again. We used the same support process.

  4. Wrap Up. When Session 2 was over we simply brought everyone back to main and did a group reflection and some prize drawings and then waved goodbye.

Super easy. No issues. And we did it for all three days of the conference.

If you have any questions just reply below. I am happy to answer and help you think through the issues for your upcoming meeting, conference or event.

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During a 25-year education career, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach has been a classroom teacher, technology coach, charter school principal, district administrator, university instructor and digital learning consultant. Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice, where she works with schools and districts from around the world to re-envision their learning cultures and communities through the Connected Learner Experience and other e-learning opportunities. She is the author (with Lani Ritter Hall) of The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age (Solution Tree, 2012) and serves on the ISTE Board of Directors.
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