Tech Buddy Program: Lessons Learned

IMG_3321BCcampus recently hosted a Symposium on the Scholarly Inquiry into Teaching and Learning Practice. To increase access to this event for those who could not attend in person, we offered a livestream of the opening and closing plenary sessions, and experimented with a “tech buddy program”.

What we did:

Here is the actual information we presented to potential tech buddies, but briefly, the idea was to:

  • find and form tech buddy pairs: one person who would be at the event in person, with one who wanted to attend online
  • provide an email introduction and facilitate the exchange of Skype IDs so they could connect and work out any details and time needs among themselves.
  • suggest a schedule that balanced tech buddy connection with “independent” attendance in the opening and closing plenary sessions (which would be livestreamed for online tech buddies to view on their own). We also suggested they “disconnect” for lunch.

On the morning of the event, we had four pairs organized to participate in the tech buddy program. Unfortunately one of the online tech buddies couldn’t make it, so there were 3 tech buddy pairs attending together.

SoTL Symposium

Following the event, we sent around a short survey asking both online and on-site tech buddies to share their experiences and suggestions for improvements to this program. We were happy to find that ALL participants said they would participate again, and recommend to a colleague. Here is a summary of their responses:

What worked well

Its kind of intense being tied to your computer in such a concentrated way all day!  Breaks are definitely needed.

lovely to connect with another person

I love the fact that I was “with someone”.  [My Tech Buddy]  introduced me to folks she knew (an added bonus) and I asked [my tech buddy] to say hi to folks I knew (so [she] met new people too).

I had a great tech buddy. When I couldn’t hear or see, he and I exchanged messages back and forth on Skype. He was very good at asking questions on my behalf of presenters.

Just being able to help a colleague to attend and advance their learning. For me personally, to augment my experience and ideas around how to make attending a workshop online more engaging and seamless.   I was shocked to hear from some people at the event that being online is “cold and impersonal” ….that to me is odd…Done well it is equally if not a better experience in my experience  😉

Suggestions for success & future…

  • provide presenter slides in advance so online buddies can follow along (several mentioned this)
  • do a “tech check” well in advance (some suggested day before). In our case, we had a wi-fi problem on the morning, so good to have a Plan B with tech-savvy on-site buddies who can respond (e.g., tether cel phones,  log into alternate wi-fi like Eduroam)
  • have a dedicated person (“online experience coordinator”) to manage the tech buddy program from end-to-end and ensure people know what to do, expect, and when.
  • provide reserved, front-and-centre seating for on-site tech buddies
  • provide easy access to power outlets for on-site tech buddies
  • consider devices: on-site buddies generally need two: one for taking notes, tweeting, etc, and one for their tech buddy
  • consider a physical identifier for on-site tech buddies – tshirt, different colour nametag to increase visibility and invite interactions with others at the event

Other ideas for including people at a distance

  • use a platform whereby the online participants can ask questions (either verbally or written) of keynotes.
  • consider table top or wearable cameras
  • consider a 2:1 ratio…2 on-site buddies for every 1 tech buddy
  • consider having a backchannel where all online buddies can “be together”

Our next steps

We are inspired by this comment:

I just love the tech buddy program. This could expand our ability to share provincially exponentially at a much reduced cost!  Tech buddy is definitely worth expanding on!

This is an important issue of access to BCcampus events. This year, we will focus on exploring,  experimenting – and sharing what we learn –  about other ways to include people at a distance. We are interested in the “experience design” of both:

  1. Online access: including people at a distance in meaningful/engaging ways at face-to-face events
  2. Online events: designing and facilitating events that are held entirely online