How Many Activities are Too Many?
In a recent video conference it became glaringly apparent that even though it is important to schedule your videoconferences and plan an agenda, it is still important to leave as much time as possible for discussion. In scheduling your video conference, be sure to include some preliminary research, work or activities to prep your students for the conference. This empowers them when they are trying to participate in discussions around the topic that is being discussed, and also allows them to determine other’s points of view and for them to potentially take a position on a subject, which can result in a lively debate. But how many activities are too much during a session?
This is a difficult one to answer, but generally speaking, you should limit your activities to about one activity per 20 minutes of conference. That means, in a typical video conference of one hour, you should only have three topics that are going to be discussed, debated, or investigated. The reason being, even though the topic may appear innocuous and not emotionally charged, it might turn out to be an incredibly charged topic for the other groups participating. We recently conducted a video conference on climate change. In Canada, one of the hot topics is the fact that our federal government might be withdrawing us from the Kyoto Protocol for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It was interesting to see the dynamics and how the school that probably had the most to gain about pulling out of Kyoto due to their location, had the least to say on the issue. The point being the other three sites were very emotionally charged about the topic, resulting in some heated and lively discussions. Due to the emotional nature of the topic, as the facilitator, and trying not to impose upon the discussion, I let the topic run its course. We unfortunately did not get through the entire agenda, instead we only touched upon 2/3 of the agenda. This was problematic for the others who did more research on the other ideas, even though they were still able to get their points across, though abbreviated. The point being, it is better to finish early when doing a conference than to have issues and items left on the table due to time constraints. Make sure your endeavour to leave time for discussion and discourse, which is where the real engagement of the students takes place. By rushing through items trying to cover a predetermined agenda, this discussion is usually the first left behind, and is the most beneficial. Our students long for that type of engagement with others, especially others from different parts of the country and the world.
It is imperative that an agenda be set for the video conference you are conducting, including preliminary activities, research and material creation, but don’t try to cram everything into a session. Instead ensure that you leave ample time for discourse, discussion and debate. The real learning takes place during these three D’s.