The inaugural online UDS (or vUDS as it’s becoming known) is underway. This brings with it a number of new challenges in terms of running a good session. Having sat in on a few sessions yesterday and been the session lead for several sessions at physical UDS’s going back nearly two years now, I thought I’d jot down a few tips on how to run a good session.
Regardless of whether the session is physical or virtual, it’s always important to prepare. The purpose of a UDS session is to get feedback on some proposed plan of work (even if it is extremely nebulous at the time of the session). Past experience shows that sessions are always more productive where most of the plan is already fleshed out prior to the session and the session basically functions as a review/comments meeting. This depends on your particular case though, since the thing you are planning may not be possible to flesh out in a lot of detail without feedback. I personally find this is rarely the case though.
UDS runs on a tight schedule, at least in the physical version, although I don’t see any good reason why this should change for vUDS. Punctuality is therefore important not as good manners but from a practical point of view. You need to time to compose yourself, find notes and make sure everything is set up. For a physical UDS this would have been to check microphones are working and projectors are projecting. For a vUDS, in my brief experience, this means making sure everyone who needs to be is invited into the hangout and that the etherpad is up and the video feed is working on the session page.
As the session lead it is your responsibility to run a good session, however it will be impossible for you to perform all the tasks required to achieve this on your own. Someone needs to be making notes on the Etherpad and someone needs to be monitoring IRC. You should also be looking out for questions yourself but since you may be concentrating on conveying information and answering other questions, you do need help with this.
Avoid going off track
Time is limited in a UDS session and you may have a lot of points to get through. Be wary of getting distracted from the point of the session and discussing things that may not be entirely relevant. Don’t be afraid to cut people short – if the question is important to them then you can follow up offline later.
Manage threads of communication
This one is quite vUDS specific, but especially now that audiovisual participation is limited, it is important that all of the conversation take place in one spot. Particularly for people who are catching up with the video streams later on. Don’t allow a parallel conversation to develop on IRC if possible. If someone asks a question in IRC, repeat it to the video audience and answer it in the hangout, not on IRC. If someone is talking a lot in IRC and even answering questions, do invite them into the hangout so that what they’re saying can be recorded. It may not be possible to avoid this entirely, but as session lead you need to do your best to mitigate it.
Not so much a tip for running a good session, but for getting the best from a good session. Remember to read the notes from the session and rewatch the video so that you can use the feedback to adapt your plan and find places to follow up.
That’s all there is to say, I really hope this first virtual UDS goes very well and that sessions are productive for everyone involved.