Combined Arms Consulting

The online world (part 2) – The facilitator

online teaching

Published: 06 Mar 2024

32 min read

The online world (part 2) – The facilitator – the pointy end of the educational spear

To me, there is a glaring irony in the online teaching space, at least from my perspective. In the 12 years that I had been teaching in the tertiary sector and emphasizing in the 4 years in the online space, I was never offered by either RMIT or ACU a tenured contract that would secure my future but even more importantly ensure that the very people that communicate the information to the students are constant.

I understand that there are many corporate reasons for this “gig” model of employment for educators by the institutions, but I am struggling to see a direct benefit to the students if the very people who are tasked with delivering the content are not secure, nor are constant in the subjects delivered.

In the following narrative, I will delve into a range of factors that need to be considered in creating a facilitator class that adds value to the student experience and, as far as possible, ensures that the students become immersed in the educational experience driven by capable and competent facilitators. It all starts with recruitment.

Recruiting – the difference is good.

The overriding emphasis of recruiting individuals with high-performance outcomes in the publishing space does not always translate itself into the teaching space.

We live in a multicultural world, and this is accentuated by the simple fact that the online delivery mechanism can enable universities to reach out globally.

This could not be better exemplified when I was asked to do a series of online discussions with an Indian-based university. The initial discussions were targeted towards a specific subject that I took in Melbourne.

The initial culture shock for me was self-evident – everyone kept calling me sir.

I was never in the army and if I had, I doubt if I would have been an officer, so calling me sir was out of place. I did understand that that salutation was an act of respect – but I thrive on informality and calling me sir just added a barrier, for me at least to create that very flat culture that I strive for.

It took a lot of humor, self-deprecation, and overall awareness to change that structured paradigm to a very flat interactive model.

It is also important to note that words mean something and the use of language, appropriate language to create a culture is critical.

The subject matter of the class focused on the leadership role of Sir Donald Bradman in the Australian cricket team a subject so connected to the Indian heart. I was fortunate to have Bradman’s biographer, Roland Perry be the guest speaker.

Over one hundred and fifty participants attended, and the feedback I received and the certificate they sent me really indicated that the class was a great success.

They just lapped it up and the culture that was created was one of fun and safety, so much so that when an Indian student asked what the collective noun was for Australians, I said a prison, when they then asked me what the collective noun was for Indians, I answered a call center, resulting in great laughter, engagement, and most important trust.

I will reflect on humor as a critical element in the facilitator’s arsenal later in this blog.

The point of the above reflection is to note that facilitators must be able to navigate the multinational and multicultural universe that online teaching affords while at the same time being themselves.

This does not mean that effective culturally empathetic delivery requires you to subsume the core culture that reflects the institution, quite the opposite, you must always be aligned to the cultural foundation stones upon which your class specifically and the organization is based upon.

If you did lose that focus, trying to maintain a “politically correct” stance you will in all likelihood lose your core locus of control, that is what actually defines you and how you view the world.

In addition, losing your own cultural rudder would make it difficult to actually navigate the sholes and reefs that make up potential cultural minefields, as you would not have a basis for comparison.

But notwithstanding the above caveats appreciating the makeup and nuances of the online cohort is a critical factor in effective communication.

Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at Harvard noted in his book, Five Minds for the Future, identified five key elements in effective leadership in today's interconnected world. These structures are ever more important when considering the dynamic nature of online teaching. These include the following constructs.

Cognition – a deep understanding of the subject at hand, this can take up to ten years to achieve.

Synergy – the capacity to integrate a range of related and unrelated disciplines and influences that add to the decision-making process and add to the deep level of cognition, in other words, how diverse influences affect outcomes. An essential ingredient in facilitating diverse conversations in the online space.

Creativity – the capacity to see pathways and applications that others are not aware of. In a very real sense, the amalgamation of the above two threads facilitates this creative pathway. Online facilitators who possess this deep and eclectic awareness are able organically to shine a critical eye on the subject matter and associated themes.

Ethics – the fundamental understanding of what defines you and that those core values must permutate throughout the delivery and pedagogical creation of online (and face-to-face for that matter) delivery. The challenge may come in the field of cultural relativism, but this is where your core cultural creed and worldview will act as an anchor as well as a pathfinder in managing this complex reality.

Empathy – in part, this is an extension of ethics, the capacity to put yourselves in the students’ shoes, not a difficult task as all facilitators were at one stage students. It is interesting, and previously mentioned, that a number of facilitators that I have spoken to still maintain the structural hierarchy of a teacher/student relationship and that seeing students as fellow travelers is a real challenge to the identity of those facilitators. Being able to emotionally connect with students is a keystone in disseminating thoughts and knowledge generally, and in the online space specifically.

The importance of these attributes cannot be understander as they are really the linchpins in ensuring success.

An example of the importance of a diverse and somewhat existential view is best exemplified not by an academic, but by a general, Sir John Monash.

In his book “The Outsider Who Won a War” Roland Perry explored the exploits of one of the greatest generals of the first World War.

Monash exemplified many of the attributes outlined in Gardener’s work.

Monash was an outsider, a Jew, who because of his religion was seen with suspicion. He was a colonial amateur an additional black mark against him by the British establishment. Monash had four degrees, a master’s degree in engineering, a Bachelor of law degree, a Bachelor of arts, and his final academic qualification a Doctor of Engineering. No doubt Monash fulfilled the additional criteria of diverse intellectual and experiential inputs.

The outcomes of these personal and intellectual inputs he was able to create the modern notion of combined arms, initially at the battle of Hamel in 1918 where he planned the battle to last for ninety minutes, he was wrong it lasted ninety-three minutes, and in his planning masterpiece, the Battle of Amiens where two German armies were crushed, and the war ended one hundred days later. (This historical experience was the genesis for Combined Arms Consultancy)

What has this got to do with facilitators and their diverse backgrounds? Being able to bring a range of skills and perspectives to the table will only enhance the engagement, creativity, and relatability of the subject to the student in the antiseptic world of a traditional online presentation.

Another key criterion is being well-read and allowing those knowledge points to wash over your subject themes and content without a predetermined bias. (Aligned to Gardner’s notion of synergy) In addition, this ability to draw upon diverse experiences also fosters a critical thinking environment rather than one is just following a predefined pathway.

Critical eyes see things others cannot.

The fostering of a critical mind is an essential skill set needed in today’s world, all too often lost in translation. My experience suggests that the university’s focus is not overtly aligned with this outcome, rather they foster a culture where the focus is passing the assignments rather than challenging the assumptions, best exemplified by the emphasis on the Harvard referencing model in the marking matrix – hardly an important factor in the corporate world.

This of course will depend largely on the facilitator and the nature of the assessments that are created, but generally, the model has been one of filling in the boxes rather than looking for what is not in those boxes.

I have been able to create this critical tipping point many times, in an impromptu manner by allowing the conversation to take its natural course and supporting it accordingly. The irony is that this is more challenging in the face-to-face model as rarely do you have those supports handy, all you have is what you brought into the class in line with how you anticipate the conversation will go. (interestingly enough any innovation of creativity expressed in the lecture rooms was not necessarily seen in a positive light)

Studying from one’s home generally lends itself to a critical eye, should the class culture allow, as it is a reasonable assumption that being home one is in a safe environment where one feels free to contribute and think laterally.

As noted previously creating an empathetic environment is essential in fostering these outcomes.

I often ask my students what my overall strategic intent is, they tend to gravitate to the transactional outcomes, that is getting a degree, transferring knowledge, etc, but few of them get it right.

They are surprised when I state that my strategic intention is to create a safe and judgment-free environment where everybody’s opinion has merit, and their views are worthy of being listened to, which in itself fosters the transactional outcomes that they initially stated.

It is a shame that I cannot show the looks in their faces in this narrative when this epiphany sinks in, and that they realize that true critical thought is the ability to look beyond the transaction and understand the rationale behind actions and a deeper more existential level.

It is only by creating this empathetic environment that students, and staff for that matter, feel that their thoughts and ideas can be expressed. This is the role of the facilitator.

Many of the readers might push back and say not all opinions are of equal merit, and that may be true, but closing down a person’s thought just because the particular contribution may not be as robust and cogent as another is not the point.

Who is to say that that particular individual may at a later date have their own epiphany that will truly enlighten the class, and if they feel that their contribution is belittled, they in all likelihood will be reticent to add further to the conversation?

And for that matter who has the right to “shoot down” a contribution anyway, an action that will make the individual feel less safe and worthy, going against the very foundation that a facilitator needs to create?

This is especially so in the online environment because all a disenfranchised student has to do is turn off the camera and hibernate, something they really cannot do in the face-to-face world as they are physically there.

The art of empathy

There is a parable about an ancient rabbi called Hillel who while walking with a student was accosted by a thief who demanded their money. The thief stated that he would let them pass if they could explain the Old Testament while hopping on one leg.

The student took on the challenge and after an exhausting five hours of hopping and explaining the merits of the bible collapsed on the ground, exhausted and sweating profusely to the raucous laughter of the thief. Seeing the student prostrate on the ground the thief then turned to Hillel and repeated the same demand.

Hillel walked over to the thief and addressed the thief directly, eye to eye, and stated that the essence of the Old Testament is simple, treat everybody the way you would like to be treated, everything else is commentary.

It is that simple in the online arena, it is all about being aware of the challenges and anxieties of the student cohort and being able to reflect back to when you, the facilitator, were a student and act accordingly as to how you would have been liked to have been treated, and how you might have felt if you were not.

In addition, to creating that empathic culture one must also remember that many if not all of the students do not intend to be academics and as such the strict, unflinching commitment to the academic way may not be in the interest of the student, remember it is all about building that bridge for the student, not creating a series of academic automatons.

That is not to say that a solid academic foundation is not essential, it is, but it must be contextualized in the context of the student’s journey and allow that critical eye to manifest.

There is an old native American Indian proverb “Ask questions from your heart, and you will be answered from the heart”.

Put simply be genuine in your inquiries and genuinely listen and respond to what has been offered, as opposed to just going through the motions, which is easy to do if you see yourself as the authority figure.

How does one do this in a closed environment of the online realities we are all facing?

An effective online facilitator in this environment, and if fact all environments, must have the capacity to create a conversation.

Put yourself in the setting of a dinner party.

You do not engage in conversation with friends or family in a social setting as if you were ticking off key points you wanted to cover, it is free-flowing, engaging, and above all personal.

There will be laughter, tangential discussions, and personal connection, so why cannot that culture be ever present in the online environment? We have personal and intimate conversations with the people we love on the phone, and the phone is even less “human” than webinars as unless we are on Facetime, you do not see the person you are talking to.

X (formally known as Twitter) and Facebook are other technical exemplars that show that personal relationships can be created over technical platforms. Although in writing this are those “relationships” really relationships, I wonder.

It is not that we have to “love” the students to create that culture, but we certainly have that mutual connection and respect for the students, which is a great start.

The online medium does not inhibit this cultural connection, it is in all likelihood how the facilitator perceives the medium that is the challenge.

There is no reason why the dinner party environment cannot be replicated, and in fact, there are greater stimuli for this to occur. It is a question of reframing the online environment as you currently understand it.

Firstly, the students want to be there, they have a purpose, and secondly, there is a common purpose, which is the subject content and getting through the course, there are no hidden or second agendas that can stultify the conversation.

Unfortunately, as I have observed this person-to-person connection in the online environment is a rarity, it does happen but not all that often. This lack of human “intimacy” will have a direct impact on the free-flowing exchange of ideas and learning outcomes.

And from where I stand the reasons are self-evident.

The art of conversation is atrophying and worse still the art of storytelling is all but dead.

If you cannot express a story in a sentence, you do not have a story.

The instantaneous world of the “X” verse and the online environment has created a cohort that struggles to engage and in a very real sense reframes the nature of relationships, storytelling, and engagement to clicks and likes.

Susan Greenfield in her book, Mind Change, explores the effect that digital technologies have had on our brains and perspectives, especially this generation that had been immersed in this online social media tsunami from the outset.

The capacity to create a story and intertwine it with the subjects’ themes and pivot it to the needs and relevancies of the students can create that sense of wonderment and excitement that great storytellers of the past have been able to create.

The great filmmakers knew the importance of a story, from Louis B Mayer to Steven Spielberg all understood the power of the story as did the first nations of this world.

The online model is really a mini-TV station or cinema that had direct interaction with the audience, and although the subject matter is not a drama or comedy there is no reason why the delivery of that message cannot be entertaining and engaging. I call this Edutainment.

Content is not always king.

Every facilitator must be aware that the current generation, maybe more so than generations before are seeking quick and seductive “pitches” otherwise in all likelihood you will lose them even if they stay for the duration of the class.

Part of the process of maintaining interest and creating a story will be based on how the content is communicated. Slavish adherence to content, facts, and figures will not create that sense of engagement that the online environment demands.

It also does not create that creative, critical mind that industry and society is crying out for.

The means by which this hurdle can be overcome, and also facilitate a conversational and story-orientated environment is not to slavishly teach the key points, rather it is to create a world where the key threads of the subject are explored, by that I mean the underpinning foundations upon which the theoretical facts are based.

I am aware that this approach will be easier in certain subject streams, such as management marketing and such like, and more difficult in the traditional science-based subjects such as medicine and engineering, but nonetheless being cognoscente of the challenges and potential pitfalls of facts-focused only delivery mechanism is important, and once recognized how each facilitator adapts to it will be in line with their personality and the rigors of the subject.

I am not for one minute suggesting that content is not essential, what I am arguing is that the way you communicate that content must be done in a way that engages and creates interest in the cohort, otherwise, you will just be presenting to blank screens (and minds).

In addition, this thematic approach is in line with the storytelling and conversational approach mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. Being able to create a “dinner party” environment where conversation runs freely within the scaffolds of the subject matter has a greater probability of fostering engagement and more importantly, transferring knowledge with a critical eye rather than just reciting bullet points.

As stated above, just reflect back on the great filmmakers and their ability to convey a concept through the art of storytelling, the first Australians certainly understood it through the mystic of dreamtime, as did other first peoples.

Taking a thematic approach will also enable discussion to morph into more contemporary conversations, applying those theoretical concepts to the real-world realities that the students are dealing with, not to mention it would make the conversations that much more interesting.

The question that now will be addressed is how can a facilitator create this conversation pit in an online format. I mean it’s one thing to seek a dinner party culture, but we are not together, where the commonality of sharing food is so apparent.

Authenticity is the key.

The great American comic genius Groucho Marx said it best “if you can fake authenticity, you have got it made”.

Groucho was an authentic genius and a wordsmith of the highest order but stripping that comment of its comic insights that core principle is rock solid, it is all about being seen as an authentic person, someone the students can trust.

As an example, on many occasions, I have noticed that a student had turned their camera off when they were eating. When this happened, I never asked the students to put the camera back on or admonish them, as they were probably self-conscious by eating in from of everyone.

The irony is we seek dinner party conversation where everyone generally has a mouth full of food.

The way I dealt with this phenomenon in the next class was that I invited everyone to bring in their dinner and share with everyone what they were eating or would be preparing. I then began to eat something really messy, one time I brought in a chocolate éclair and ensured the cream really found its own level, generally all over my face.

This action immediately disarmed the fear of eating in front of everyone, over and above the commentary I received, and I never had the problem of people being self-conscious with a face full of food again. And for the record the chocolate éclair was delicious.

In fact, in my webinars, I invite students to bring in a wine or beer or whatever is their poison into class, in reality, it is their own living room. The act of breaking down this “taboo” creates a human environment that facilitates an authentic environment creating trust and engagement. This approach might not be for everyone – but remember in the online space these students are adults in their own homes.

These examples flow onto the concept of how one motivates the students to be involved, and how to put them at ease to contribute and become embedded in the conversation. Put simply what can you do to motivate your cohort?

The answer is surprisingly straightforward. You cannot motivate people to be involved. Yes, you read it right you cannot motivate people to be involved, in fact, you cannot motivate people to do anything.

The best you can do is create an environment that enables the individual to motivate themselves.

Motivation, I believe, must come from within, it must be self-driven, something that the individuals themselves are committed to. This revelation is critical in the online space as you are not only at arm's length from your student, but they are also in their own environment with all the associated distractions, those bloody cat videos!

What the facilitator must create within the class are the prompts that evoke within the student a self-driven desire to become involved and participate in the class. How that is achieved will depend on the facilitator’s personality, the makeup of the class, and the nuances of the subject matter. There is no turnkey solution.

There are some scaffolds that might be considered in creating that motivational environment that will enable that internal driving force to be involved emanating directly from the student.

Again, referencing a first people’s observation, (we have a lot to learn from the first peoples of the planet if only were able to listen) “Listen, or your tongue will make you deaf”.

To create a self-motivating environment an effective facilitator must be able to understand what is meant, rather than hearing what is said. As supported by the management theorist Peter Drucker "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said”.

Being able to determine the driving forces and core meanings and aspirations of the cohort will enable the facilitators to “pitch” the narrative or storytelling at a frequency that will evoke within the group a desire to get involved because what is being said and what is being represented is what they want to engage with.

The means by which this is achieved will rest on a number of platforms, the first of which is approachability.

I am a phone call away.

The facilitator must be approachable. Maintaining a false hierarchy will only create barriers that will inhibit true and honest communication.

I firmly believe students are our colleagues and that we are on the same rung of the structural ladder as they are, as stated previously I have had serious pushback with respect to this stance.

It is not that the students feel that you do not have authority over them with respect to marking and evaluation – a point I will address shortly – they know you do, but they also need to understand that you are a person as they are and that you do the very things that they do every day. They need to know that you know their world that you are not just a functionary and that you exhibit empathy and compassion.

Enabling the students to feel they can approach you on matters that concern them, without judgment, even if the issues do not directly relate to the subject, will foster that trust so needed in creating the mutual commitment to achieving communal goals.

I know this from personal experience.

While undertaking my doctorate I had not only to deal with the challenges of research and codification I also had to deal with the politics of the university, and many times due to these challenges I really considered quitting.

However, my relationship with my supervisor, Professor James Sarros was such that I could not and would not quit because I would be letting him down. I was motivated to finish not purely based on a selfish model of academic aggrandizement, but because of my commitment to my friend. That was my motivational driver, the Pygmalion effect of leadership.

Creating this approachability factor creates a mutual ownership that will drive the students not only to get involved but also to get involved at the highest level.

This approachability also spills over into the assessments and how the facilitators respond to and deal with inquiries and challenges.

I know that many facilitators regard the assessment task as a primary function – as onerous as it can be – of their job and associated KPIs.

Many at worst do not really countenance any challenge or query and some at best give a perfunctory response with little if any intention to be detailed, while others go that extra yard.

To make matters worse many students are reticent to challenge facilitators as they feel that any deleterious responses, they might offer can have a negative effect on future grades as they perceive that the facilitator might seek revenge. What a great motivational environment and culture.

There is a theoretical concept, justice theory that looks at the challenges parties face in a conflict situation, especially when one party has significant structural authority, a bit like the relationship between facilitator and student.

It found that where the weaker party felt that they had been listened to and that their concerns were heard they were more than willing to accept the outcome even if the outcome is not optimal for them.

Translating that into the online space if a student is not happy with an outcome provided the facilitator takes the time to honestly listen to their concerns and responds with respect and empathy the student is more than willing to accept the outcome. And it works, as I have told all of my cohorts that I am human, and I make mistakes so any area of content or argument within their assignments that I might have missed in my evaluations I insist that they challenge me and show me my oversight.

They do and they leave happy and aware that I took their concerns seriously, even if they do not get the result that they desired.

Also, consider that when you are marking tens of papers in a short period of time in all likelihood you will miss things remember these evaluations are extremely important to the students as they determine their academic pathways into the future.

The final point about approachability is to be yourself as everyone else is taken. A third-rate original will always be better than a first-rate copy. Allow your personality to shine through, your humor, your quirkiness, your humanity are all endearing factors in an environment that is intrinsically non-human.

Do not underestimate the importance of humor, especially self-deprecating humor as a leveler between equals.

Humour can be a challenge and it is not easy to pull it off but it’s better than being boring and if it’s delivered with “child-like” honesty it generally achieves its goals.

The second platform, building upon approachability is availability.

I am here to service you not the other way round.

We live in an incredibly interconnective world, we can contact anyone at any time given the right connections, so I am perplexed that in many cases facilitators put up fences that inhibit the student’s capacity to access them when they are needed.

By fences, I mean strict time frames and predetermined access points.

The level of my accessibility with students is nominally 24/7 and I give them my phone number.

I am not suggesting this for everybody, and I know for a fact that many facilitators balk at this notion, their private life is their own and they do not want to be disturbed, and I get it. The facilitator's needs must also be factored into the equation, and each will follow their own pathway.

My experience suggests however is that the contact phone is rarely used by students, and when they do use it, the times are respectful, and besides if you cannot take the call, you can tell them to call you back.

My motivational driver for this approach is that I am lazy. Dealing with a student immediately and directly, as opposed to a time-sensitive email I am able to address the challenge straight away which saves me time later down the track in the evaluation and marking process.

Once the student realizes that you are approachable it further adds to that level of mutual commitment that nourishes the student’s motivational driver in part based on mutual ownership. Thanks, James, for this lesson.

In addition, as a rule of thumb, the student’s inquiry may only take you five minutes to deal with and it may evoke several hours of anxiety for the student. Managing that anxiety should be one of the key goals of any facilitator and remember is that immediate response you would want if you had a problem.

The third platform, which is built on availability, is transparency.

I have nothing to hide.

An interesting anecdote comes to mind when Churchill visited FDR during World War Two.

Churchill who was taking his customary long bath was interrupted by the US president who walked in unexpectedly.

Churchill put down his papers which he was working on and stood up stark naked, a vision I would personally feel would be quite confronting.

FDR was shocked and embarrassed to which Churchill responded, “The British Prime Minister has nothing to hide from the US President”.

Now I am not arguing for one minute that online classes should be done in the nude, for one thing, there are other channels for that, so I have been told, but the principle of an honest and transparent exchange between equals is a salient lesson.

Students must believe that any engagement with a facilitator is transparent and honest, and it is through this cultural foundation that any form of an effective relationship can be built.

We all want to hear the truth, even though at times it might not be what we really want to hear especially if it is an uncomfortable truth.

Being able to discuss openly issues, without second guessing what is meant is really important because if the student feels that this is the relationship that the facilitator wants to create then in all likelihood they will reciprocate.

In the online environment the ability to create this relationship is a lynchpin in developing a motivational, nurturing culture, and considering the nature of the connection in this space is arm’s length, evolving beyond a transactional exchange will address possible conflict, both external and internal before they become significant problems.

In addition, for the facilitator to evolve and improve their own skill sets getting honest real-time reflections from the students can only help improve their own skills and delivery. This is ever so important if one considers the current protocols of quarantining the qualitative GTS responses from the facilitators in the first place.

Honest exchanges can permeate throughout the session in real time creating a true 360-degree feedback loop.

The next platform flowing on from the above is that of vulnerability.

If you cut me, don’t I also bleed.

In antiquity, Athena the Greek goddess of wisdom was asked who the wisest person in the world was.

Her answer was Socrates. When asked why, she responded that Socrates knew he knew nothing. Translated, the wiser you are the less you know.

If one is transparent and honest in knowing and sharing your own limitations and internal challenges to the student it is not an indication of your weakness, rather it is an indication of your strength and wisdom. It is a true reflection of you being human.

Students are drawn to intrinsic honesty, and humanity as they will understand your position as you must understand theirs.

In addition, by doing so the things you do know and are confident in them will be seen in an ever-stronger light as it will be assumed by the audience that in these fields you are extremely competent and expert.

Allowing the students to add to the knowledge base will engender within themselves a feeling of ownership rather than assuming the facilitator is the embodiment of Moses pontificating from Mt Sinai. This commonality of intellectual endeavor fosters a team-orientated and interconnective environment that can only add to the learning journey.

The penultimate part of the conversation about the key drivers of effective facilitators is the most transactional, understanding of the technology.

Technology is a servant, not a master.

It might sound self-evident but mastering the technological platform be it Zoom, teams, or whatever is fundamental in being able to create that environment that nurtures exchange.

In managing any platform, practice, practice, and practice are the key three structures that will enable mastery of the technology. There is nothing worse than joining an online conversation where over half the time is spent working out how the technology works.

There is an unknown factor in the technology toolbox that can often be overlooked, the technology itself may be a barrier, not an enabler when dealing with students with different masteries of the various platforms and more importantly the tools.

In a notable experience that I had with ACU, there was a commitment to a triple B platform as a means to communicate with the students within the class. This was a cumbersome and ungainly platform and universally the students wanted to use Zoom.

the administration pushed back saying in part that using Zoom undermined the integrity of the pedagogy, they forgot that the technology was a servant, not a master and the student’s needs must come first.

Suffice it to say I reverted to Zoom to the chagrin of the administration.

It is dangerous to explore different “Wizz bang” gadgets if individual students within the online class are not competent in these systems.

You might find yourself running an IT class rather than teaching a management subject. Also, by keeping the delivery as simple as possible without all those moving parts you reduce the possibility of unforeseen events that may disrupt the flow of the webinar.

Relying on the tricks and gadgets embedded in the platforms will not create the environment that you are seeking, the technology must be adapted and managed to suit the needs of the group not the other way around.

And where the technology fails; move on, be agile, and adapt so you are able to progress rather than become stuck in the technological mud.

Agility is not innate, it takes practice. As an observer of Churchill noted it took him one hour to create a 5 second creative and impromptu witticism.

Do what I do not what I say.

The final observation I would like to make falls under the heading of unintended consequences.

A student once mentioned to me that in his working environment, the nature of the online environment was unfortunately very dry, sterile and to be frank boring. He mentioned that these meetings were weekly, or as he put it weakly, and that little if any real outcomes were achieved. To make matters worse the lack of engagement fed into a culture of disconnection and apathy within the broader organization.

He went on to say how much he loved the class facilitations, and how engaging they were.

What he then said was really insightful for me. He stated that he tried to emulate some of the approaches and models that were applied in the classes and adapted elements of my style in how he ran his meetings at work, with apparently immediate results.

They say that the greatest form of flattery is to be copied, but what I realized was not that he was just emulating what I was doing, but rather in the context of the online world how a facilitator holds themselves and how effective, or ineffective they are operating in this field can be infectious.

Because of the facilitators' implied status and perceived expertise, they can be seen as role models, and influencers as to how effective online meetings should, or in some cases should not be conducted.

This new role that the facilitator plays by default is not embedded in any KPI, and this additional learning outcome for the students will not be articulated in any course curriculum, but the spillover effect of effective facilitation cannot be overlooked.