When David said we’ll be using GotoMeeting on this project, I laughed. I’d never been on one yet which hadn’t had some kind of hitch. It’s a videoconferencing facility and we were part of a national project, aiming to meet the requirements of OFSTED while also reducing the amount of paperwork tutors have to complete, freeing them up for more teaching. What’s not to like..?
And I do love technology. It’s just that too much doing, too much busyness undermines our sense of who we are. We need periods of just being, if only for a few minutes each day; resting…thinking. When it goes wrong or doesn’t work, I tend to assume it’s something I’ve done, which is often the case but…as I discovered, not necessarily so.
A week and a bit after the two-day residential where we had all met on, worked together, split into teams and come away with action plans, one of the two groups I was coordinating, Starting Points, had asked for a ‘Goto’. I had carefully installed GotoMeeting software and gained ‘admin rights’ on my pc at home. I’d learned how to organise a meeting. I was ready to go.
Then, when 7pm on the Wednesday eve arrived, I was still 5 minutes late, so nobody could get on. Things always take twice as much time as you think. The audio was a bit “crackly”. Sometimes, it cut out altogether. I hadn’t noticed my video screen had frozen. Louise told me I had a fearsome stare. And I had…I clicked on the ‘Unfreeze frame’ button. Yet, the four in the group managed a ‘go round’ of mystery shopping exercises and writing a pre-course questionnaire. And a set of notes was produced, which were duly posted on Yammer, the social media site we were using on the project to keep us all connected.
The World Cup started that evening. I put my feet up and tried to forget all about GotoMeeting. How unlucky were Croatia against Brazil in the opening game!
Starting Points asked for a second ‘Goto’ two weeks’ later. This time, I couldn’t get on at all. I still can’t tell you why. As the Organiser, that meant none of us could. Louise and George rang me on my mobile. Thank goodness for yammer. We used it as a thread for our discussions. I didn’t appreciate at the time how we were creating a record of our discussions which was great for research.
So, what kit am I using at home? I have a mini-HP laptop; 1Gb RAM (that’s the juice or power!) and 3Gb hard drive). It only has one jack point for the audio lead from my headset which means using the microphone on the laptop. I was speaking into my mouse pad for a long time till my colleague, Richard, mentioned that the in-built mic was above the monitor, most likely. How do you know?! If people don’t use a head-set (recommended), then all the noises off are amplified or reverberated. I could hear small children, loud banging, like steak being tenderised; people leaving the conference, rejoining the conference. ‘Is everybody here?’ I asked. If you mute your mike, you can hear but can’t be heard.
I was clinging on. Computers can really undermine confidence. And they’re great too for doing stuff.
Both small groups I was coordinating had started out together looking at the same area, namely, how do students find out what we’re doing and when they do contact us; what are the best ways to help them. They’d gone off in different directions but I could see from the Yammer thread that they were understandably converging. So, it seemed sensible to call a joint GotoMeeting…for a Wednesday evening, 7-8pm.
‘You do know only six of you can share video screens, don’t you?’ ‘Er, well, actually, no.’ It was a good job there would only be nine of us, if everyone joined. Plus one on the telephone. In the second week of July, we got going. The experience was a bit crackly again; at times the audio quality was intermittent, occasionally disappearing altogether. But everyone did get a say. There was some discussion and we did get a set of notes.
You also get to see people in their string vests, their mopped hair and what’s on top of their wardrobes.
So, what had changed?
The Monday before, I had arranged two GoToMeetings from home; one with David, the Project Coordinator, and the other with Richard, my teammate. Both were good practice. Richard told me about ‘Screensharing’. ‘This uses up so much ‘juice’. Close it if you don’t need it.’ I hadn’t even been aware I was. ‘And you’ve got Skype running in the background. Right click on its properties and disable autostart, when you turn on your computer. See what else you don’t need on start-up and disable it.’ ‘OK, thanks…’ ‘And your video icon – if you click on it to grey it out (close it), you can’t be seen but the audio quality improves. ‘You mean, people can still hear me?’ He virtually nodded. ‘And the wave…’ ‘What about the wave?’ I asked. ‘Well, people like to wave. It’s a friendly greeting but if your computer is low on power, it is trying to convert all the movement into pixels, slowing down the screen or even freezing it for a time.’ ‘I see…’ ‘Better to nod than wave…but if you have plenty of power, then no problem. There are some things you can’t do much about, like the size of your bandwidth or whether America is online.’
Two days later, on a Friday morning, the other team, ‘From Looking to Booking’ had their own ‘Goto’. I was at my desk in the office and started the meeting on time. All four team members joined. The picture quality was great, as was the audio. I could hear each of them but then, they couldn’t hear me!
The day before I’d downloaded an update for GotoMeeting. As we’re on network, this is normally impossible but I noticed something seemed to have happened. I asked Dan in our office, who’s a ‘Techy’, if he could fix it. ‘It should be working,’ he said. ‘I’ve checked the audio settings and everything looks fine.’ Then, Sandra emails me. She is the Quality Reviewer for the Project and she’d like to join a ‘Goto’ some time. ‘There’s one right now,’ I email her back, ‘if you can join?’ She asks for the joining instructions. I’ve asked for these myself during a meeting but never had to do it. So, I know it is possible. I breathe more deeply. After three attempts at emailing the instructions, she still hasn’t received them and Dan has the mouse and Richard says, ‘Unplug your video/audio leads from the front and plug them in at the back.’ So simple and it worked! Sandra appears out of nowhere on screen. I had perfect audio and they could hear me. Ahhh!
‘Would anyone like to do a ‘GotoWebinar’, I asked them as we neared the end of our hour-long discussion. All quiet. ‘Have a think…and let me know. Well, don’t look at me. I’m not doing one!’ And Sam offered to write up a set of notes.
But as I was walking along the road the next day, I thought to myself, ‘Well, why not.’ And this is the story I told and this is how it ended. One of my fellow coordinators, Lou, had called me the ‘King of Yammer’ for engaging. Until today, I haven’t had a smart phone and usually logged on at my desk. This was kind of her to say. I was only doing what I thought was expected of me. She later went on to post about her own feelings of ‘I can’t do this’ when talking about organising a GotoMeeting. She had put it off, hoping it would go away. I had no idea, she seemed so ‘techy’. But she had finally given it a go, partly on the back of one-to-one practice with David, the lead coordinator, and, partly, she said, because ‘if Bernie can do it…’ She has to be the ‘Queen of Goto’.
And there it ended…but I’d like to add that my two project teams asked to hold a joint ‘Goto’ at the end of July…on a Wednesday evening…you have the instructions. I am on holiday. Go on, how hard can it be? You’ll get a set of notes and so much more!