Learning via Zoom with #techmums

For the second year in a row, Leeds Libraries, in partnership with Leeds Employment and Skills, have been hosting three #techmums clubs across the city, offering a friendly environment for Mums to improve their digital skills for free. The Leeds clubs began in January, and had only two sessions left to go when the escalating response to the pandemic meant we were suddenly unable to finish running the course in person.

With a week off to regroup, the #techmums team were able to get our library guides set up and trained to run the final meetings via Zoom online meeting software. All of our Mums had been loaned iPads, complete with 4G connectivity, through our tablet-lending scheme to use for the duration of the course, so they were all fully equipped to be able to log in from home.

Tech Mums Zoom
Armley #techmums logging on for their first remote session

This has been an interesting experience for Mums and guides alike. It was great to see everyone again, and it was wonderful that so many of our Mums were able to log in and participate. Mums had a chance to catch up on how everyone was coping with the current situation, and shared tips on working from home and keeping children occupied. We gave our Mums a quick introduction to Zoom on their first session, and stressed that this would be a relaxed atmosphere and that it was fine if there were other distractions for them or if they needed to drop out of the call at any point.

The new format definitely took a bit of getting used to. I didn’t realise how much I rely on visual contact while delivering sessions until I started screen sharing and, unable to see other people’s cameras, I immediately felt like I was just talking to myself in an empty room. Another guide said it took her some time to get used to the silence when asking a question, as people needed more time to respond, figure out how to turn their mic on, and maybe build their confidence in being on camera.

Video conferencing from home can be a strange experience, and it was interesting to see the different spaces where people had their video calls. One of our mums was outside in the sunshine in her garden, complete with some cheerful birdsong in the background. I made sure to tidy up the piles of clothes behind me (or at the very least move them out of sight) and tried to make sure my background was as professional as it could be considering my desk is located in my bedroom. I even put some jeans on instead of my usual work-from-home uniform of pyjama bottoms!

The technology itself ran surprisingly smoothly, especially considering most of us had never used the app before now, and the guides had to get used to a completely different format for the sessions. Screen sharing let us share the course content direct to the Mums, and demonstrate some of the activities. Some younger family members were also involved in helping out our Mums with their first experience of video conferencing. We also recorded the session to share with the Mums who were unable to make it, and made sure that everyone on the call was aware of this at the start.

Here are a few of things I’ll be keeping in mind for any future sessions:

  • It was very helpful to have a second designated host on Zoom, to take over in case of any connection issues (of which there were a couple), mute and unmute people who had mic problems when necessary, post relevant links to the chat, and to share the task of delivering the content.
  • It is a bit more difficult to hold smooth group discussions. Without any clear indications on who should talk when, people often either talk over each other accidentally or don’t say anything at all. That said, we got some great input from some of our Mums on their experiences.
  • Using a camera might be a bit intimidating for some people, but you can’t underestimate what a difference it makes to be able to see people at a time when you’re stuck in by yourself. It also gives you a chance to gauge people’s reactions to the content, and see if anyone is struggling.
  • Tidy your computer desktop up if you’re screen sharing! I made this mistake and spent a little too long sorting out the right windows and tabs to display, while everyone else was stuck watching me.
  • Using the iPad accessibility settings to enable assistive touch allowed us to point out things on the display while screen sharing, something that is much trickier to do without a mouse cursor.
  • It’s even more important than usual to check in with everyone to make sure they’re following the session, and to give people a chance to ask questions and contribute.

It was so good to be able to carry on running the group activities we would normally hold, even if it was in a slightly different way, at a time when most of us are going without much social contact outside our own houses. It was great to be able to complete our final sessions, and we’re looking forward to being able to celebrate their graduation properly with our Mums in the future. There were also many great takeaways for any future groups or learning sessions we’d like to run this way.

For more information on #techmums visit https://techmums.co/