What an amazing year of learning 2020 was. As the pandemic closed offices, my colleagues and I had to quickly shift our teaching and presentations online. Thanks to some top-notch support from the instructional technology team at the Harvard Chan School and some brave (and forgiving) students, we were able to be the first to move an executive education program online (and added a second cohort), launched two new online courses, and transition several others to the Zoom environment.
And then there were webinars on a variety of platforms that took me (virtually) across the US and Canada as well as to South America, India, Australia, and more. Here are some of my top takeaways from a year on Zoom:
- Newbie status can be beneficial: The “we’re all in it together” nature of the past year broke down some barriers between students and faculty. Everyone appreciated each other’s willingness to show up and engage. Fumbles were forgiven. There were a lot of laughs. We learned together–and that was both fun and rewarding.
- It’s not better or worse; it’s different: While I greatly missed the face-to-face interaction with students, exec ed participants, and conference attendees, there is intimacy in the online environment. People can chat contemporaneously so I was able to see how what I said was received. There were ways for introverts to jump into the conversation when they might otherwise have sat back. The breakout room feature provided scads of possibilities–participants consistently asked for more of them and longer ones. They loved small group discussion.
- Social time matters. While I’ve always enjoyed chatting with participants at breaks and over meals (and missed it this year), the distributed environment made my colleagues and I more intentional about the social aspects of our programs. We now dedicate significant time for introductions and informal conversation. This has helped me better connect with more participants, and helped them connect with each other. It takes more time, and I hope that organizers allow for that going forward.
I am already receiving requests for in-person talks later in 2021. All Zoom, all the time will fade. I hope, however, that we continue to use online platforms where possible as they have much to offer.