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Bon Newsletter Issue 4: Better Virtual Gatherings

This month, we explore how to transform your next virtual gathering.

Hi there! ✋ Welcome to Bon's monthly newsletter capturing the transformative impact of programs around the world. This month, we are thinking about Zoom fatigue and exploring how we might make virtual gatherings more effective and - dare we say it? - enjoyable!

- Chris Batchelder

100 Seconds on Programs

In-person gatherings are back, but virtual meetings will be with us for the foreseeable future. Rather than simply powering through Zoom fatigue, we are opening our facilitator's toolkit to find new ways to hold better virtual gatherings!

Virtual classrooms have been a hallmark of education technology since we first started following the space in the late 2000s. Indisputably, the potential for educators to connect with students in remote classrooms has ushered in new opportunities for youth in underserved communities across the globe. And yet, as so many of us have experienced over the past year, video conferences are not only emotionally draining, they can also exacerbate unconscious bias. So what is it about video conferences? And, more importantly, can we make them better?

An imperfect reflection. Human conversation is an intricate art that relies on our brain's ability to parse the myriad tonal, gestural, postural and emotional cues that we give and receive when speaking to each other. Video conferencing platforms support most of these cues, but as a facsimile of in-person conversation, they fall short. As the anthropologist Dr. Susan D. Blum notes, "All the communicative signs that embodied humans rely on are thinned, flattened, made more effortful or entirely impossible. Yet we interpret them anyway." The result of this imperfect reflection is mental and emotional fatigue.

Take time to connect. To counteract the flattening effect of video conferencing, create opportunities for participants to get to know each other as embodied individuals. As program leaders, we routinely use icebreakers to quickly establish a sense of shared purpose and trust among program participants. In a virtual setting, we become fully reliant on icebreakers to establish fellowship. We are excited to try these seven activities, recommended by the New York Times Teaching Project, to build community in the classroom. Or, if you're looking for a more out-of-the-box icebreaker, you might consider hiring a herd of goats!

Keep it real. Another way to facilitate a shared experience, and inject a dose of "realness" into the world of video conferencing, is to invite participants to bring craft supplies to a meeting and then work together actively to build something during the call. Participants will end the call with a physical object in hand, irrefutable evidence that the interaction really did take place! The Bon team also regularly uses Miro, an online collaborative whiteboard platform, to facilitate remote brainstorming sessions. Hello, virtual post-it notes!

Video conferencing will never be a true reflection of the classroom, but by being intentional about creating connections among participants using facilitation techniques and digital tools, we can design meaningful learning opportunities from (virtually) anywhere 🏖️!

We'd love to hear from you! Do you suffer from Zoom fatigue? What do you do to stay engaged and connected on Zoom? Drop us a line and let us know!

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“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, author and aviator

The End