Online training for online trainers – a response to COVID-19

By Sara Thomas, Scotland Programme Coordinator.

At the beginning of the lockdown period in the UK, the Programmes Team, along with our network of Wikimedians in Residence, got to work on exploring how we could continue to support our community and partner organisations. We discussed ways in which we could offer engagement with the Wikimedia projects as lockdown activities (the National Library of Scotland’s work on WikiSource is an excellent example of how this worked out) for both staff and in terms of public engagement, as well as in the fight against mis- and disinformation surrounding COVID-19.

Back in November we had engaged a new trainer, Bhav Patel, to deliver our Train the Trainer course in Glasgow, Scotland. In light of the success of that programme, we decided to approach him again.

We held two brainstorming sessions, inviting all of our existing trainers to attend. Turnout for these was encouraging, and we were happy to see some familiar faces as well as some individuals whom we had not seen for a while. These sessions were intended to capture both appetite for training, and training needs. We anticipated that as we were approaching existing trainers that there may be less demand for content which pertained to design, however this was not wholly the case. We were also conscious that the high standard of Bhav’s training in the past concerning training design might be beneficial for our existing volunteers. There was significant interest in how to convert existing training methods to the online format, the “tips & tricks” of using specific tools, and liaison with partners in advance to properly assess training needs. There was also some trepidation around how to give individual support over video conferencing, and adapting to feedback in-session in the context of having no physical feedback from the room.

Following these sessions, and further discussions with Bhav, we held two sets of three sessions, delivered at varying times of day to accommodate the existing commitments of volunteers. The first of these sessions, led by Bhav, was titled “Going Online”, and focussed on the move from onsite to online design and delivery of events, taking a platform-agnostic approach. The second was “Tools, Tech & Event Management”, focussing on tips, tricks & a variety of online conferencing and supporting tools, as well as overall event management, and was led by myself.  The third session was an opportunity for practise and feedback, offered to all participants as a way to test out new tools and ideas they had for leading online training. In total, 14 trainers attended across the six sessions, with positive feedback. The two training sessions were recorded for future use, and a pool of accompanying resources created. These were sent to all participants, to the wider volunteer trainer pool, and are being kept as a resource for partner organisations, Wikimedians in Residence, and future volunteers.

Reflecting on this process, we noted a few things. Firstly, that just because we deal with an online resource does not mean that we are automatically prepared to deliver online. Secondly, that the online space opens up opportunities as well as presenting barriers – trainers’ geographic location matters less, for example. Thirdly, that we were able to engage volunteers with a variety of time commitments, from a wider demographic, and that the pressures on their time likely reflect those of our various audiences. Lastly, that ongoing investment in existing volunteers helps to reignite engagement.

Once again, a huge thanks to our volunteer trainers for the time and energy that you give to the movement; it is massively appreciated!

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