Woman working on a laptop with notepad at her side

Ann is the Administrator for the IRiS Research Centre. She supports all of IRiS’s activities, and also supports all of Social Work and Social Care’s non-teaching events.

Jennie is the Research Projects and Events Officer at HSMC.  She organises events such as conferences, seminars, workshops and teaching programme modules, and assists individual academics with research support.

Ann: Working from home came as a shock to me.  I found it to be an isolating experience and missed my colleagues and the buzz of a busy office.  Everyone in the R&E Team made great efforts to keep in touch virtually using Zoom—a platform I had never used before. We took it in turns to host Zoom quizzes and meetings to update each other on what we were working on.

Jennie: Like everybody else, I had to learn new technology quickly (in particular Zoom) to run programmes, workshops and seminars for HSMC, enabling them to run as effectively as face to face events.  This was quite daunting to start with, and there were plenty of hiccups and near disasters along the way. 

Jennie: I have made myself become something of a Zoom champion, positively encouraging and helping my colleagues, and facilitating practice sessions so their own sessions run smoothly.  I ensure and encourage pre-session tech meetings for all on-line events so that speakers and panellists are comfortable with both presenting and the Zoom features to be used on the day. I would say my seminar series has gone from strength to strength. We now have many more attendees as we can reach out further afield and attract people who would not ordinarily have been able to participate.

Ann: Colleagues in IRiS scheduled regular virtual team meetings and informal coffee meetings. We set up a Zoomcast series, ‘Conversations with IRiS,’ and we also began to host IRiS’s webinar series which has attracted many more registrations than on-campus seminar series. Since I had used Zoom for all the activities above, I felt fairly confident about setting up, facilitating and hosting my first webinars.

Ann: An event that I was administering on behalf of Professor Robin Miller reached almost 500 registrations.  It was decided that instead of a Zoom call, the event would be better run as a Zoom Webinar.  Webinars offer different features in order to better manage large numbers of attendees.  For example, attendees’ cameras and microphones are automatically turned off and a Q&A and chat function can be deployed to manage audience participation.  We had to get permission for a licence for a Webinar from IT, who sent some useful guidance.  I was fairly nervous about this event, but me and two of my R&E colleagues practised the functionality of Webinars well in advance so that I felt prepared.  There was a hitch at the beginning when one of the presenters couldn’t join, but I managed to sort that without too much fuss!  The Webinar was well attended, well received, and the recording has been added to teaching resources for Social Work and Social Care. 

Jennie: I ran a seminar that attracted 133 attendees, the highest number of registrations ever for my seminar series. The best session I ran was a module for the 21st Century Aspiring Directors programme. There were about six different sets of breakout rooms throughout the day; the tutors wanted them mixed up from pairs to threes to fours, then back to pairs—but did not want people to meet twice.  Blimey! I created a matrix of attendee names across the timed breakout rooms, and it went swimmingly. Everybody stayed for the whole day, so there was little movement in numbers, which helped.

Jennie: I had problems with another module on Zoom. We were expecting fewer attendees as the Covid-19 pandemic meant our public health participants were incredibly busy. At the end of the day, I had to go and have a lie down—I was exhausted.  Not only were there plenty of breakout rooms to manage, but there were many comings and goings throughout the day: people taking calls, having to leave for emergency meetings, not being able to connect, not being able to join their allocated room. It was really hard to manage, but I got through it.

Ann: I found the first few webinars that I hosted rather nerve wracking as there is a lot that can go wrong, and everyone looks to myself as the host for solutions.  I had a particularly challenging experience with a webinar which had a long breakout room session.  I had set the breakout rooms up in advance but many people could not join them from the main session.  I had to manually assign people to their chosen room, which was very stressful at the time. There should be some sort of recognition that the audiences that attend our events have very different technical abilities and software capabilities.

Jennie: Be firm in what you know you can and cannot do, what is possible and not possible with the technology you are using. Relay this to your collaborators. And don’t panic!

Ann: I’m a member of the School’s Events Network, led by Jennie and Leanne Horton, which I have found incredibly useful.  We’ve been able to support each other in learning more about Zoom, Microsoft Forms, Eventbrite, Survey Monkey and Teams. 

If you’d like to join the SoSP Events Network monthly meetings, you can email Jennie at j.oldfield@bham.ac.uk. The next meeting is 23rd June 2021 11am – 12pm. The network is open to UoB staff only.