Running a Virtual Social Carpentries Meetup in UW-Madison

Moving our local Carpentries socials to a virtual space

As part of growing our local pool of instructors at UW-Madison, we have started to host instructor social events more regularly. I planned to host a social one week after the most recent instructor training to aid in welcoming our newly trained instructors to the community.

We had moved instructor training online, because it is often taught remotely already, and are still working on a plan for the rest of our workshops this year. However, with the disruption all are facing in our communities due to the pandemic we could not hold the social as planned.

Knowing that folks are somewhat overwhelmed with virtual meetings these days I debated, “Should we even have this social?” When it came down to it, I wanted to see my fellow instructors, so I sent out the invite. I hosted the call using Zoom and I had planned to use the breakout rooms if the groups got big since in person we would probably have split into multiple smaller groups.

Before the Social

I set up a Zoom room and sent out the calendar invite telling folks they could drop in for any of the 1.5 hrs I’d scheduled. While rarely used at previous events, I created my usual list of “Awkward Moment Busters” that folks could turn to if there were moments where no one knew what to talk about (see below).

I also use these awkward moment busters as prompts in the collaborative note taking document for folks to indicate they have returned from a break in online trainings. I have been assembling a list of topics which hopefully don’t act as a reminder of the things we can’t do while at home. Some of my past lists have included topics such as “What is your favorite summer activity in your city?” which I think might be somewhat sad for folks in my area right now.

Awkward Moment Busters

  • What is one interesting/funny/random thing about your work from home setup you’d like to share?
  • Something fun you are looking forward to this weekend?
  • Have you taught online recently? Share your experiences.
  • What is the best meal you’ve had in the last week?

During the Social

Community members filtered in slowly throughout the time period specified. I welcomed new-comers as they joined, either in breaks in the conversation or in chat and pasted in the link to the Carpentries Code of Conduct with the list of encouraged behavior every so often in the chat as people joined.

Once the group got a bit larger (7-8 people), I asked folks to indicate in the chat if they wanted to switch to breakouts or stay in a larger group. While many didn’t reply, we got a couple of replies requesting to stay in a big group.

At this point one of the instructors indicated they hadn’t met all the others in the room. This was a great prompt for us to have a round of introductions, where I included the first awkward moment buster above as an icebreaker. I have found people generally enjoy talking about their work from home setup and have been using that as my go-to prompt/icebreaker lately.

Encouraged Behaviors

  • Use welcoming and inclusive language
  • Be respectful of different viewpoints and experiences
  • Gracefully accept constructive criticism
  • Focus on what is best for the community
  • Show courtesy and respect towards other community members

Next time

Next time, I would probably plan for a time for introductions or to have a shared document for introductions to allow for people to come and go and not miss out on introductions.

I am also considering trying out a platform that allows participants to move themselves into and out of breakout rooms. I have seen this done with Blackboard Collaborate–please add a comment below if you know of other software platforms this is possible.

Additionally, I am planning on having a group activity for us to work on together. Recently, I have heard about calls where folks split into groups and then work on google sheet art projects together.

I am also thinking about putting together some brain teasers or puzzles for us to work on as a group.

Have you hosted a virtual social? I would love to hear about them. Add your experiences in the comments below.

Dialogue & Discussion