One of the interesting effects of the lockdowns has been the discovery by u3as of the benefits of online meetings, which in practice generally means Zoom. Beacon has come into its own for emailing meeting invitations to group members.
Now that there is some prospect of face to face meetings, u3as are looking for ways in which we can have the best of both worlds. The benefits of hosting via Zoom are:
- no issues with inadequate or unfamiliar IT provided by the venue
- group leaders can host meetings from the comfort of their own home
- people can attend who are housebound or can’t travel to the venue easily
- greater flexibility in timing meetings without the need to re-book venues
- reduced cost – Zoom licence against room hire
- freedom to attend meetings when on holiday abroad
- option to extend invitations to a wider audience, for instance one u3a has opened its groups to any members of local U3As who ask to participate.
- potential to have speakers from anywhere in the world.
The drawbacks are:
- loss of conviviality; all groups love to chat in small groups during breaks
- interactive Groups have problems
- groups such as line dancing have difficulty seeing the leader and hearing the instructions and the music
- groups playing instruments or singing together have difficulties with time lags
- discussion groups lose spontaneity;
- groups such as short mat bowls are totally impractical
- people don’t have the equipment or are simply put off by technology.
There are three different ways of approaching hybrid meetings: Two of them are
- presenter in the venue, streamed via a camera and microphone
- presenter at home and displayed on a large screen in the venue;
Both of these work best with large groups where the leader or presenter is doing most of the talking. A third way, which is really only suitable for AGMs and the like, is to give members a choice between either registering and attending and voting on-line, or submitting a proxy form beforehand. This removes the need for anyone to attend in person.
Consensus from u3as is that Option 2 is much easier as far as the actual presentation is concerned, as all that is required is a projector or large screen and powerful sound system in the venue. Option 1 requires camera, microphone and a tech-savvy person to set it up in the venue. Both options require decent internet access at the venue which is by no means guaranteed. This could lead to increased costs if the venue has to be moved to a more expensive one.
Both options run into difficulties with post-presentation questions from people in the venue. Somehow these have to be relayed to the on-line participants, which could include the presenter. This could be hard if those in the venue are socially distanced round a large hall. Even roving microphones are limited in the context of a two-metre rule.
On balance online meetings in general, and hybrid meetings in particular, are useful tools. As such they are here to stay, and Beacon has a part to play in making them happen.