Monday, 10 May 2010

Don't let an ash cloud ruin your meeting (or tutorial)

In the wake of the recent/recurring volcanic ash travel crisis and ensuing estimates of enormous costs to the UK economy, Lucy Kellaway (writing for the FT) seems like a lone voice in the wilderness when she says the ash cloud helped productivity:
For offices all over the western world, last week was one of the sanest and most productive for a very long time. On Monday, people got to work to find half the appointments logged into their BlackBerrys suddenly cancelled. [...] A cancelled meeting is a net productivity gain: it tends to go away altogether.
Meeting minimisation seems to be one of the great 21st century aspirations, but when so much of work is collaborative, we also can't afford to miss crucial information and discussions, or we are liable to be allocated tasks we don't fully understand.

Another ash-related article that caught my eye claimed that serviced office firm Regus experienced a 108% increase in demand for videoconferencing during the UK flight ban, suggesting that many people decided to meet virtually rather than not at all.

The Onlignment blog is featuring this issue in a series of posts entitled 'We can't go on meeting like this'. In the introductory post they state:
...let us bring together four ideas:
1) Companies are not going to stop holding meetings
2) The risk of disruption to travel is ever-present
3) Every business has to have a contingency plan to allow meetings to happen when it is not possible to bring people together
4) If companies are to use online conferencing, then they need to plan it, and do it properly
Having recently attended a couple of sessions about Elluminate (which is integrated with the BLE via a building block - more information here) at the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference, the idea that we should be doing more meetings (and more teaching?) online was already kicking around in my head; another presentation at the conference discussed the massive surge in Blackboard use that occurred during January's snow disruption.

Certainly putting more notes up on Blackboard is helpful, and good use can also be made of asynchronous tools such as discussion forums and blogs, but these approaches may not adequately replace planned face to face interaction. Although it may be possible for a cancelled lecture or tutorial to simply be rescheduled, perhaps a better option would be to do it virtually.