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This morning, I was going through my diary trying to work out how long it has been since I have been under Covid19 lockdown. It seems to be a daily (or hourly) swing between feeling energetic and positive to feeling anxious and unsure. Talking to my friends, other sustainability professionals and clients this seems to be a common theme.

Before the pandemic developed, I was about to start a training programme engaging the workforce of a large client in the rail industry on sustainability issues. This important programme will help their large and varied workforce understand and take ownership of their plans for environmental and social sustainability. It was with some excitement (mixed with trepidation) that I agreed when the client suggested we ‘move things onto Zoom’. I have to confess, I had coincidentally only recently started to use the medium a few months prior as part of a coaching group I participate in.

In my years of working in sustainability training and consulting I had compartmentalised course delivery in my mind into two broad categories: either classroom-based or via e-Learning with reading and exercises undertaken online (with more limited amount of tutor feedback).

I had always been a strong proponent of face-to-face training. I found that, I was able to better interact with and understand the backgrounds and interests of students, studying their body language and adjusting delivery accordingly. The sessions are also a good opportunity for them to network and learn from each other.

I had therefore never really considered that there was a ‘third-way’ which could also be effective and engaging, Indeed, delivering online training and workshops using video conferencing, still means the tutor is present and the students are able to communicate and interact with each other. It’s also an opportunity to bring in innovative ways to share ideas and work together on common tasks.

One of the tutors in the coaching group I am part of, specialises in this type of learning and advised me to integrate ‘lots of breaks!’. She explained that in the online setting you have a responsibility to create a welcoming, accepting space and encourage participants. It’s a similar principle to in person sessions – but making sure you help those who may be less familiar with the medium, helping to build confidence at participating and using the functionality of the tools available to interact.

Here are some of the tools and techniques I have found useful whilst running online sessions (there many options available but these are the ones I am currently using):

  • Video Conferencing Apps – so far, I have used Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business – out of those three my favourite has been Zoom for its ease of use in managing participants, general stability and the quality of its inbuilt collaborative tools such as the whiteboard
  • Shared Googledocs (docs.google.com) – you can create tables and other content using google apps, create a link sharable with others including students – to allow them to collectively work on a common document.
  • Menti (www.menti.com) - an interactive presentation tool that allows users to utilise polls or brainstorming sessions in classes, meetings, gatherings, conferences and other group activities, and share results. This also allows people to contribute ideas anonymously which can help with shy participants! The free templates provided are also very attractive in use.
  • Mural (www.mural.co) - ‘a digital workspace for visual collaboration’ – I have recently been using Mural for online brainstorming activities – e.g. replicating post-it-note type activities – but it has a great deal of additional functionality for workshops and facilitators and a lengthy free trial too.

There are a multitude of tutorials available for these online.

My recent client fed-back that the sustainability training programme was the only learning programme that they are still operating during Covid19 and was being lauded in other parts of the business for its flexibility and rapid adaptation. The students so far seem to have enjoyed it too.

I have rapidly come to view that this medium opens up new possibilities, has the means to connect people and has excited me in terms of the opportunity to use new techniques and interact with others. I have also started a stakeholder consultation programme for another client and have been running some online networking sessions using some of the same techniques I have learnt. I think for sustainability practitioners and others in the longer term it can open up new possibilities in the way we deliver projects and save some carbon at the same time.

Peter Watts, CEnv MIEMA

[email protected]

Linked In https://www.linkedin.com/in/peterwattssd/

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated

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Peter Watts

Peter is an experienced sustainability consultant and Chartered Environmentalist - helping clients mitigate risks and most importantly understand and implement the opportunities presented by more sustainable ways of working. He specialises in training and education programmes, environmental/sustainability strategy, energy and carbon consulting and management system implementation.