From Kalmar to Zoom in the blink of an eye

Written by Nina Hjelmgren

Hem/From Kalmar to Zoom in the blink of an eye/From Kalmar to Zoom in the blink of an eye

Corona hit. Distance and isolation became the new normal. We changed from inhouse-courses to digital literally overnight. Terminating the training of journalists was never an option. And we would’ve never succeeded without our brilliant trainers.

 

Luckily, Tomas Jennebo was the first trainer to implement a Fojo-course digitally.

He has worked as radio-host for years and is used to live broadcasts; where you don’t see your audience and anything can happen or go wrong. Even though Tomas has his own radio studio at home, he needed to add another web camera in preparation for the digital course. That turned out to be a difficult task: Not only did the population in Sweden hoard toilet paper in the beginning of the pandemic – also webcams were nearly impossible to find. It took Tomas a full day to find one on a rather empty shelf.

We were finding our ways in supporting the trainers and were not used to looking at participants on a screen.

“Looking at the screen, I thought to myself that they looked as if they were on drugs but realised they were concentrated”, said Tomas Jennebo after his first day as a Zoom teacher.

He was exhausted. His body was aching and we all learned valuable lessons as both trainer and participants sit in front of the screen:

“Plan for shorter days and many short breaks. Turn off the computer during the longer lunch break.”

Tomas Jennebo (right) was the first trainer that had to shift from in-person to online teaching. Henrik Radhe (middle) didn’t lead a course on his own this year, but lectured on several other courses. Photo by Nina Hjelmgren

 

All the trainers are different individuals. Not everyone is like Tomas, eager to try something new and not afraid when something fails. When learning of our plans, another trainer’s response was: “You are crazy but I will have fun doing it”. He knew he would miss the physical contact and the energy in the room.

Transforming the courses from physical to digital we decided to:

  • try to do in the digital room what we do in the physical
  • realize that all courses differ in content
  • respect hesitations among trainers
  • find solutions by playing, having fun, testing

We use Zoom and learned how to share screen, change and make hosts to create breakout rooms, chat, to mute the microphone etc.

One of the courses was about The Forest. There is plenty of forest in Sweden, 80% owned by the state, and sometimes it sounds like the forest is the solution to all kinds of problems including climate change. We usually visit sawmills, plantations etc. Instead, we planned for individual excursions and had a variety all around Sweden. Planning and executing this course, we learned the importance of an assistant trainer. It is enough for the trainer to focus on the content, the assistant makes sure the participants are present, puts lecturers in waiting rooms and plans breakout rooms etc.

All trainers were offered and assistant trainer planning and executing the course.

When hosting courses in Kalmar, participants arriving at Fojo are met by the administrator of the course, Gittan or Jessica, making sure they find the lecture hall and other areas. The trainer is focused on the content of the course. We copied this to the digital room and added the webmaster, Anders, which was vital for the sense of safety starting the course. It added a touch of professionalism as we could make all teachers and participants feel welcome and comfy even as much in the digital room as they are used to in the on-site rooms.

We soon learned that bad connection and sound was even more important than the portrait on the screen. Most trainers, and eventually also the participants, bought additional headphones with microphones.

Initially, few were used to digital courses and conferences. We provided some information:

  • to put the laptop with camera on top of something to put the face in focus
  • to put the laptop facing light
  • to test connection and sound
  • to mute the microphone except when speaking

We really had fun testing different ideas in the process, we were always available to the trainers when they wanted to try something on Zoom. Like planning the course in Sensitive interviews: Could we copy the part when an actor performs different people and personalities? We tested. It worked!

Cancelling the courses was never an option. The evaluations showed that the participants really appreciated the Fojo-courses on Zoom. It would never have worked without our brilliant trainers.

In the fall, we started doing courses again on location in Kalmar, adapted to Corona restrictions according to the authorities. Distance is vital. Therefore, we accepted ten instead of 16 participants to the courses in Kalmar to guarantee two meters between participants in the lecture hall.

But as the second wave began to grow, we had to shut down again and move back to Zoom.

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