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Guest Post: Putting the “How I See It” Activity to Work in a Virtual Environment

Taking an in-person activity that is highly effective because it is highly participatory and moving it into a virtual environment can be a challenge. In today's guest post, Mark Nilles shares how he leveraged several technologies to find a comparable level of participation and engagement in a virtual environment.

Mark Nilles is someone I’ve know for a while. He has a long career in roles in which he’s worked to make the world a better place through learning initiatives – from the Peace Corps to Humentum (which is where we first met) and now with EnCompass. Recently he sent me an email sharing how he’d modified an activity he learned about through this Train Like A Champion blog into a virtual activity.

I was so fascinated by the way in which he used different technologies to make the activity work that I asked if he’d be willing to write a guest post. Whether you might be able to use this activity as he’s modified it, or if you’re just looking for a new tool to help you engage your virtual learners, Mark’s experience might be of service to you!

Here is Mark’s experience, in his own words:

In my work, I support a number of trainings that help the staff of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) deepen understanding and strengthen skills to be more effective in their international development programming. One such training is a half-day overview on Inclusive Development policies and practices. In short, USAID defines Inclusive Development as “the concept that every person, regardless of identity, is instrumental in the transformation of their own societies and their inclusion throughout the development process leads to better outcomes.”

Near the end of the Inclusive Development training, we use one of my favorite activities to help participants explore inclusive development from different perspectives and have deep conversations about the realities of implementing effective inclusive development programs. I first learned about this activity several years ago through this Train Like a Champion blog. The activity is called: “How I See It.” It’s an activity I’ve deployed for in-person trainings several times and have enthusiastically encouraged other trainers to consider. But until earlier this year, I hadn’t used it in the virtual space.

This article is partly an endorsement of the “How I See It” activity and partly an explanation about how we implemented that activity in the virtual space. (Because we didn’t want to exclude anyone from thinking they could participate in the training, we changed the name of the activity to “How I Understand It.”)

So, let’s get into how we execute this activity in a virtual instructor-led training environment.

For the virtual space, we use Jamboard, which is readily accessible to anyone with a Gmail address and is an intuitive collaboration tool. Participants are placed in small groups and discuss a total of four statements. Each Jamboard frame explores one statement, and each group has a color-coded sticky note with the statement as shown in the graphic below.


As a group, they discuss whether they agree or disagree with the statement. If they all agree with the statement, they move their sticky note to the “True” area. If they all disagree, they move their sticky note to “False.” And if they don’t come to a unanimous decision, they place their sticky note in the Hung Jury area. Here’s how the Jamboard might look after each group has discussed the statement.


They then move to the next Jamboard frame and the next statement to discuss and again determine whether they all agree or all disagree.

As a facilitator, it’s fascinating to track the activity in real time. I will be listening to one group’s discussion, and watching as each group moves their sticky notes. The sticky notes have a tendency to float around the board as assumptions are explored, perspectives are shared, and opinions are voiced. Every once in a while, a lone voice in the small group will share an experience or perspective that changes the opinion of the rest of the group. Of course, each group can also see where other groups are placing their sticky notes, although that doesn’t seem to impact their decision making.

After 15 minutes, we bring the participants back to the main virtual room to discuss the activity. We start by asking the outlier groups to share highlights from their discussions. For example, in the screenshot example above, we would definitely want to hear from Group 2 since they were the only ones to agree that the statement is true. Near the end of the activity, we also ask participants to share which of the statements was the most controversial or challenging to discuss. 

In terms of setting up this Jamboard, the True, False, and Hung Jury boxes and directions are technically a background image. I create the image as a PowerPoint slide, save it as a .png file, and then upload it as a background image by clicking “Set background” near the top of the Jamboard. That step is important because it prevents participants from accidentally moving or changing the activity as they engage with the sticky notes. Participants are only able to move the sticky notes with the statements on the Jamboard.

I hope that helps or inspires you to continue identifying effective and engaging activities in the virtual space! Please share your virtual triumphs below in the comments!

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