As of autumn 2021, we are offering online courses using Gather. The first sessions have now taken place, and I’m happy to report that Gather works really well! There are great advantages over Zoom or other video conferencing tools.
Read more below, and get in touch to talk about running a writing and publishing course in your institution!
The story so far
I have written about proximity chat systems like Gather already, and I’ve been investigating how they could be used in our training. Since early in 2021 we have been offering informal sessions in Spatial Chat or Gather at the end of Zoom sessions, so that course participants have a chance to chat more informally with us and each other.
Until summer 2021, Gather wasn’t quite ready for use as the main platform for a course: it didn’t work in many browsers and quite a few people had technical problems. But it has improved very rapidly, to the point that I feel confident offering it to clients as the course platform.
Our first tries
In May 2021 we commissioned ReuniVous, a company specialising in Gather spaces, to design a Cofactor training centre. I’m over the moon with the space they created – it has everything we could need and it looks amazing. I feel like Cofactor now owns a large building, at a tiny fraction of the cost of a real building!
As you can see in the video, recorded in the Cofactor Gather Training Centre, the course takes place in one of the two classrooms. When participants arrive they can mingle and talk to each other before the course starts, and can even get a coffee (or at least view a gif of one being poured). They can look out of the classroom windows and see the view.
Then, when it is time to start the session, the trainers stand on a podium. There they can be seen and heard by everyone in the room. They ask the participants to sit at tables, which are private spaces: this means that anyone on a table can chat with others on that table without disturbing the whole class.
The trainers can share their screens and go through slides or other materials, just as they would on Zoom. There is no faffing around with breakout rooms to put participants into small groups – it is already done, using the tables.
Whole group discussions can be done in several ways. Participants can put their electronic hands up, and a trainer can ‘spotlight’ someone. Spotlighting means that that person can be seen and heard by everyone in the room. Alternatively, participants can walk their avatars to a separate podium, where they are automatically spotlit.
We have added a whiteboard at each table for participants to work on, and to play with! They can write or draw and see what others on the same table have done, while they are talking. We tried this out for exercises involving rewriting sentences, and the participants liked it a lot.
Gather makes courses less tiring and more fun. Instead of a wall of faces looking at you the whole time, you get a nice view of a virtual classroom and just a few people’s videos. You can have informal conversations, and there is more variety of activities. The course material is just the same, with the same valuable tips and expert teaching that you expect from Cofactor.
When the participants leave the classroom, they can explore the rest of the space. They can go into the library, where the course videos and handouts are all available (we are also hosting these on Moodle, as a backup). They can also hang out in the cafe, garden or pub. If they want, they can come into the space between live course sessions to go through the material, and they can talk to others who may be doing the same.
I think courses in Gather are going to be much more enjoyable than courses on Zoom (though we are of course still offering them in Zoom). As Gather matures further and adds features, more possibilities will open up. I’ll update this article as we gain more experience.
Get in touch now to talk about running courses for your researchers in Gather – I’ll be happy to show you around and explain further how it works.