Be responsive to stakeholders’ needs
Just as would be the case for in-person programmes, remember how the activity you’re doing fits into your wider programme and consider your theory of change and objectives – and if these will adjust slightly due to the digital delivery.
It’s also important to think about how your stakeholders’ needs are impacted by new online formats. One thing we did was to survey all our students to answer questions such as: What access to technology have they got? What time of day can they tune in? What content do they want? We found that although many of our students did have access to technology in some way, there were limited times when students could be online and have access to quiet spaces at home. This was important for us to bear in mind as we developed what our online programmes would look like and how to ensure as many of our young people as possible could be involved.
Be creative and collaborative
Moving to online delivery can be daunting at first as you consider how exactly to deliver existing plans or recreate content digitally, but for these very reasons it’s also an exciting opportunity to be creative and collaborative.
It can seem that you are starting from scratch but just because it’s your first time delivering in this way, it doesn’t always need to mean it’s the first time particular content or resources are used. For example, it might be the case that other departments or offices at your organisation can share resources and expertise or lead sessions, or that there are external partner organisations you work with who can support too. Digital delivery is the perfect opportunity to collaborate and engage others in the work you are doing.
As you develop what your digital programme will look like, don’t just replicate what you had planned to deliver face-to-face as the user experience will be different. For example, attending an in-person conference and sitting in sessions for 8 hours a day is very different from watching the same number and hours of sessions online. Make sure your timetabling is as diverse and flexible as possible and understanding of technology access challenges. Map out the key themes of your event and content and then decide how you will deliver each aspect. We recommend a mix of live sessions, recorded videos or pre-existing material, independent tasks and group work, with regular breaks. You can give students a deadline for when they need to watch pre-recorded sessions or complete reading, but not require them to do it at a specific time. This will help keep engagement high and allow young people to be flexible in how they approach their learning.
Consider safeguarding and risks
Keep it safe: consider risk assessments, safeguarding and internal policies.
Safeguarding and child protection are as important now as ever, so just as you would for any in-person programme, make sure you risk assess accordingly and develop your online programme in line with internal policies and guidelines. We recommend completing risk assessments and developing your safeguarding policy in tandem with making decisions about which technology platform(s) to use. Closely explore what settings your chosen online platform has (such as access passwords or registration processes) and which you will build into your own internal policies. Make sure you share your risk assessment with all staff and presenters and create code of conducts for all participants to sign.
Upskill and brief your team
For any online delivery, but especially for a programme over an extended period of time or with multiple moving pieces, you’ll likely be relying on a team of people to support you with it and it’s important to empower them and make sure they feel comfortable and skilled enough to deliver the sessions.
After familiarising yourself with the technology and platform you’re using, try it out from the different roles – i.e. Host, Presenter, Panellist, Attendee – and create training documents and a guide for how these various people will use it, making sure to flag or note any particular features you will (or will not) be using and how to use them. We found that in addition to creating a pdf guide with screenshots and clear instructions, offering 15-minute training sessions with our presenters was also a great use of time and a valuable opportunity for them to feel more comfortable and familiarise themselves with the presenter interface.
Your team not only includes presenters delivering the content but those behind-the-scenes managing the technology. We found it was useful to allocate Sutton Trust staff to a few key roles throughout the week and create a staffing plan with clear responsibilities:
Engage attendees beforehand
Engaging your attendees can (and should!) happen before the live event. As online sessions can feel quite different from face-to-face ones, we think a guide to the sessions and some information beforehand is a great way to add that personal feel. We sent short blurbs about each session and mini bios of each of the speakers. With that session guide, we also sent a link to a form for students to pre-submit any questions for presenters they already had – which also provides an early chance for them to engage with the session.
Keep it interactive
The more interactive your session, the more engaged your participants will be and the more likely your online programme is to have its intended impact and outcome! Here’s some suggestions from our students about aspects of the sessions they found most engaging:
Give opportunities for connecting
Meeting new people and building connections are what we often most enjoy about in-person events and programmes but your participants don’t need to miss out just because you are delivering digitally. Think about what technology solutions or options there can be to recreate these opportunities in different ways.
For example, during face-to-face work experience placements, many of our young people say their favourite part is often interacting with peers and working on case projects or group work. These activities often enable our students to build their skills and give them tangible experiences and examples to include in personal statements and future applications. We didn’t want students to go without this experience so a priority for us was moving group work online. We used technology to our advantage to make it happen as seamlessly as possible using breakout rooms, collaborative Google docs and students screensharing and recording presentations at the end.
Plan, prepare and practice
The more planning and preparation you do, the easier delivery of your online programme will be.
For you as the programme manager or coordinator running the overall online programme, this would include things like preparing your presenters (see tip #4 on briefing your team) and communicating to your attendees as well as making sure all your documents and key materials for the week are clear and centrally saved for anyone else supporting you.
For presenters, this means spending time practicing so you know what you are doing when you go live – both tech-wise and in terms of the content of your presentation. Test your camera and microphone for audio and video quality. And also practice what it is like to present online and make eye contact with the camera (that’s how you’d make eye contact with your audience after all).
For your attendees, be clear with them and prepare them in communications beforehand and during “housekeeping announcements” at the start of your session on how you want them to use your platform functions to interact (i.e. distinctions between Q&A vs chat features; how to ask a question; are you using “raise hand” or “reactions” features?) and whether there will be time for questions and if so, when.
Be ready for challenges
We hope that your online delivery will go smoothly but we’re also very aware that hiccups may happen along the way. We faced a few ourselves – students struggling to log in, presenters not turning up on time, technology glitches and breakout rooms not breaking students up correctly – but what helped us get through these was us thinking through scenarios ahead of time and having a great team who supported each other, kept in close contact and could flex between roles. Here’s some strategies that could be part of your pre-delivery preparation for in case things go wrong:
Evaluation is key
At the Sutton Trust, we love evaluation and it’s central to all of the work we do – and we think it’s especially important if you’re doing digital delivery for the first time: it’s the best way to learn, grow and improve.
Make sure you collect feedback from all your stakeholders involved. For us, this included students, presenters and staff. We sent a survey to each of these groups as well as having a debrief with the core Programmes team who hosted and led the sessions throughout the week. There’s many ways to evaluate so think about what works best for you and your stakeholders and what fits best with the programme – you could do snap polls after each session (many online video conferencing/webinar tools have this functionality built in); or a survey at the end of each day on that day’s sessions; or a survey at the end of the programme (for us, the end of the online delivery week). Following collecting feedback, have a clear plan for reviewing this and sharing with presenters and other relevant stakeholders.
We also recommend using your evaluation process with presenters and staff as a way to collect follow-up resources for attendees – such as recordings, slides, additional reading material/resources, getting responses to any unanswered Q&A – to send out in a timely manner afterwards.
To read more about The Sutton Trust’s move to digital delivery, you can check out the first in our two-part blog series here.
“I definitely think the week was most useful and eye opening out of any possible alternative work experience, despite it being online - it covered every aspect you could possibly think of [in] gaining an insight into the field. Pathways and all the law firms really outdid themselves!”
Pathways to Law Student | April 2020