HOW TO run a virtual public education class on little or no budget
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Yesterday myself and co-worker Amanda Flahive attended the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago’s pilot “Virtual International Humanitarian Law” class. A lot of big words. I know. Bear with me.
The American Red Cross offers a free class world-wide that helps civilians and soldiers know what humanitarian laws and rights govern how to protect people’s dignity in times of conflict and war. The curriculum is taught in exactly the same way throughout the world by Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Jackie Mitchell, director of marketing and communications (my former boss and mentor), got to thinking… If the class is the same everywhere, developed for any audience at any education level, and free, why don’t we offer an option to participate virtually, rather than restricting participation to in-class and on-site?
Thus, the pilot class at the Chicago chapter.
Based on my experience, the in-person and virtual class was a successful first attempt. Here’s what I observed worked well:
1. Begin with a dream and intense passion
In the past I’ve discussed the “concept of enormity,” or the acknowledgment that asking people to save the world is not realistic because it’s too big to understand. We can focus on a single idea with a realistic end outcome. Jackie’s goal is to “reach as many people in the world as possible who are interested in this information.” She’s also surrounded herself with others who share a similar goal and are willing to work to make it happen. As Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
2. Identify your audience and leverage existing relationships
Even if humanitarian law doesn’t interest you, there is an audience for it. In this case, the Red Cross had an existing database to reach out to. However, the majority of attendees in the class came from personal invitations from both Jackie and the class facilitator. A few ideas for reaching more people who might like to access the online version:
- Personal email and/or phone call
- Facebook event
- Eventbrite event (There’s an option to upload addresses and send mass invites.)
- Blog post about the event
- Include the event in your email signature
- See if your local news outlets have a spot for nonprofit and/or community classes
3. Create a safe online and in-person environment
For sensitive issues like these, maintain a confidential, non-public format and a small class size to promote honest discussion.
4. Get the necessary tools and no more
You don’t need the fanciest technology to bring a virtual class to life. You do, however, need reliable technology.
- Hard wired internet connection
- Virtual meeting platform
- Speaker phone
- Web cam (preferably an external camera so online participants can view the in-class participants)
- Room with mobile phone and internet access (i.e. no dead zones)
5. Engage a second moderator or facilitator dedicated to the virtual attendees
In addition to our in-class facilitator, Jackie served as a secondary facilitator for the online participants and as their “in-class” voice. She constantly updated the online participants with what was happening in the class and vice versa.
6. Volunteers, volunteers and more volunteers
When you’re working on a small budget, it’s all about the volunteers. Everyone who worked the class last night was there on a volunteer basis. In fact, two of the marketing and communications interns were there to help troubleshoot and observe the class. Interns are a wonderful resource for classes like this.
7. Access to online slides, videos and other media assets
Resources are limited. Create an opportunity for virtual attendees to print their own slides if they would like. You can send them a copy of the slides in advance of the training via email. During the presentation use your shared online meeting space to highlight slides, videos and other media being shown to in-person attendees.
While these are few lessons learned from my class experience, I’d love to hear what you would add. If you would like to learn more about the “Virtual International Humanitarian Law” class contact Jackie at MitchellJa@usa.redcross.org or tweet with her team at @ChicagoRedCross.
I leave you with these words from Jackie, “If the pilot works, maybe you’ll be a part of expanding the preservation of dignity everywhere. Wouldn’t that be great?”