Adjusting to the “new normal” amid COVID-19 has been a challenge for everyone. When I discovered that the TRSM Academic Success Centre (ASC) planned on conducting virtual training for my Peer Academic Coach job, I wondered how it could be nearly as effective and engaging as it is in physical settings. I anticipated training would consist of long, mind-numbing presentations. However, the reality was much different.

1) A meeting is only a click away
Would you attend a meeting if you were required to purchase the online platform or it was too complex to use? Well, maybe not. The ASC picked an easily accessible and user-friendly platform, Zoom, to host the training. All Ryerson staff, faculty and students now have licensed Zoom accounts. Zoom is a popular application offering a variety of tools to enhance the user experience, and thus used by many organizations.

Before starting the sessions, our training facilitators introduced different tools for the students to participate during the sessions. Students played around with the tools to get the gist of the platform, such as changing virtual backgrounds to the image of the Ryerson Student Learning Centre. Furthermore, students were divided into teams to play scavenger hunt to learn more about Zoom functionalities through Ryerson Zoom Guide. Facilitators ensured that we were all comfortable using the platform.

2) Is everyone invited?
Zoombombing (when an uninvited person joins your meeting) is definitely something everyone wants to avoid at all costs. The ASC has prevented this by requiring Ryerson credentials to join the meeting room (ryerson.zoom.us), creating a waiting room where you have to wait until the host admits you in the main room and locking the meeting room after all the guests have joined. The training sessions went smoothly with zero interruptions to our training.

3) You are actually learning
Online learning is often associated with boring and monotonous presentations with little to no activities. The ASC utilized a variety of fun tools to encourage engagement. Learners actively participated through fun icebreakers, presented ideas by annotating whiteboards and sharing screens and used emojis to express feelings.

The sessions began with icebreakers in a popcorn style (any students could introduce themselves and get familiar with other students, without a specific order). The participants enjoyed jumping into the conversation and sharing their thoughts with no hesitation. Facilitators were successfully able to create an inclusive and interactive environment.

4) Add me on LinkedIn
A myth strongly believed in is that you will struggle to make friends online. The ASC proved this myth wrong by having us join breakout sessions to discuss topics covered in the training or to complete activities like virtual scavenger hunts. Breakout rooms were a refreshing break from the training session, and an excellent method to strengthen teamwork. It allowed students to learn about their peers and connect with others on a personal level. Some of us even connected on social media. 

5) This is not the end
Students had the opportunity to focus on the learning rather than scribbling down the notes like in class. Everyone was able to pay undivided attention at the training and pose questions as needed. Meetings were recorded, enabling trainees to review the material after the sessions and absentees to get back on track.

Conclusion
ASC did a great job in facilitating virtual training by utilizing appropriate technology. The training was a huge success as it was stimulating and engaging. Facilitators maintained an enthusiastic environment and made the meeting lively. After completing the training, I was able to establish a good rapport with my colleagues and was confident to start my job.

I have learned tremendously from my training and would like to apply this knowledge to my job. As a Peer Academic Coach, I will ensure that I am easily accessible to my fellow students, attentively listen to their needs and provide assistance with the objective to improve their academic journey.

Posted by Isha Zahid

Isha Zahid is a second year business student majoring in Economics and Management Sciences. She is passionate about creating a positive difference in her community by actively participating in educational programs and volunteering in her leisure time. She is currently Peer Academic Coach at the Academic Success Centre.