Boots and All Experience of my First Guest Lecture In AltspaceVR

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Today I gave my first university guest lecture hosting in AltspaceVR. Since my first experience at the Microsoft MVP Mixed Reality Mixer back in March, I’ve been to a lot more events finding them the closest thing to interacting with my friends that I’ve found so far.  With the university lectures going virtual/online due to COVID-19 my usual in person lecture was moving on line, and my lecture about Agile and Retrospective, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to try a different format under the banner of embrace change, try something new and learn from it.

Firstly, I have to thank the teaching staff at QUT for being as excited as me to try something new and want to give the students a different experience. Without them, this could not have happened. 

Inclusivity Challenge

The biggest challenge we had to overcome was making the event accessible to all the students that wanted to participate.  Currently you experience it through Vive, GearVR, Oculus devices, Windows Mixed Reality Devices, and PC.  This leaves out anyone on Mac or Android devices.

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Credit: Sharon Altena

We solved this with Zoom and people power. One of the teaching staff entered the PC app and “sat” near the front with a view of the slides and then shared their screen inside the Zoom session. They had to be muted so they wouldn’t get a feedback loop. A 2nd Team member also in Altspace and on Zoom monitored the zoom chat and could feed me questions at the appropriate times.

Identifying Helpers

In this environment, we have avatars and usernames. They may not look like us and our chosen names may not obviously be us. We really wanted an easy way to identify the moderators. Something as simple as allowing the host to upload a simple logo that could be added to our avatars shirt would have been perfect. So the best we could come up with quickly was wearing the same colour shirt/logo.

Event Setup

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This was fairly painless. I reworked my powerpoint deck and exported some test pages into the event to check some of the colours. I found the black background with not much gradient worked ok and to bump the text sizes up as large as possible worked well.

Once I was happy I imported my deck into slides.com. Their is a free tier here, but I chose to get the monthly subscription, to eliminate ads. I went with very basic room setup to keep it performant as possible and only had the projector screen and the artboard with a picture I took at QUT loaded. While in the event I took a photo of the room which I then used to create the banner and thumbnail for the event to give it some context on the site.

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As the host, I could enter the event at any time and try my deck and make sure it worked. I also created a 2nd account – a “clone” me that I used to log in and make sure I could see the room and the slides.  Then I set up all the teaching staff as moderators so they could enter the room and help moderate on the day.

The teaching staff self organised who would play the various roles in the room, vs zoom and setup all the zoom infrastructure. They also polled the students to get an indication of how many might attend the event through one of the devices so I could ensure we’d be under the 80 person default. If we thought we’d to over we could get this extended by AltspaceVR team but I needed to give them advance notice.

On the Day Preparation.

The teaching staff and I entered early and they spent sometime setting up where to place the person that was to be the feed through to zoom.

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Credit: Alessandro Soro

They needed to be central and fairly close to the front. They stayed stationary throughout so they there’d be no camera motion for those watching from zoom.

We did a few “sound checks” to ensure that when I was amplified it was the right level through zoom. I did have to turn the microphone output to max.

I came in on the device (Oculus Quest) I wanted to use and ensure the slides were up and working. I didn’t however remember to recheck with everyone else that they could see correctly…more on that a bit later.

During the Event

It started well. People arrived, they seemed orderly. I talked through expectations for interaction we ensure people could emote as a feedback option. I discussed that I’d talk for a bit but have “Raise Hands” turned on and address them at the appropriate time. I addressed appropriate areas: front if you want to be still and watch, towards the back if you are a bit twitchy and the area right at the back if you wanted to walk around and to generally try not to block anyone’s view.

Seemed to be going well and then someone emoted a hand..hmm..unmute the audience. “Are we supposed to be on different slides?”. Yep. So while they could see my title slide, as I’d moved through them it’d updated for me but for nobody else. I tried a few things like refresh, enter slide numbers, and sync from my “personal browser” but the slides for the audience would still get out of sync.

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My slides don’t have much text so it wasn’t a big deal for now. I continued on till I reached the first activity point. Here I gave them instructions, told them to mingle and talk about the issue, unmuted them and left.  I then jumped back on through the PC version, reset the slides and ta-da it was working. Not wanting to risk another break I continued on for the rest of the session on my pc.  The downside of the pc is I don’t get moving hands so the audience misses my hand gestures.

For the rest of the session I talk, showed slides and took questions.

At the end we hung around a bit and as it cleared out we decided those remaining would pop onto the Zoom call and interact with those left on there.  This I found nice – I knew these people were watching while I was talking so it was nice at the end to pop over and say hi. Here we had a good chat.

Overall it seemed positive and something different to experiment with.

Also the audience was so well behaved, about half way through I left everybody on mics on.

Presenter Experience

This is so different to in person event. You are literally staring at a room of blank faced avatars. It really helped with people on devices as I could get head nods, and waves and thumbs up. Encouraging people to use the emoticons to give me feedback was useful aswell. Emote if you’re good for me to continue.  Raise hands also worked really well to grab the questions from the Zoom cohort.  It was a bit delayed as the messages were relayed but I think it worked out ok.

There’s a lot to juggle as the presenter – you have slides, amplifying your voice, muting people, managing hand raising etc.

For me the slides not syncing with what I could see was annoying. Normally in a live presentation what you can see on a projector screen the room can see. So mental note for next time: ask the audience if they can see slide 2!

I wouldn’t mind a 2nd projector screen up the back to mirror the slides. The interface to progress them is a bit clunky so I was turning around all the time to make sure I was on the right slide.

Final Thoughts

I definitely would do this again. In fact – I’d love to do it again – so hit me up if you want an Altspace presentation Smile  There’s an array of different room types and I chose the lecture type for the size capacity and the space it provided. I think there’s so much potential here for group collaborations I love to hear what you’re doing with it.

Coaching students–what I learnt

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Last year I tried something a bit different and was the “Agile Coach” for the 3rd year university students for their industry project. Throughout the year, I coached (I prefer mentored as coach makes me think of PE at school which I hated) around 70 different teams of students. It was very intense was I found it so much fun!

Now that I reflect back, it was interesting to see the common patterns that occurred in the teams and how most of the things are relevant to most teams today. I thought I’d list the top 5 that were common.


Pick Up The Phone

At first I put this down to a generational thing but then when I looked around the workplace and thought about some problems projects had had it seems to be common everywhere. Many of the groups were having trouble getting information/feedback from their users. They’d tried Facebook, email etc. and seemed ready to give up.

“Have you tried calling them?” – Blank stares.

It’s really easy to fall into the email/message trap when either picking up the phone or walking 10 metres to another cubicle will get you better results, faster.

When asking for feedback, give them a deadline

This one I see everywhere…You’ve sent the client and email / or had a meeting and asked for feedback. Then nothing…we’re waiting with no response.

Most of us are busy, many people are drowning in email and feedback requests. If we generically ask for feedback it’s easy to slip down our list in priority.  I’ve had a lot of success by a small change in my emails to telling them specifically when I need something i.e.

Team,

Please find attached xxxx document for review. Please provide feedback by COB YYYYYYYY date

Specifically for the students a lot of the time it’s an additional piece of feedback that is required for their marks and not specific to the solution their building. Adding to the date, telling them why it’s an important document / feedback makes a difference.

Ask the question

When you want or need something and you think you might get turned down, it’s easy to talk yourself into a state of don’t say anything.

Ask – the worst thing is they can say no, and you won’t be any worse off. I can’t remember who made me wise to this in my younger years, but thank you! I’ve lost track of number I times I’ve remembered this advice, sheepishly asked for something I thought was too troublesome, and surprised by a yes and am so glad I headed that advice.

Of course, it’s not always yes – it has also been anywhere from no, a compromise, to yes but I can’t think of a time that there’s been anything negative for asking the question (when phrased politely etc.)

Give your opinion

You’ve taken a certain direction, you don’t think it’s right, what do you do?  I see this a lot with non-technical clients who’s nephew said they needed to use a technology. It totally doesn’t fit with what they need for their business. I think you’re ethically bound in this situation to give your opinion on where that advice might be incorrect. If they choose to go ahead – at least you’ve warned them of the risks.

This gets trickier when you’re the junior on a team and it’s the team that made a decision. Hopefully your team allows you to at least ask why something is the way it is and express what you thought so at they can explain why the decision has been made. Many times, there’s other pieces to the puzzle you aren’t exposed to and this can help put things into perspective.

Talk about what you’re stuck on

We all get stuck sometimes. Many times the teams just need help breaking a problem down into smaller, manageable pieces that they can tackle. Many times they just don’t know where to start or are spinning their wheels.

How many times have you turned to a team member for help and don’t get past the “Can I ask you to look at …. got it…don’t worry….thanks”. This can be especially hard if you don’t have a team with you everyday. When I did a lot of work from home alone, I’d often say out loud to my dog what I was stuck on, or later to noone in particular. Just that switch in your brain of vocalising the problem you’re having, what you looked at seems to open other parts of the brain and you’ve solved it!

What did I learn? A lot of it was re-learning and remembering for me – the problems you have on small uni assignments don’t stop there, you get these in every day real life. The fundamentals are still the same 20 years later. The technology and method of approach can be different but most of the re-occurring issues are the same.