People reflect on the Future Trends Forum

In June I started surveying Future Trends Forum participants for their reactions to this still new project.  Now I’d like to share results, partly to stir up more feedback, and also in the open spirit of my work.

(Note that the Forum has a new web page!)

At a meta level, I send a SurveyMonkey link to every person who’s ever participated in a Forum, and 7.9% (45 of 573) answered the questions, which was good.  My blog-based call for more responses led to a mere four (4) extra responses, which was paltry.  I’ll focus on the first group here.  And thank you so much for contributing!

Who took this survey?  It tended to be people who’ve been in a few sessions, along with some hardcore veterans.  I asked how many Forum sessions respondents had been in:

how many sessions have you been in

Overall, people approved of the Forum’s progress so far.  95.56% found it useful or very useful.  100% thought we should keep going.  Which was very heartening.

On the Forum’s contents: participants were quite varied in what topics they were most interested in.  Check out the spread in this chart:

topics most useful to you

A strong focus on technologies (especially emerging ones), open education, and educational transformation, not much interest in K-12 or assessment, then a variety of sub-groups.

When asked what benefits they obtained, participants offered a mix of goods.  Many liked speakers for their variety, currency, novelty, and leadership.  They also appreciated ideas, either for their utility or provocative nature. Some enjoyed interacting with other people – indeed, one of my favorite responses was “community of thinkers” (more on that below).  Some saw the topics as being very present-oriented in their usefulness, while others valued their insight into the future.

Twice I’ve been a session’s sole presenter, and folks were generally ok with that.  82.05% approved, while the rest were neutral or opposed.

On the structure of each session: around 85% thought the one hour length was good.

A key aspect to the Forum is emphasizing personal presence and downplaying other media – i.e., slides.  People tended to approve:

Powerpoint or no

How do Forum participants like to ask questions? 66.67% preferred to use text-based options, either pinging me directly, or, above all, typing in the Shindig chat box. If we include Twitter under that text header, 87.18% of Forum participants – a supermajority – prefer that mode.

how do you like to ask questions

Only 12.82% selected the video option.

Interesting dissensions broke out over interactivity.  I suspect this has much to do with the recent evolution of webinars towards passive watching and low interactivity; some enjoy this, while others seek the kind of alternative the Future Trends Forum now offers.

For example, asked about the mingle phase (when we presenters climb down from the Shindig “stage” and the whole population discusses a topic in small groups), respondents were pretty evenly divided into pro-, anti-, ambivalent, and “can be improved” camps.  I didn’t ask a quantitative question, preferring comments, and was richly rewarded.

  • The ambivalents were diverse.  Some expressed appreciation in general, but couldn’t take advantage of small group video interaction because of their immediate environment (“I work in an open office, so these types of conversations wouldn’t work well with background noise. I turn my status to private during the mingle part”), or preferred not to due to being introverted (“I wouldn’t participate in mingle, but I think it’s useful for others”).  Others thought it was just ok (“meh”).  One thought the mingle was too much to fit into a packed hour.
  • The supporters were sometimes simply positive (“I like it”, “Love it!”, “Absolutely love it – its what makes them unique”, “Excellence strategy to engage the audience”), while others thought it needed work to function better, or wanted help getting into interaction (“I love this aspect, it’s still a bit awkward to figure out, but don’t stop the mingling”).
  • Opponents were sometimes straightforward (“Eliminate the mingle”, “Don’t really want to mingle”), or expressed dislike for the concept (“I often can’t mingle and even prefer watching on Youtube”, “Have not really taken advantage of mingle; I’d prefer more public response to questions”, “The mingle is a bit of a hurdle for me; strange to just click on someone I’ve never met”).  Some mentioned difficulties in getting the process to work.  One compared mingling unfavorable to another, more successful option: “I didn’t find the mingle phase too helpful… partly because we were already mingling via chat, Twitter, etc. Backchannel is more helpful than mingling.”
  • Reformers were very generous with suggestions.   For example, “maybe line up a few “reactors” in advance so they know they are going to have a speaking role”.  Or “I wish there was a way to get minglers by mode (e.g., those on video all together, those text-chatting together, etc.).” And “you could take a bit of structure from the Diane Rehm show, where you and the guest chat in the first half and then take listener and audience questions towards the end.” “I think this could be informed a bit more by questions people send on twitter.”  This is awesome stuff.

A similar divide broke out in response to “How do you feel about interacting with other participants?”  “Great idea!” and “It’s why i show up” were opposed by “I don’t like that feature so much” and “not so useful”, along with “can’t really talk from where I am participating” or “I personally prefer not to interact, but I think it’s useful for others.”  Technological problems (“haven;t really done it — perhaps because I feel hampered by a lack of video cam on my office desk computer”) were actually scarce.

About Forum sessions beforehand: I was curious about how people learn of upcoming sessions.  To my surprise it was the oldest digital technology that was most effective:

how do you find out about the next session?

I was also surprised that our attempts to hew to a regular schedule – Thursdays, 2-3 pm EST – didn’t seem to have an effect.

About after each Forum: uploading a video recording to YouTube, sharing notes and Twitter links via blog post received a majority approval rating.

So what next?

In terms of content, it seems that technology and transformation are the leading guideposts for us to follow as we hunt new topics and speakers.  Respondents were also very generous in sharing new, specific topics:

blockchain in education; demographics of students; faculty development; infrastructure changes; instructional design;international education (“a more explicit non-US, non-western focus”, “globalization in education”); learning analytics & ethics; organizational issues ; personalized education; policy trends in education; skills gaps; strategy; tools and apps; Universal Design for Learning (UDL); virtual and augmented reality.

My own sessions… maybe I should keep doing that on the current schedule, which is quarterly.  Or I could push them apart a bit, perhaps one every 4-5 months.

In terms of structure, while we should keep doing what we’re doing in terms of session length, minimizing slides, interaction is the big area to address.  Since chat is the leading interaction opportunity, I need to pay special attention to that venue.  As Shindig breaks chat down by rooms (circa 16 people, broken out as they enter the platform), we need to figure out a way to glean feedback from all rooms in a given session.

Given the positive feedback on video interaction, and my own inclination, I’d like to continue the mingling phase, but need to improve it.  I appreciate the ideas folks submitted, and will start experimenting this week.

We also looked into Forum spinoffs, as I’ve been considering several.  After all, this has now generated a significant amount of content (video, text, images, tweets), which might do well translated or repurposed onto other platforms.  Your responses were very instructive:

which spinoffs would you like to see?

Podcasts led the way, followed closely by articles.  That’s very good to know, and both are doable.  Heck, I’ve already done one article based on the Forum, as have other people.

This one was very inspiring: “Use a forum to launch a class or a project.”  Hmmmm!

Last point, and one that might be the most important: I love the way one person expressed what they liked about the Forum, their participation in a “community of thinkers”.  With 20 sessions already done – 20 hours of deeply participatory conversation – and nearly 600 participants, can we now speak of a Future Trends Forum community?  I think we can.

My deepest, most sincere thanks to the members of that community for so generously sharing their reactions and thoughts through this survey.

What do you think of these responses, and of the Forum?

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2 Responses to People reflect on the Future Trends Forum

  1. Nice responses – you got some good feedback!

    Anytime you do something differently, e.g. adding interaction, some people will say they like it better the way everyone else does it. Why do this if you aren’t going to do something that nobody else does? Those who prefer purely one-way webinars have dozens to choose from every day. Keep innovating my friend!

  2. Pingback: What should we do next with the Future Trends Forum? | Bryan Alexander

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