Staff Perspective: Making the Most of Second Life Workshops

Staff Perspective: Making the Most of Second Life Workshops

The other day, I happened to be looking at the calendar on my cell phone and it dawned on me that it had been exactly one year since I interviewed for my position at the Center for Deployment Psychology. As I thought about that day, I remembered being really impressed with and excited about all of the innovative ways that CDP was using technology (e.g., Second Life) to disseminate training in Evidence-Based Psychotherapy (EBP). Dr. Holloway (Director of CDP’s Online Division and now my supervisor) told me about all of the different ways the Online Team was using technology to help CDP to “break down the physical barriers” between trainers and trainees. He logged on to Second Life to show me CDP’s Virtual Headquarters, including the auditorium and break-out rooms in which EBP workshops were being offered. “Finally!”, I thought, “This is a place where my unique skills as an EBP trainer AND video game geek will be equally appreciated!” I wondered if I should add “Avid Gamer” and  “Beat Mega Man 2 at age 10” back to my CV....

Well, I didn’t add any of video game skills back to my CV, but luckily my psychology-related credentials were good enough to get me the job. It’s been almost a year since I started in my position as a Cognitive Behavior Therapy trainer at the Center for Deployment Psychology. During that time, I have had the opportunity to facilitate several online EBP workshops, and each has been a very rewarding and unique experience. There is something really amazing about having clinicians from Europe, Asia, Alaska, and half a dozen other states attending the same workshop. It dawned on me that many of the clinicians from remote locations attending our EBP workshops in Second Life don’t have access to in-person EBP training and that Veterans and Service members in these areas would now have the opportunity to receive EBP they wouldn’t have otherwise. It was also encouraging to see the results of our post-workshop surveys indicating that attendees had high levels of satisfaction and perceived confidence in their ability to initiate EBP with their clients after completing workshops in Second Life.

Although there is good reason to be enthusiastic about online training, some EBP trainers have concerns about the effectiveness of online training as compared to in-person training. One specific issue that is commonly raised is related to concerns about the level of participation and engagement of workshop attendees. Signs of engagement (and disengagement) are fairly easy for a trainer to observe and address during an in-person workshop. For example, engaged participants frequently ask questions, take notes, and participate enthusiastically in role-plays while non-engaged participants might be looking at their cell phones, talking to their neighbor, or sleeping (I actually had a participant in one workshop even pull her jacket over herself as a blanket!). It can be a bit more difficult for a trainer to detect the level of engagement of online participants because the “signs” are different. Online trainers pay attention to participation in the ongoing text chat and voice chat, and often have to put forth a little more effort in encouraging participants to demonstrate their engagement through these means.

When talking about the issues related to engaging online participants, the assumption is that the onus for fostering engagement is almost exclusively on the trainer. However, I would like to submit that workshop participants have an equal responsibility to manage their own level of engagement in order to make the most out of training, whether it occurs in-person or online. Just like any other relationship, both the trainer and the attendees need to work together to make training a rewarding and valuable experience. Trainers spend considerable time preparing for workshops and developing methods for engaging their audiences, but how much time do workshop participants put into preparing themselves to be effective consumers?

Given the unique nature of online training, I thought that it could be helpful to offer CDP’s consumers a few suggestions that will hopefully help to prepare them to get the most out of their online training experience. Toward that end, I asked a number of my CDP colleagues to provide their advice for participants who want to get, and stay, engaged during online workshops. Listed below is a summary of the most common suggestions.

Get a “Second Life”

Many attendees to our Second Life workshops don’t spend much time becoming familiar with the basic controls and features of the platform before their training date. Unfortunately, this can result in the loss of precious training time and tie up our technical staff who need to be focused on making sure that the vital functions of Second Life are running smoothly during the workshop. The good news is that there are some very easy ways to learn the skills necessary to participate in a Second Life workshop.  In fact, CDP has an entire web page dedicated to assisting consumers to prepare themselves to attend a workshop in Second Life. This page even includes several “how to” videos developed by Dr. Kelly Chrestman to help the user become more familiar with the basic features of Second Life. CDP also offers Virtual Open Houses that provide “hands on” training in basic Second Life skills for participants who register for online workshops. These resources, as well as pre-workshop tech support, are just a click away. Be sure to take advantage of them. It’s also a great idea to simply log on to your Second Life account at least once before your workshop to practice moving around, using text chat, sitting and standing up, and using voice chat. These actions will be very useful during your workshop. In short, it pays to be proactive. Don’t wait until the day of your training to begin learning the skills you will need to participate in a Second Life workshop.

Manage Logistics

Do you wake up 5 minutes before an in-person workshop, throw on sweatpants, and show up without eating breakfast? Of course not! Think about the time and energy you put into preparing yourself to attend an in-person workshop. Now, think about taking the same care and attention to preparing your learning space prior to an online workshop. Be sure that your computer is working well and that your internet connection is functioning properly. Test your headphones and microphone (or buy a decent pair and THEN test it). Set yourself up in a private room with minimal distractions. If other people are likely to be in the same space or vicinity, consider hanging a “do not disturb” sign on the door or informing them that you will be training that day and will be unavailable. Have a notebook handy or print out slides and handouts ahead of time. Lastly, it is important to remember that you will be sitting in front of a computer for much of the day, so take care to choose a seat that is the right combination of comfortable and conducive to work.

Bring Your “A” Game

How will you sustain your attention during an online workshop? Your ability to sustain attention begins with your intention to pay attention. Online training is training. Come to your online workshop with the same attitude you bring to other important training activities. Remind yourself about the professional and personal values that are being served by attending this training as well as the Veterans and Service members who will be helped with the skills you learn. As you log on to your computer for the training, make sure you arrange your virtual workspace to optimize your ability to focus on being an engaged participant.  It is important to maximize the Second Life viewer so that it fills your entire screen. This will hide all the icons calling for your attention on the desktop. Close your web browser and shut down your email  and other programs (you don’t want to be distracted by the incessant “dings” signaling the arrival of new messages). Activate your “out of office” message for both your voice mail and email.  Put your cell phone in a different room or at least make a deal with yourself to not check for new messages until scheduled breaks. When there are scheduled breaks, take some time to get up and walk around. The physical activity will give you some extra energy and provide you a chance to rest your eyes. When presenters pose questions or ask for feedback, make it a habit to write a response in the text chat, even if you don’t think you have something brilliant to say. Sometimes, writing a simple “LOL” in response to one of your presenter’s cheesy jokes (a frighteningly common occurrence during trainings facilitated by yours truly) or commenting on another attendee’s questions can help you to feel like an active participant rather than a “fly on the wall.” Furthermore, discussion in chat breeds more discussion, so even small contributions help to build a sense of community. Lastly, do your best to appreciate the unique opportunities afforded to you by the technology. Training online is a great way to interact with people all across the country (and perhaps the world) while learning valuable clinical skills that you may not have had a chance to learn otherwise.

I hope that these suggestions have been helpful. We hope to see you (or at least your avatar) in a Second Life training soon! If you have additional suggestions for prospective attendees to Second Life workshops, please log in and add your comments. In closing, stay tuned to for more information about Second Life training events and learning opportunites, including an upcoming video blog with Drs. Kevin Holloway and Jenna Ermold who will be chatting about all of CDP’s Second Life assets!

Andrew Santanello, Psy.D is a licensed, clinical psychologist and CBT trainer at the Center for Deployment Psychology. Dr. Santanello joined CDP after over a decade of service in the Veterans Health Administration where he was a staff psychologist in the Trauma Recovery Program.