Make your conference work
You can make a big difference to the effectiveness of any conference, and to your tutor group conference in particular.
We are going to discuss in turn the four main ways that you can help a conference work well:
help people to get to know you;
construct clear messages;
take some responsibility.
To get the most out of conferencing on your course, get involved and participate fully. It can make a big difference to your enjoyment and understanding of the course.
putting in some time and effort;
‘being there’ for people by reading and responding to their messages, and giving support where you can.
The only way to do it is to have a go, make mistakes and enjoy yourself in the process. In the end, the more you put in, the more you'll get out of it.
If you're asked to do particular things in the conference, get on and do them! Making a commitment is really crucial. Once you feel it's ‘your’ conference, you'll want it to work well, and everything else will tend to follow.
If you can't be very active, let people know. For example:
“Sorry I can't be around for a while, but I'll do what I can when I get back.”
Helping people to get to know you is particularly important in the early stages of a conference. People need to feel that they can trust each other, so they can ‘risk’ putting forward their ideas or asking ‘silly’ questions.
Be yourself. Use examples from your own experience, perhaps share a little about your life outside the course, and write more or less as you speak, rather than very formally, as this can come across as a bit pompous.
Personalise your messages, if possible, using simple things like different fonts, colours, icons or even sound, if your software allows you. But don't overdo this and create huge messages, otherwise people will get annoyed at the time it takes to download them!
If you write your messages very clearly and make it easy for people to see how they fit into the discussion, then it's more likely people will read and consider your messages. Everyone will find it easier to follow what's going on:
Use ‘threading’ properly. If someone replies to a message, then someone replies to the reply, and so on, then the whole ‘chain’ of messages is called a thread. Conferencing software makes it easy to follow a thread. If you're introducing a new topic or issue, don't reply to an existing message, start a new thread instead, with a new and relevant subject line.
Make the point of your message clear. A good way to force yourself to be clear is to use a relevant subject line and a one sentence summary at the top of a longer message, such as:
“This message is to explain why…”
Keep to one subject per message. It's much better to send several messages if you have a number of topics to write about, because then people can reply to whichever topic they want and the separate discussions are in separate threads rather than being all jumbled up.
Give reasons for your opinions. It's hard to discuss something with someone if they just state what they think without any justification. Use the word ‘because’ freely! Examples often help.
Invite responses to your messages, such as:
“Do you agree with me here?” or
“Have I left anything out?”.
Taking responsibility is all about paying attention to the ‘process’ of the conference as well as the content. If everyone does this, your conference will feel like a community. Ways to do this include:
helping to keep things going;
starting discussions without being told to;
helping to summarise.
Watch out for people who may be feeling ignored or left out, and try to help.