The methodology in bullet points
The online debate was based on three key players: the participants – teachers and one of their classes, the host and his/her team and the organiser, who also acted as the event moderator.
The methodology included guidelines for each of the three roles.
Preparatory activities of the organiser:
- Identify an interesting debate topic and the appropriate age group to ensure that the debate level suits the needs and expectations of both hosts and participants
- Familiarise with the topic and collecting a set of relevant online resources to be provided to the participants prior to the event
- Online simulation as a moderator to ensure a proper balance of the questions and answers to avoid noisy communication
- Agree with the host on a common language and a suitable time; best time was midday to cover the European time zone properly, from Ireland to Estonia
- Call for participants and register them; enable coverage in as many EU countries as possible
- Providing participants with a set of online resources to familiarise them with the subject and the latest developments in the field(s)
- Providing participants with clear guidelines on how to prepare the questions, what resources to check before coming online, what to do during the online event and why is important to ask but also to listen in an online debate
- Introducing the event host to the participants by publishing a webpage with the host profile, including some background information and the fields of his/her expertise
- Logistics: prepare computers to be available for the hosts and their teams of experts
- Assign a username to each participating school by combining the country name and a number, to make it easier for the host and the team to reply to questions; avoid using school names, as handling local names would be difficult while typing the username for an answer
- Provide all log on details, including a password.
Briefing the debate host and his/her team:
- Recommend the debate hosts to involve a number of experts around them to be able to answer professionally and cover as many questions as possible during the dialogue
- Assigning several usernames, one for the host him/herself and one for each team member.
Guiding teachers and classes:
- Recommend teachers to connect only one computer with a beamer to the chatroom, to enable the entire class watch the dialogue on a screen; certain chat tools could not accommodate an unlimited number of participants in 2000 and having, for instance, 50 users in a chatroom could led to a failure given also the poor Internet connections in certain schools
- Nominate a class leader to type the questions
- Prepare questions and select the best ten
- Invite participants to test the chat tool prior to the event; certain chat tools involved flash technologies and that raised a number of problems as school networks employed firewalls and other restrictions
- Check the event time; the organiser provided the time in each of the participating countries to avoid missing the event
- Participants were advised to type questions only when they were invited, to avoid running two much content on a screen
- If some participants were native speakers of the chat language, they were advised to use simple words and short sentences; the non-native speakers might not have been able to check a dictionary while contributing to the debate
- Students should never give out private information openly in a chatroom: passwords, credit card details, drivers’ license, numbers, home address etc.
- Double-check the correct time for the participants’ time zone
- Participants could take pictures at their places, during the event. The pictures went online, next to the debate transcript.
- Collecting feedback from both participants and host
- Pair questions and answers to be published afterwards, to share the debate content on the Web
- If not all questions were answered during the session, the host was advised to provide answers, so that no participant would be disappointed
- Publishing the debate content and thanking both participants and host.
I enjoyed this type of activities for about ten years. I had the chance to organise about 120 online debates and meet a number of key European public figures.