As many colleges move online, I realize I have a somewhat-unique experience: I shameless ripped off the pedagogy from my small liberal arts professors and have spent the last decade+ applying it at distributed tech companies. I've facilitated video conversations with anywhere from three to fifty participants, both in the course of my work, as part of reading groups for specific texts, on social science topics like "gender and racial bias in tech" and as part of consciousness raising groups to help foment cultural change.
You all have the advantage that the students have already been interacting with one another and with you; that pre-existing trust makes it much easier. And you are all going to be doing this for the first time, so you can figure it out together. The best advice I can give is saving five minutes at the end to talk about how you all feel the discussion just went, and if it isn't working in the middle of the class, just stop and have a conversation about what isn't working.
The greatest challenge moving to video is that it is easier for people to check out from behind a screen and not have it be obvious. The advantage is that if they do, it isn't as disruptive. I always treat any video meeting as opt-in, and then work to make it easy for people to do that opting.
- Switch to Speaker View: when someone starts speaking their video will pop up, similar to you glancing at someone who takes a breath
- Have the other videos in gallery view, so you keep an I on if people are engaged
- For up to 10 people I don't bother with raised hands. For more than that some video tools have a built-in mechanisms: for the rest you can use chat.
- Have one person, ideally not a participant, take collaborative notes so everyone else can pay attention. If they are in the same room as you (ideal) they can also manage the queue of people who want to speak on a piece of paper so you can glance down and know who is next.
- Encourage people to take paper notes, so their screens can just be the video. Similar, have them use an e-reader/tablet or print out any readings. The other advantage of this is that you will be able to see when they glance down.
- Have a way for people to submit things they'd like on the agenda before the call starts: that gives you more time to plan. I typically use Slack for this, but wherever this group of people is chatting works.
- Establish your facilitation plan up-front and communicate it, even if it is the same as last week. Remember, we've just taken out all the turn-taking mechanisms people are used to using for in-person discussions, so replacing them with something explicit helps.
- Cover the goal of the specific discussion as well, and frame any expectations ("if you haven't read X you are welcome to observe but not participate" is a common one for our architectural reviews, for example.)
- Since you can't go "around the room", for smaller groups where you want to go round-robin, write down the list of names of participants on the line so you can call in them confidently. I like using the same list to keep track of people's contributions later.
- Plan the emotional arc of the conversation: this is the key to keeping people engaged.
- As much as possible, prompt for specific kinds of comments, rather than using open-ended questions. The tendency for confident voices is amplified, and being more specific draws out people who aren't confident responding to general prompts.
- People aren't getting the usual signals to stop talking, so don't be shy about interrupting. I like interrupting with clarifying questions: it draws people into the conversation, rather than driving them out, without letting them run away with the time. Facilitation has to be pretty active to be effective.
- Provide positive feedback on the process of how people are participating, as well as the comments themselves
- Use the best camera you can find, and try to ensure your internet connection is high-bandwidth
- Use a microphone (I like https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Snowball-Condenser-Microphone-Cardioid/dp/B014PYGTUQ) or you phone headset if your computer's built-in microphone isn't great
- Having someone share notes makes the information more accessible, because it is harder to take notes in the video format with a computer in front of you
- If you have students with hearing loss, CART services can often integrate with video meetings
- Using techniques like going around the room can help people who are thrown off by the loss of implicit turn-taking
- If your students' equipment isn't as good, don't be shy about repeating questions
Beyond all of that, know that it isn't as different as it feels at first and it is absolutely possible.