More thoughts on virtual vs in-person classes (Fall 2020)

As we move towards the fall and with things starting to open up more and more, I have had some people asking for in-person classes and have seen lots of discussion (online) between other birth professionals about this hot topic as well. 

Here are my thoughts: 

Connection

The main thing I've been consistently hearing from people is the concern around connecting with other parents in the group. I get it, so many pregnant people right now are already feeling isolated & are hoping to meet others who will have babies around the same age. 

People also want to feel connected to their instructor - to know that they can easily have their questions answered and have some personalized interaction as well.

So this is where I've been focusing my attention: on HOW we can foster that connection. And it's been working.

It's been really amazing to see that I'm at times actually seeing MORE connection and interaction than I did with some in-person classes! Perhaps it's because so many people are in the same 'boat' so to speak - looking for connection, wanting additional support and interaction, etc... whatever the reason, people are stepping up and adapting beautifully 

This is what I'm doing for each of my groups:

The virtual "Meet & Greet"

The week before our official class start date, I'm facilitating a "Meet & Greet" session for each group where we strictly focus on introductions. Before this session, I email the group reminding everyone to consider what sort of things they are interested in learning about each other and consider sharing those details. 

I've had groups where people are sharing where they've grown up, gone to university, what they studied, their pets and family backgrounds, etc. It's been wonderful! 

WhatsApp Chat

After our Meet & Greet session, I create a WhatsApp chat group for each group. I then encourage everyone in the group to repost a short summary of their introduction along with a photo to refresh everyone's memories. 

* These groups have been super active! Tons of resources being shared, questions and interactions and the most fun of all (for me) is seeing all the birth announcements eventually come through. I've even had groups sharing in their postpartum experiences and supporting each other that way.

Mid-Course Discussion

Before class 4, I launch our online meeting before our official class starts for a discussion as well as a Q&A within the group. This allows everyone a dedicated time to reconnect with their classmates, ask questions, share their thoughts and experiences so far.

Class 6 Divided into Two Parts

I have been offering this option to each of my virtual groups and it's been very well-received! What we would do is meet for two shorter classes rather than one long class. The main benefit of this is that by doing this second half earlier in the evening (on a separate evening), it allows us to roll the second half into a more casual Q&A allowing more time for interaction and discussion on the new baby care & breastfeeding info.

 

Instructor Availability

I do my best to ensure that each of my students feels that they can have any of their questions answered, anytime. I strive to make myself very available to my students in whatever way they need me; whether it's scheduling a phone call, answering questions via message or email or constantly checking in while we go through the classes.

* I also remind my students that I login and launch the class at least 5 minutes early and am also always available (quick message is all that's needed) to login earlier for discussion or questions.

Set Up & Interaction

Utilizing Zoom we are still able to watch videos, use a power point presentation as well as teaching aids (Speaker View when I'm demonstrating something) or Gallery View to see the entire group during discussions, etc. I've scanned all of my posters so that they're easy to share and view during class. 

I've had many students now cast or project their screen onto their tv so that it feels more like they're in the room or that they're casually watching an interactive documentary or movie (rather than staring at a computer screen)

* Please note: we go over all of this / using Zoom in our Meet & Greet for anyone who's not familiar

Outdoor, in-person meet

Paying close attention to the most current recommendations and guidelines, comfort levels and of course weather-permitting, I have had some groups meet up OUTSIDE, spaced out. I encourage my students to explore this option if it makes sense for their group. 

 

Class Reunion

No matter when it happens, I am committed to organizing a class reunion of some sort for each of my virtual groups

Loved the props & sincere interest/connection to the material provided by Jenn. She was extremely supportive of each couple and their unique experiences/challenges & was always willing to go the extra mile to help each person & each couple figure things out.

Jenn is just amazing. She is passionate, professional and her classes are filled with good advice and practical examples that will help us during childbirth I am sure. She has been able to adapt to the COVID situation and the online courses have been just as exciting as the live courses, I have no doubt about it.

Thank you so much for a great course! We really appreciated the energy you brought to each class;

I know from experience that it is not easy teaching on Zoom. 

We learned so much and I'm really looking forward to birthing my baby--this course is just what I needed.

If it's connection and interaction that people are seeking, I believe that an in-person group class at this time (in the time of Covid) may not meet that need. And here's why:

The Logistics: Realities of an In-Person Class

Numbers

If in-person classes are going to be held, the numbers will most likely need to be kept small (fewer people to interact with).

If a larger group (more than 2-4 couples) were to be held, a larger space would need to be found; one where everyone can space out safely as well as comfortably (see the next point). 

Set up / Location / Space

In a larger space (to accommodate more than just a few couples), trying to keep an intimate setting would be difficult. A microphone would be needed as well as a projection screen, etc. It's easy to imagine the effect this could have on the ability of students to ask questions and interact.

Seating

To appropriately space everyone out, seating would be spaced so that easy communication could be more challenging. Some suggestions also include physical barriers between couples for extra protection. 

PPE

In an indoor space, people would be encouraged (possibly eventually required?) to wear masks. While I am a mask supporter, I believe that it would be uncomfortable for a pregnant person to wear one sitting in one designated seat for hours at a time.

I also believe that it could affect the ability to communicate - not just between individuals/couples but for the instructor explaining information & topics effectively.

Sanitation

The entire class environment would need to be sanitized before and after each class. Any shared spaces (such as bathrooms) would also require constant attention. This would additionally be reflected in the class time as breaks would need to be much longer to accommodate everyone and all the additional sanitation requirements.

 

* Although this is something that the instructor would need to be responsible for, I think it's important for people to consider the weight of this when they're asking for group in-person classes.

The extra time and pressure to make sure that every surface that may have been touched by an unknown number of strangers throughout the day (in a rented space) has been cleaned properly and then also being responsible for the movements of over a dozen additional people every week and then also the responsibility in ensuring that every possible surface has been sanitized properly before leaving each week is a big consideration. 

Consequences

What if... someone got sick after attending a class? All those pregnant people exposed as well as babies.

As a human, I personally am not ready to take that risk.

As a small business owner, the effects on my business need to also be considered.

Just to be clear...

It's not that it cannot be done: with guidelines allowing for small group gatherings, I fully appreciate & understand why some people are asking & considering it now. I just feel very strongly that it would (currently) be difficult to make it happen in a way that would allow for the student's needs for connection to be met effectively while also keeping everyone safe. 

Of course there are some people who are currently spending their entire day using platforms like Zoom for work and the thought of adding more to that is overwhelming. I *totally* get it and encourage them to explore options such as the Hypnoabies self-directed home study program and consider supplementing it with some additional private support from me.  

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