Today at Palo Alto Friends Meeting (3/29/2020, online), we started our zoom meeting at 9:00 AM. As an experiment, this time, we devoted the Main Session Room to serve as the virtual Lobby or Foyer, and created Breakout Rooms for various other functions. For example: One breakout room was set to Adult Ed, another to Hymn Singing, and a third to Meeting for Worship. One or two of us assigned as hosts hung out in the Foyer to greet people and “assign” them to whatever room they cared to go to. Once one is assigned to a breakout room, they are presented with an item to click in order to join, whenever they feel ready. Some chose to chat for a bit in the Foyer before heading off into their chosen room. Some returned to the Foyer when they experienced technical issues and we were able to assist them without disturbing others.
As Adult Ed finished up, and later, Hymn Singing finished up, people either voluntarily returned to the Foyer where the host “assigned” them to the Breakout Room for Meeting for Worship, or, when the time for their activity was over, the host “assigned” them directly from the room they were in. From the Foyer, they could join the Meeting for Worship whenever they desired by clicking on “Join Breakout Room.” When assigned from one Breakout Room to another, the participant would find themselves suddenly transported.
At 10:45, the hosts joined the Meeting for Worship Breakout Room, themselves. As newcomers arrived in the Main Session Room after that time, the host was notified and would leave the Breakout room momentarily to join the newcomer in the Main Session Room, greet them and “assign” them to the Meeting for Worship Breakout Room.
Anticipating a period when I might be the only host present, and might have to step away from my computer, I created a document to “share” on my screen while I was away to let new visitors know to expect my return. I also created a powerpoint slide deck that I could set to play in a loop in my absence and that explains Quaker practice; but, I didn’t finish it. I expect to have it completed for next week.
Today, our First Day School teacher held a separate zoom session for our young people. This probably could have worked just as well as an additional Breakout Room.
We discovered that using the Main Session Room as a Foyer has so many advantages that we now recommend it for all our online meetings. It permits people who are new to zoom to get comfortable using various controls before entering the “real” meeting. It permits people who experience technical difficulties to obtain assistance without disturbing the entire meeting. It permits the sharing of information about Quaker style worship with people who are new to Quaker meetings. It’s been suggested that we consider creating a One-On-One Breakout Room where elders might answer questions of newcomers or engage in supportive counseling of members in need, either before or after Meeting for Worship. Finally, while we didn’t have the need today, it would permit screening of potentially disruptive participants, as well. Reports of such disruptions occurring in other widely-publicized meetings contributed to our decision to try this method.
Note also that we decided to try this experiment instead of using the zoom feature of a “Waiting Room” because that feature does not permit communication to and among those in waiting.
from Pam Vavra, Palo Alto Friends Meeting (3/29/2020)