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New training framework

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Blog N°15

Group dynamics

As with a face-to-face class, the group dynamics of a video dance conferencing vary depending on standard elements such as the number of participants, age, gender, level of preparation and clearly the character traits of the participants.

However, other elements contribute to the dynamics of a group, especially when participants are not sharing the same physical space and cannot touch each other.

Let's take a look at what factors go into creating a good group dynamic.

First of all we need to see when and how the group was formed, and whether it was a regular course or a workshop with one or a few meetings.

During the past year and a half I have taught dance classes and workshops to quite different types of groups. This has allowed me to get a good overview and to define two group types within which I can classify all the others.

The first type is a regular course group that has moved from face-to-face to online classes, in which case the group adapts to the communication channel. This dynamic remains analogue.

The other type is a group created for the first time in an online course or workshop. In this case the group develops its dynamic in a video conference. This was the most interesting case for my research.

When the group existed and the participants had already developed their own dynamics of relating to each other, the move to online classes did not bring about much change other than to accentuate the eventual separations between subgroups. For example between participants who have developed a friendship outside the course and who continue to see each other outside the group.

When the group consists of participants who do not know each other beforehand, the dynamic is purely digital and the training director has to mediate and help this process.

Connection elements

In order for a group to develop its own identity, participants must be able to interact with each other as well as with the teacher.

This means that they must be able to join and divide into subgroups according to the technical level and different personal characteristics within the class. For this to happen, students need to be able to develop overt complicity. By overt complicity, I mean the relationships between the members of the group that are manifested during the lessons, in front of everyone and can be manifested by small gestures, exchange of jokes or simply moments of private chat,

Since in an online class the participants cannot interact with each other except in private chat, i in other words with a tool that is not perceived by the group, it is difficult to build a common dynamic.

This space must be recreated by the instructor who must offer participants situations of exchange. For example, by inviting participants several times to talk about themselves, ask questions, and show each other during the execution of an exercise.

Video conferencing in itself offers useful tools for this purpose: whiteboards for collective brainstorming or breakout sessions where participants are divided into groups where they work independently.

Other elements that create the dynamics of a group are what we might call divisive or conflictual. Those elements that create tension such as technical and aesthetic differences and preferences and the resulting competition between participants.

Again, it is up to the instructor to offer opportunities for comparison and discussion. The aforementioned Breakout Session, combined with mutual demonstrations of exercises are good tools to achieve this.

Observations of a group dynamic formed entirely digitally.

I personally found myself in a group formed completely online only as a course participant.

This allowed me to observe the development of group dynamics from the inside, without being able to influence them as an instructor.

It is important to say that the group I attended was large, which did not help the participants to unite.

On the contrary, it showed that above a certain number of participants, to be precise a number that is less than or equal to the number of video boxes on a given screen, it becomes very unlikely that the group will be able to build its own dynamics.

For the Zoom software, which is the one I worked with, the standard number of participants per screen is 25, but this can be increased to a maximum of 49, although I personally do not recommend this.

Considering that most participants connect in video conference with a computer monitor, laptop or desktop, ranging from 13 to 16 inches, the ideal number for the group to develop its own dynamic is 20 to 25 participants maximum.

I would like to further emphasise that any union of people identified as a group develops its own dynamics, irrespective of its number, e.g. the citizens of a country develop dynamics, which outline its characteristics and habits, and identify them. Often this becomes commonplace, for example that Germans love their cars maniacally.

But these are not the dynamics we are interested in. We are interested in understanding which dynamics develop between the members of a group of people following an online dance training. We want to understand whether the digital format facilitates or preludes interaction between participants and the resulting learning dynamics.

For this reason I have limited the participants in my online courses to a maximum of 23 individuals.

Places, not places

Digital group, digital dynamics

In addition to the strategies listed above to allow the group to build up and take on an entity of its own, Breakout Session, exchange of opinions, demonstration of exercises... there are also digital strategies that the group uses to develop its dynamics independently of the trainer. These strategies use other digital tools, with which participants continue to communicate and keep in touch beyond the Video Conference class. These are for example: email, social media and/or messaging programmes.

All these are virtual open meeting places. By -open - we mean virtual places that are accessible whenever the user logs in.

Remember that a Video Conference Link only opens a space if the host makes it accessible, otherwise it is a closed place - inaccessible. The aforementioned digital tools are open places like parks or squares where users can always return and leave messages of different qualities (written, vocal, video...).

Participants who have less knowledge and use fewer digital devices and programmes will consequently be more likely to be excluded from the group.

We can therefore say that digital, beckons digital.

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