Virtual Shut Up and Write: now with added Video

This post was co-authored by a really generous bunch of people, some of whom we met for the first time to write it. The post was planned in a Twitter DM group chat, and written together on Google Docs. It’s being published here on Research Degree Insiders but comes from all of us. 

Katherine Firth (@researchinsider), Tseen Khoo (@tseenster but also @LTUresearchers and @researchwhisper), Debbie Kinsey (@Debbie_Kinsey) and Hannah James (@ToothDetective and @ANUresearcher) contributed words and images to the document; and Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer), Siobhan O’Dwyer (@Siobhan_ODwyer), Victoria Firth-Smith (@FirthSmith) and Justin Canty (@writingin2being) all gave advice, links, content or led us to our co-authors (or all three!). Thank you so much to everyone for their generosity and input. This is a much better post because of it! 

This post is LONG, but we think it’s worth it for a single authoritative one-stop-shop for all your video virtual SUAW needs. 

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You probably already know and love Shut Up and Write. 

As Katherine wrote, back in 2017:

 Shut Up and Write is 2 or 4 times of 25min writing sprints with a short break between them. We do it in a group, for motivation and accountability.

Usually, Shut Up and Write happens in face to face settings, in cafés or libraries.  The Thesis Whisperer and Research Whisperers set up the first main academic Shut Up and Write in Melbourne in 2011, they have a central information page  and Inger writes about her first experience of trying it out ; and a post, ‘Writes Well with Others‘ from Jonathan O’Donnell follows up.  There are a number of sessions that run around Melbourne (see this map) and online sessions on Twitter run under the hashtag #suaw. It’s incredibly successful, and so productive. 

Lots of us have been running virtual SUAW for years (apparently Katherine was running oneback in 2013), though most of you will know it from the Shut Up and Write Tuesdays (@SUWTues) accounts started by Siobhan O’Dwyer (also back in 2013). Siobhan wrote about running them for Research Whisperer. You may know about the sessions run by La Trobe’s Research Education and Development (RED) team on Twitter since 2016.  There is an active Facebook Virtual Shut Up and Write – Parents’ Edition group that Katrina McChesney wrote about for the Doctoral Writing SIG blog

So we have a LOT of experience in this space… but it turns out even we don’t know everything and we’ve all been on a steep learning curve trying to do Virtual SUAW… now with added video. 

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SUAW Friday - 27march2020
Photo of the Friday SUAW hosted by Jonathan O’Donnell | From top left: Anuja, Tseen, Steph, Gillian, Sarah, Jonathan, Effie, and Nik | https://twitter.com/tseenster/status/1243316239889391617/photo/1

It’s March 2020 and alongside new technologies and increasing off-site working, many people are having to suddenly transition to remote working as isolation measures are introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19. Earlier in the year, people joining virtual Shut Up and Write sessions were either privileged to be able to work from home by choice, or they were using the technology to overcome the social disadvantages of having caring duties, or it being physically difficult to get to campus. Or just being geographically distant, like the all-campus SUAW run by video conference at La Trobe every year during Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo),. 

 

Now, everyone has to get in on the virtual SUAW game, whether they want to or not. After a brief conversation on Twitter, we thought we’d get the whole gang together and co-write a blog post about where we are all coming from, how it’s working, and what you can do to run your own. 

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Let’s now get to the easy bit. How do you run a video-virtual SUAW?

This is one way: In a series of @LTUresearchers tweets about SUAW via Zoom, Tseen said: 

We all meet on Zoom. We have a nominated host for the session, and they are the timekeeper for the 25-min pomodoros. When a pomodoro is on, everyone’s muted but video on. The host comes back when time’s up. Everyone can unmute and chat.

We have short intros from everyone at the beginning – name, dept, what they’re working on. We also use the chat screen for other side conversations and any issues that people might be having with the session.

The session runs from 9:30-12. The format is: 

  • 9:30  Welcome and intros 
  • 9:35  1st pomodoro (25 minutes of focused working)
  • 10:00  Short break (5 mins)
  • 10:05 2nd pomodoro 
  • 10:30  Longer break 
  • 11:00  3rd pomodoro 
  • 11:25  Short break (5 mins)
  • 11:30  4th pomodoro 
  • 11:55  Close

We’ve heard people trying this via Skype, MSTeams, or WhatsApp too. ⁦‪Elizabeth Morgan (@SaysElizabeth) a postgraduate student at UNE suggests Instagram Live. You may find a way to run a session that suits you and your community better – please feel free to share! See below for some advice about Twitch and YouTube.

 ***

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So, the basics are that everyone has access to your video-conferencing platform, a webcam, speakers, a microphone, and decent internet. If you are trying to run a SUAW where these aren’t a given… then it’s going to be hard. 

Even with all of those technological aspects sorted, there are occasional challenges with running these sessions online, and here are a few of our experiences and possible solutions. 

It’s hard to have more than one conversation going at once. If you have more than 4-5 people, having spontaneous chats becomes a bit more tricky. Because you can really only have one conversation going on at once on Zoom. Tseen says it can feel a little staged. Hannah contributed that in ANU’s one week of running Zoom SUAW’s they’ve tried breakout rooms (with 4-5 people per room), virtual backgrounds, stretching breaks (everybody contributes a stretch) and dance parties in our 5 minute breaks with varying success. If you have any strategies to increase the success rates, Tseen, Hannah and Katherine would be very glad to hear about them! 

Security is also an issue for open video chats. As more people are staying home and more meetings are going online, gate-crashing Zoom meetings, or Zoom-bombing, has become a thing. Hannah suggests adding a password to your SUAW is a good option to keep the Zoom-bombers out. She says that to make sure the Zoom SUAW is a safe space for all, these further settings can be found in your Zoom web portal:

  • You can turn off private chat between participants (the host can still be messaged privately),
  • stop participants sharing their screens, using the whiteboard or annotation features,
  • stop users from saving the chat,
  • disabling file transfers,
  •  stop participants from being able to unmute themselves,
  • only allow signed-in users to join your SUAW (you can take it one step further and limit it to users with a particular domain name),
  • add a waiting room where you can manually add users from,
  • or lock the meeting to stop anyone else from entering.

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Always schedule a new Zoom meeting, don’t use your Personal Meeting ID (PMI). This gives you the ability to end the meeting for everyone if anything goes wrong. And remember the Host can always turn off someone’s video, put them on hold or remove them from the group if needed.

With the higher use of the internet with everyone needing to jump online, bandwidth is coming under quite a lot of strain. You are more likely than usual to have slow loading times, glitching, or cutting out. If you live in an area (like rural Victoria) where the internet is unreliable at the best of times, or if you rely on expensive mobile data, this will probably be making things harder. Turning off your video or switching to chat can help keep the session rolling, and reduce the amount of data you need. Also make sure you have clearly communicated how to rejoin the session if things go wrong.  For example, saying up front ‘If the session quits or you unexpectedly drop out, just rejoin the session with your video turned off as soon as you can’. 

***

Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp and MSTeams video calls are all multi-directional platforms. That is, everyone is able to speak and everyone’s face is visible. This feels democratic, but it does have the issues that we’ve discussed above. 

It may be effective to switch to a more uni-directional platform, where as Siobhan explained, ‘only the host is seen & heard on video, and everyone else types in their comments’.  Debbie Kinsey from Exeter University explains how she runs SUAW via Twitch. 

Screen Shot 2020-03-29 at 1.49.21 pm

Twitch is mainly used for live-streaming gaming, but an increasing minority are using it for chatty or educational live videos.Twitch is barely utilised as an educational tool, but it could be great. You could have a channel with a schedule like the gaming Twitchers do, but instead it could be e.g. Monday 10-12.30: SUAW, Weds 1-2: Writing tips live chat, Fri 10-12.30: SUAW. It’s easy to have regular sessions in the channel schedule because Twitch is designed to be like live TV. 

Like YouTube, you have a ‘channel’ which is where your videos and livestreaming go out (Debbie’s channel is Twitch.tv/kinseyd). You don’t need to have specialized equipment to use Twitch, it can easily be accessed via your normal web browser, laptop or phone. (Katherine thought you needed special gaming hardware or something, but it turns out it’s like nice YouTube.) You can sign into your host account on two devices at once, so Debbie films using the Twitch app on her phone but manages the stream/chat on her laptop. 

It’s a live video stream, so you just turn up and record. If you have the tech know-how, you can make an overlay so your screen shows other things as well as your camera feed, like graphics or text. An overlay with timings would be really useful so when people join the stream when you’re partway through a writing block they know what’s going on. 

Twitch is open to all – a participant just needs to know the channel link and what time it starts. Twitches’ core functions are free to use for both host and watchers.The only person who needs an account is the host (but participants will need one if they want to join in the chat or comment). People with a free Twitch account can make comments in the chat box during the stream. All chat happens through a text-only chat box or comments section, so participants can’t verbally talk to you/each other or be visually seen. Account-holders can also ‘follow’ your channel for free, they’ll get a notification when you go live

sara-kurfess-O1mej4P-Rws-unsplashIf you want to be able to control who sees your content, or to save your video to share later, you should try YouTube Live instead. YouTube Live is exactly the same as regular YouTube, except that it’s streamed live and the video is saved on your channel afterwards. Set the stream to private by selecting ‘unlisted’ in the settings so only people you send the link to can view it. People with a Google account can chat via the comments section. An example of someone doing something very similar to SUAW on Youtube Live is Leena Norms’ ‘Creative Lock In’ which is currently running every weekday (starts at 7am UK time, so good for night owls in Oz, or you can watch the saved video any time of day).  

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So there you have it! Our collaborative, super-long, comprehensive guide to putting your Shut Up and Write session onto a video platform. 

Please add more details in the comments about how you are going with these challenges, and any successful techniques you have found to increase participation and interaction! 

Stay safe everyone, keep washing your hands, and work from home as much as you can. 

***

About the authors:

These days Katherine manages a program of 300 students who all live together in a Residential College. About 75 of them are grad students, and they have run a face-to-face SUAW for some years. On Thursday (26 March), we closed all common areas to ensure social distancing. They work down the corridor from each other, and chose to live in a big group environment, but they have to learn how to SUAW virtually. 

Tseen Khoo is a founding member of the original Whisperers’ SUAW from Pearson & Murphy’s Cafe (RMIT) was still running every Friday 9:00am-12pm. Jonathan O’Donnell shifted it onto Zoom two weeks ago and we are getting a good turn-out on Zoom – in some ways even better than before! If you’d like to join us, email Jonathan to be added to the list. Jason Murphy’s whole-day #MelbWriteUp, which runs every Saturday in Melbourne, is now running via Zoom too

Hannah James is a PhD student and also works as part of the ANU Researcher Development Team, who have transitioned to using Zoom for their Shut Up and Write sessions, join them

Debbie Kinsey is based at the University of Exeter, where they are exploring using platforms like Twitch and YouTube for SUAW. Join Debbie Kinsey’s Twitch stream for her work-along (UK times).

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