As a Technology Integration Specialist, I’m always looking for new fun ways to spice up professional development (PD). I’ve been using Kumospace for a few months now, and I am REALLY enjoying it! Even more importantly, I’ve seen a positive uptick in the amount of people who attend even my optional PD sessions!

Teachers are tired. They’re not hankerin’ to attend anything that involves more screen time, especially when it’s another “grid view” type of meeting room.

Kumospace is different. I call it my “PD Lounge” because that’s how it feels! It’s much more of a social experience, and there’s opportunity for folks to find their own ways to break out without being placed in breakout rooms. When I put out an email or social media post inviting people to join me in my PD Lounge, I make sure to tell them to just pop in as long as they like. I am finding that they’re curious enough to click the invite link and so they come to explore, but they love the cool virtual rooms and my PD format, so they stay! It’s been great!

Here’s how Kumospace works. Kumospace is completely free. I set up my own space which is basically a URL that is forever mine. I just send out the link and it’s a perpetually “open” space – people with the link can join anytime. The rooms offered by Kumospace during the setup process are already designed….I just pick the one(s) I want. Each virtual room can hold up to 30 people. My space has 3 rooms (as pictured) because I want people to be able to spread out, mingle, and find their own happy vibe. I can change the rooms or the number of of rooms I use at any time, so I’ll switch it up occasionally to surprise returning visitors! When anyone enters a room, I hear a doorbell chime. As the room owner, I turn on a feature called broadcast which allows anyone in the room (or all 3 rooms if I choose) to hear me and see me. I never “stand near the door” to greet people, because I like to use the broadcast feature to tell them to come meet me in the back where I’m floating in a pool, and I tell them to explore the space by using the arrow keys on their keyboard. Then I turn off broadcast, turn on a “map” feature that lets me see a thumbnail view the whole room from above”, and watch them find their way toward me. They generally find a few fun goodies along the way, like some music playing from a DJ booth or even a bar where they can pour themselves a virtual drink! Soon they discover that the ability to see and hear other people in the room depends on proximity. They won’t be able to hear my voice or see my video (it’s a rounded square video camera feed that serves as my avatar). The same is true for me when I’m not in broadcast mode. I can only see or hear others when they get within my “circle” – there’s literally a halo-ish circle around my video that moves with me. If we have all 30 people in each other’s circles, then we can all see and hear each other. If a group of three wants to wander off to a table, couch, hanging wicker chairs, etc. to have a discussion, they just move but use that proximity circle to continue to see & hear the other two.

Here’s how I run my PD sessions in Kumospace. First, I keep it to 30 minutes. As I said, teachers are tired, and I want them to continue finding this as a fun place to meet! For the first 10 minutes, I just greet people and let them explore. I encourage them to push all the buttons, try the map feature, leave a room and go explore my other two rooms, and find little goodies and Easter eggs along the way. After about 10 minutes, I use the broadcast feature to let them know that a PD topic will begin. I then use the screen share feature in Kumospace and do a 10-minute overview of an edtech tool, a great website, or a new resource. At the end of 10 minutes, I turn off the screen share and use broadcast for just a moment to encourage people to go off in groups of their choosing to discuss how they would use the featured PD topic in their classrooms. They know how to move around in Kumospace at this point, so they go off and mingle for the final 10 minutes. I always tell folks that they’re free to leave at this point, but they don’t! They just don’t! Educators really seem to enjoy the autonomy of getting to hang out with whoever they want for as long as they want to talk about what they want. As for me, I head back to float on a raft in the pool. Those who have questions know where to find me, and that’s where I answer follow-up questions or just enjoy chatting with my colleagues for the last 10 minutes. 💦

All good things must come to an end. Occasionally someone wants to share their screen for the good of the group – to show something they’ve created or to get help with a quick question. I only ever allow this after the 30 minute mark because I really want to value that post-PD mingle time (because that’s when the best discussions happen!) To allow someone else to share his/her screen, I just go into settings and temporarily make them a co-owner of the room. They can then broadcast, too. At the end of any Kumospace session, I simply broadcast that I am leaving. The room never closes, so I let them know that if they want to remain there after I leave, they’re welcome to continue their conversations and continue hangin’ in the PD Lounge!

If you try Kumospace for PD or just to meet virtually with friends (I do that a lot, too), I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a reply right here on the blog, or find me over on Twitter as @Kerszi, where you’ll see that I’ve been tweeting out some excitement about Kumospace for the past few months!