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Have you ever belonged to a book club or discussion group? Sometimes public libraries or local bookstores sponsor such activities. The idea is for everyone in the group to read a book and then come together to discuss it in a relaxed and cordial atmosphere.
I started thinking about this idea of having a discussion group while I was listening to one of our Handiham nets. As luck would have it, I was also browsing through the e-mail from my local radio club and one of the messages in my inbox had a list of potential radio club program topics. The idea of the book club discussion group and the message about radio club program topics started to mix and merge in my brain. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a discussion topic on a regular basis during one of our nets, but make it related to a particular article about ham radio, much the same as a book club would discuss a particular novel. This would be different than the trivia net in that a roundtable discussion would be essential to make it work. The norm in many amateur radio nets is for the net control station to run the net in what I will call a "linear" format. In other words, the net control station opens the net with a preamble and then follows a pattern of calling for stations to check in with traffic or announcements or just to get on the station list for that day. Once checked into the net, a station operator need not feel obligated to check in a second or third time. In fact, if the net is run in this kind of linear format, the expectation is that permission will be requested from the net control station to "re-check" because it is assumed that once a station has checked in the net will move on to each new check-in in succession.
Of course this kind of linear format will not work in a discussion net. By its very nature, a discussion requires back-and-forth dialogue as ideas and concepts are presented and then commented on by the group. If you were sitting in a room at the library or bookstore with other book club members who have read the book of the month that has been assigned for discussion, how would you prefer that the chairs be arranged? My preference would be to put them in a circle rather than in a long line along one wall of the room. Having chairs in a circle promotes discussion, and what we want in a discussion group is the interchange of ideas. It is not an accident that this kind of ham radio net is called a "roundtable". Sitting around the table encourages discussion.
So a linear format net is different in that very fundamental way from a roundtable discussion net. If you tune across the amateur radio bands and really get familiar with what is going on, you will soon learn that groups of friends meet at various places on the bands around the same time every day or evening. Most of these groups are really just informal roundtable sessions and did not have a specific net mission or formal structure. There are, however, some discussion nets that are more formal in that the discussion topic may be limited by the group to a particular interest area such as religion or aviation. What I would propose is something just a little bit different in that the discussion topic would change depending on which article is the assigned reading of the week. The net would discuss that particular article and then participants would be able to weigh in with their opinions and suggestions as well as comment on the opinions and suggestions of the other net participants.
One consideration with this kind of a targeted roundtable discussion group is that it tends to work best when there are not too many people trying to participate. If the group gets too large, this will hamper discussion because by the time everybody gets a chance to say their piece the allotted time for the net may be nearly over. As with any kind of a net, everything will run more smoothly when all of the participants know and follow the rules. Some of the basics are:
1. Always yield to the net control station.
2. Stick to the topic.
3. Be sure you have read the article before joining the net as a participant. If you have not read the article, don't bother checking in but feel free to listen.
4. Try to be as brief and concise with your thoughts as possible so that everyone will have a chance to talk.
5. Play nice! Be respectful of everyone's opinions.
6. Take notes during the discussion so that you can comment on what has been said while you are waiting for your turn.
7. Maintain good engineering standards for your station and computer system so that your audio is clean and easy to understand.
8. Be on time for the net. Remember, the discussion will begin right away so the expectation is that only the stations who are on time will participate in the discussion. Latecomers are welcome to listen to the discussion.
9. As the discussion comes to a close, be ready with ideas for the next week's topic. At that point, the net control station can ask for other ideas and see if there is any consensus about the next article to be discussed. Sometimes this will not be possible to nail down, given the limited time available on the air. In that case, an e-mail message with a topic can be sent to the discussion group participants.
10. If the net decides that the topic will be carried over into the next week or that some other follow-up needs to be done, put that in your notes to make sure that you don't forget to do whatever "homework" needs to be done before the next net session.
You can see that this is a whole different ballgame than the nets that we are used to. Most typical linear format nets require virtually no preparation and ask very little of participants. A discussion roundtable net requires a different level of commitment but at the same time can be a more rewarding experience because of the depth of your participation. Roundtable discussion nets are not for everyone, and no one need apologize if they are just not willing to commit the time and effort that this kind of net requires. I have often found myself tuning around the bands and listening to different roundtable conversations without actually participating. There is nothing wrong with doing a lot of listening – after all, you can learn a lot by listening. If a topic area seems beyond your understanding, listening is probably your best choice until you learn enough to join in. On the other hand, some people are adventuresome and jump off the highest diving board as soon as they get to the pool. "Learn by doing", they will say, and they might just be right!
This morning I enjoyed listening on 3.930 MHz. "The Morning Group" is up here in Minnesota, but I'm sure you have similar groups located near you. Round table discussions need not be formalized with a net control station, nor do they have to have a scheduled topic. You may find this kind of informal net to be an interesting way to stay in touch with a small group of friends who share some of your interests. On the other hand, a directed net with a net control station can give a formal roundtable with a designated topic for the day just enough direction to make for a lively and fun conversation.
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice, email@example.com