Back in January, I was thrilled to have finally arrived at the point in my exam process where I was registering for the CAS Course on Professionalism (COP). Not only did it mean that I would be one step closer to earning the ACAS title, but it meant I would have the opportunity to meet and collaborate with actuaries from various companies across the country. However, as we all know, the world changed significantly between January and the June COP course dates. When it was announced that Spring exams were canceled, I knew it was only a matter of time until the COP was also formally announced as canceled. While the course was inevitably canceled, I was both relieved and apprehensive to learn the course on professionalism would be offered virtually.
Even though I had been excited to have the opportunity to travel and get the full, in person course experience, I would not have felt safe traveling from Miami to Chicago, both COVID-19 “hotspot” cities, to attend a large meeting. I was also nervous that the course would be subject to technology problems, as have been experienced in prior attempts to go virtual. Despite my fears, it was comforting to know that the CAS was actively pursuing ways to continue to move forward in the face of the pandemic, rather than pausing such vital activities until conditions improved. As we got closer to the virtual COP, the detailed email updates made it clear that the CAS was thinking through the potential issues. There was even a “technology check” meeting two weeks before the course to circumvent surprise connection issues.
Even though this was the first Course on Professionalism to go virtual, there were almost no technology issues. It was clear the committee and CAS staff spent a lot of time and effort to ensure a seamless user experience throughout the course. There was only one instance in which the meeting link did not work after a break but clicking the link several times fixed the problem for most people. Participants who were not able to get back into the meeting right away were able to call into the meeting on their phones. After a few minutes of participating via phone they were able to get back into the meeting with the original link. This backup option allowed us to continue the course on schedule with everyone able to listen and contribute to the conversation.
I also had non-technology related concerns about the course. Without the social cues that suggest when a person has finished speaking or is about to speak that are provided by in-person interaction, participants in virtual meetings often tend to talk over each other. This can make it difficult to have effective large meetings virtually. With 22 participants, it would have been a lot to have discussions with full input and engagement from everyone. The moderators and guest speakers exceled at directing the conversations to keep the flow while still allowing participants to contribute. The structure of the course also helped to avoid this issue. The course was structured in several meeting links; one main meeting link where everyone was able to come together and shorter meeting links where smaller groups were able to ‘come off mute’ to discuss case studies together. These smaller groups also allowed for more personal introductions to get to know each other. It was interesting to hear about the various safety measures being implemented in different cities and perspectives on the new normal from the other course participants.
This first virtual sitting of the COP also included a communication skills aspect. This facet included a pre-work requirement of delivering a short presentation to a coworker for feedback. Although completing this pre-work proved to be difficult while working from home, the course coordinators were helpful in suggesting workarounds. It was awkward to balance my laptop and phone on top of my couch to record myself presenting to a colleague on FaceTime, but it got the job done.
Overall, the experience of attending the first virtual Course on Professionalism was great. It would have been nice to be able to travel and meet people in person, but this was still a good alternative that exceeded my expectations. It might be nice to see this virtual option offered in the future, even after the pandemic has passed. Travel plans can be difficult to arrange for some with other responsibilities at home and this could be a way to help candidates complete this requirement going forward.