Saturday, October 11, 2014

Webinar as arena for learning

Conference venue, Umeå university
Webinars can be interactive arenas for learning and sharing ideas but running a successful webinar is more demanding than many expect. What are the key factors behind a successful webinar where everyone feels part of an active community?

Online discussion
As the first activity of our new project (Webinar - for interactive and collaborative learning) we ran a combined face-to-face and online workshop at the Swedish conference for teaching in higher education, NU2014, in this year's European Capital of Culture, Umeå. The aim of the project is to test methods for making webinars more participatory in cooperation with several partner organisations from a variety of fields: education, public administration, industry and associations. There are six of us in the project from five different countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Austria) and we have all extensive experience running webinars, though we realise we still have so much to learn.

Some of the on-site groups
In this workshop we had about 25 participants in the room in Umeå, another on-site group in Salzburg, Austria, plus online participants recruited through our Facebook group. A basic question that was raised was how to define a webinar. I had rather loosely mentioned at the beginning that we saw a webinar as involving more than say 30 participants but this was rightly challenged on the grounds that it is basically a web seminar and therefore can even be used for relatively small groups. I think it is impossible to give an exact cut-off figure for when an e-meeting becomes a webinar but maybe when you have so many participants that it is difficult if not unfeasible for all to have video and audio capabilities it becomes easy to lapse into broadcast mode.

The group work focused on identifying key factors for a successful interactive webinar and everyone had access to a common virtual workspace using the extremely handy tool Padlet. This enables participants to write notes as well as upload links and photos to a space that all can see and which can be further developed after the webinar is over (see our results). Here is a summary of some of the main points that emerged from the discussions.
  • Awareness of participants' skills in the online environment
  • Plan your marketing and use registration to get information on the audience (where they work, type of work). Registration list can also be used for follow-up, eg sending the link to the recording to all registered participants.
  • Technical issues - pre-webinar information on settings, technical requirements etc 
  • Implement a "thermometer" where participants can grade the audio-quality of whoever is speaking at a certain time in the webinar. 
  • Introduction on how to participate, co-created rules for interaction 
  • Make it clear when the session is going to be recorded and when the recording is over. 
  • Allow time for socialising and getting familiar with the environment before the webinar starts. Welcoming atmosphere and stimulating layout. 
  • Webinar etiquette and meeting culture - tips about using microphones, chat, asking questions etc. 
  • Be aware of cultural differences when an international group is assembled. Many people are not used to active participation. 
  • Moderator has a key role. Must be familiar with the tools and be able to multitask (checing chat, seeing who has raised their hand etc) 
  • Using different types of poll questions to check audience experience, opinions and to get feedback.
  • How to focus attention. The "choreography" of the session is important - using different layouts for different purposes, eg make chat window small when we need to focus on a speaker, then large chat window when we ask for comments and questions.
  • Creating breakout groups and having a common work space to gather all notes and conclusions. Alternate who speaks and have assignments that include listening and observation. 
  • Interactivity after every slide. 
  • Language can be a barrier to interactivity. Group work allows for own language use though conclusions must be written in common language.
This was a relatively complex webinar since we had face-to-face groups on two sites plus online participants using breakout groups. In addition we used Padlet to gather notes from the group discussions and this worked well though not all groups made extensive notes. We tried to extend the event by using a short promotion video that was spread via Twitter and Facebook and the Padlet page offers participants the opportunity to add ideas even after the session is over. The page is still open for comments if you feel inspired. I had a project colleague to moderate the online discussions whilst I and a colleague concentrated on the classroom. From the above conclusions I would like to find a kind of sound quality thermometer so people can indicate how well they can hear the speaker without interrupting. I also realise that we can do much more to provide clear pre-webinar information and providing clearer instructions on how to participate. There is also plenty scope for developing the moderator role and providing the right information at the right time. The next step in the project is seeing what methods and tools to use with our partners in the pilot cases. I will no doubt return to this topic again many times in the future.

1 comment:

  1. A great experience! And also very promising for our further project work.