Webinars: reaching a wider campus – extending our teaching and training

Some thoughts on our first VITAL online training session – Weds 20th Feb

webinarModelmodified
Eagerly anticipating the start of the webinar – cup of tea at the ready..!

The eLU have just successfully trialled offering VITAL training for University staff via a webinar. After recently attending quite a few excellent webinar sessions run by national bodies (JISC, ALT, TechDis) and having run a couple of successful webinar ventures nationally with Ed Dev colleagues last year, we could see some very valuable potential in using this format for our in-house learning technology training, namely:

  • No need for people to trek across campus to a training room – just access from your office PC – in fact from anywhere.
  • Shorter sessions are now possible on some of the lesser-known but hugely useful tools and facilities in VITAL (in this instance Rubrics cards – see note at the end of the post).
  • Sessions are recorded for anyone to be able to access any time after the session.
  • The ‘chat’ text box records the discussion and the questions from the session.
  • Give staff experience of the webinar format and so consider how it could be useful in their own practice. 

We can see multiple applications of the webinar format, particularly as the campus expands, our international partnerships go from strength-to-strength and more CPD courses are offered online by schools and departments. From our own point of view we are always looking for new ways of reaching as many people as possible, and to develop ways in which to deliver our teaching and training, and to pass on our experiences of doing this.

What is a Webinar? The webinar format is an online session which is joined from an office PC and all that is needed to participate in the session is a pair of headphones for your computer and an internet connection. A microphone can also be useful but not essential as text ‘chat’ is mainly used for side-communication in many sessions. The session comprises the elements of a face-to-face session but run virtually, so depending on the presenter and the session there will a video stream, an audio stream, interaction via either of these and/or a chat box. Interactions such as polls and quizzes can form part of the session. The whole can be recorded and edited and offered for general access afterwards.

We used the Adobe Connect system for our session, as the University has its own installation (here) which can be accessed and utilised by anyone with their usual MWS accounts.

So some initial thoughts and reflections on using webinars in this way include:

  • worried danIt is quite scary as a presenter the first time you run a webinar (click image left for face of fear)! Be prepared for this!
  • You need a co-pilot to manage the chat room and pick up on questions, problems, conversations developing and so on (see image at the bottom of this post).
  • Good pre-session materials are needed to help people understand the concept of a webinar and the environment you are going to use, as much as the content of the session itself.
  • Rehearse the session you want to run in as much fine detail as you can – you will find that some of your planned interactive items don’t quite work or need better guidance materials on what attendees have to do in the session.
  • It is a very positive and satisfying experience to run a webinar session and understand how, in the absence of face-to-face interactions, the toolset available in the conferencing software offers a different kind of personal contact and interaction.
the gulf between us
Where is everyone?

We tried out a number of ideas for ways in which attendees could interact, from running simple polling questions and discussing the results, to asking people to switch to a different browser and access a VITAL module to try out what had just been demonstrated. All of these were managed with varying degrees of success but there is very little we wouldn’t do again.

If anyone would like to watch the edited recording of the session on marking by criteria with the Rubrics facility then please do get in touch with the eLearning Unit. If you would like to find out more about using the Adobe Connect system for running such a session yourself and to get any advice on how to run a webinar then we would be delighted to share our experiences in more detail with you. As we said at the start of this post, there are multiple applications for this kind of  session and we are very keen to explore these with you.

Tünde and Dan

About VITAL Rubrics: Interactive, electronic versions of criteria sheets can be created, attached to most assessable items in a VITAL module and used for marking. Cards can be used to generate a grade or can be used qualitatively, they can be made visible to your students before they submit their work or after, and they allow for extra written feedback if required for every level on each criterion. Further, criteria cards can be shared amongst marking teams, as well as adapted, re-purposed and re-used.

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How to run a webinar? We have Followed the Sun….

The video recording above is of our second, really successful webinar on using the Nominal Group Technique  that we ran at the wholly online Follow the Sun conference in March 2012, hosted by Leicester in the UK as well as Australia and the US.  (Our first session for the ELESIG group was summarised by one of the participants, Olivia Fox, in her blog.) This blog summarises our experiences and tips for running a webinar, in case you are thinking of trying it out.

So what is a webinar? A webinarweb-based seminar. It has all the elements of the face-to-face seminar but it is running completely online, with participants logging on at a distance, and is usually conducted through a web-conferencing platform, like Blackboard Collaborate (nee Elluminate) or Adobe Connect. Webinars can also be recorded for reviewing, or for those who miss the session.

Our first session, back in Feb 2012, was facilitated by the ELESIG committee members, Helen Whitehead and Carol Higgison, who spent two occasions with our four-member team to help us get to know the software, Blackboard Collaborate, and its features and layout so that we could plan the interactivity used in the session. We were quite ambitious in that we  not only delivered the one-hour session with four presenters (where you normally only have one or two), but we also planned to run a real Nominal Group Technique session online. The Nominal Group Technique is a useful  student evaluation technique of learning experiences. Our focus was on evaluation for the purpose of curriculum design or review.

The 3 stages of the Nominal Group Technique
The 3 stages of the Nominal Group Technique

We had set ourselves the task of finding an online way to mimic the ‘real world’ process of people writing ideas on post-it notes, then clarifying and consolidating the different post-it-note items and then finally ranking them, as in the pictures to the right.  We devised a system where participants wrote their entries on a virtual whiteboard, then one of our team organised them as we were clarifying, by grouping the same items together, and then the voting stage was simulated by drawing circles next to the vote items (the above video is of our second session which was shorter and did not include this step). The process was a bit clunky but it worked as it did get the idea of each of the stages of the Nominal Group Technique across to the participants. We also made use of other interactive features such as polling. Participants followed the webinar using their headphones, and asked questions using the chat text entry box as we went along. So it was good fun and we were very happy with the interactions during the session.

Finally, we just wanted to share some of the tips we have learnt about running webinars.

What do you need for running a webinar?

  • A web-conferencing system e.g. Blackboard Collaborate. At the University of Liverpool we currently have Adobe Connect available for web-conferencing.
  • Headphones and microphone for each team member.
  • Powerpoint slides (optional) or other resources.

So what did we learn about conducting a webinar?

  • Set up time: practice with the same PC, same sound equipment that you will be using for your final, live session, (make sure you won’t have interruptions like phone calls or colleagues)
  • Don’t use speakers, use headphones, as speakers may echo.
  • Show video or not to show (of presenters)? Advice here can be event-specific; some say it looks more professional if you don’t show video, just sound; others like showing video. We used screenshots of ourselves on the slides.
  • Interactivity is key.
  • Use of smiley icons or hands up for questions, or quick yes/no button to clarify e.g. if participants hear or understood something.
  • Ask participants’ prior experiences as a quick poll (see about 8 mins in the above video).
  • Moderator: one of their roles is to welcome participants, and ensure all is working with their audio.
  • Practice practice practice – especially the interactive bits! And timings.
  • Switch sound off if you are not presenting.
  • Think about how to manage silence (when participants are engaged in a task or waiting for responses).
  • Someone needs to monitor chat.
  • Lack of non-verbal cues: keep having slots for questions, clarification + at the end – ask about how they may use it in their practice?
  • Ask some experienced colleagues, if available, to run it with you to practise and offer feedback about session interactivity.

and finally,

  • Be brave. Have a go!

Tünde, Jaye, Nick and Ray

ps: If you have experience of running or participating in/attending a webinar before, please share your tips and reflections in the comment box below.

For more information and advice, contact Tunde elearning @ liv ac  uk

The ELESIG project team was:

  • Tünde Varga-Atkins, eLearning Unit, University of Liverpool
  • Jaye McIsaac, Educational Development Division, University of Liverpool
  • Nick Bunyan, eLearning Unit, University of Liverpool
  • Ray Fewtrell, School of Medicine, University of Liverpool
Project outputs:

Project report: Varga-Atkins, T. with contributions from Bunyan, N; McIsaac, J and Fewtrell, R. (2011) Using the nominal group technique with clickers to research student experiences of e-learning. Project Report written for the ELESIG Small Grants Scheme. Liverpool: University of Liverpool. Available from slideshare.net at http://slidesha.re/sc8gwT

Practical guide: Varga-Atkins, T., with contributions from Bunyan, N; McIsaac, J; Fewtrell J. (2011) The Nominal Group Technique: a practical guide for facilitators. Written for the ELESIG Small Grants Scheme. Liverpool: University of Liverpool. October. Version 1.0. Available at http://slidesha.re/s5KPUr