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 at

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

A space to think about learning and teaching

As you may know, Tunde and I are part of CLL’s curriculum review coordination group. This group has been set up to offer coordinated support from staff in CLL to support for departments undertaking  curriculum review for their undergraduate programmes. As part of this process, we have already started a series of curriculum review activities with staff in a number of departments. One of the key benefits of this curriculum review process is it gives an opportunity  to review a programme more holistically and critically from a number of different perspectives – topics taught, teaching practice, assessment, student experience, employability, student skills development and blended learning etc. We are finding this a much more productive method of supporting academic staff than the traditional generic workshop. It gives us an opportunity to understand more fully the different learning and teaching requirements that different programmes have, and hopefully this means that we can give more appropriate and creative support and guidance on using blended e-learning.

In a recent curriculum review workshop, one of the participants made an interesting observation that it is very difficult for academics within a programme to experience how that programme appears to students. Often academic staff will have responsibility for different modules or parts of modules, and often some modules are taught by other departments.  To support staff gain a better conceptualisation and visualisation of a programme’s design and structure, I have been experimenting with using the Compendium LD learning design software. This is free software from the OU which is designed to support the visual mapping of the learning and teaching activities. (For a brief overview to the Compendium LD software, watch this short 5 minute video I have created.) I currently use this software to map case studies we use in different e-learning workshops etc. but I think it also has some benefits for mapping at a programme or curriculum level.

An example of a Compedium LD learning design created using the software.

The intention is to pilot this software with a forthcoming curriculum review workshop and to get some feedback from staff about its use. It is already used by other institutions – watch this video from Reading University using Compendium LD for  programme review.

Compendium LD has a number of features which are useful for curriculum review lets you:

  • Maps can be created which let you drill down to different levels of a programme, to specific modules and to specific aspects of a module.
  • You can also link in any content/ documents that you use within a programme.
  • Content/ activities/ assessment etc. can be tagged to that you can interrogate the programme form different perspectives.

For more information about CLL’s support for curriculum review or about the Compendium LD software, please contact Nick Bunyan in the eLearning Unit.