Herding cats or Facilitating a webinar, what’s the difference?

Choosing to incorporate webinars into your teaching practice can be lots of work for possibly not measurable educational value and trying to manage a large virtual classroom full of not very ICT literate students (and possibly yourself?) can be like herding cats

A cartoon of a person herding catsThis post is a follow on from our previous post in which we reviewed Big Blue Button software and its integration with Moodle.

We’ve had a number of trials both ‘in house’ and ‘live’ trials with our Diploma of Sustainability students and as a result we thought it may be helpful to give some hard found advice on incorporating webinars into your teaching practice. This won’t provide you with all the answers (we’re still learning as we go) but it may give you some food for thought.

Why would I incorporate webinars into my teaching practice?

There are a number of reasons why you might do this, some for good pedagogic reasons but there might also be sustainable practice, access & equity and economic benefits to be realised.

We are a small regional TAFE we have a large and diverse student cohort so to be able to communicate with them outside of, or as an adjunct to, formal classroom lessons is a bonus.

Do you have any of the following student groups, if so perhaps webinars might be worth considering-

  • Rural/regional based students
  • Interstate distance education enrolments
  • Students unable to travel regularly due to financial, family, medical or other reasons

What should I consider when planning to incorporate webinars?

Notwithstanding sound educational benefits in doing so, you should be cognisant of the following-

    • Does this actually add any value to what I’m currently doing in class now? If the answer is ‘No’ then don’t, the additional organising and training will bring nothing to the table of educational value. Anything new that you add to your teaching practice (in our opinion) should be of educational value, plain and simple. “It’s not about the toys stupid!
    • What is the ICT literacy of me or my students? Do you/they have the technical and problem solving skills to be an active participant in your sessions, if things don’t go to plan (as they sometimes wont) can you/they fix/resolve any issues. If the answer to this is ‘not really/not sure/I don’t think so’ then don’t put you or your students under unnecessary stress by asking them to do something that will ultimately end in failure &/or frustration and a bad experience for all.
    • Do we have the tools to do the job? By this we mean can you bring this off technically? Consider the following and make your decision accordingly-
      • Is there sufficient bandwidth at both ends (teacher <-> student)to make this viable?
      • Do you and your students have hardware that will make the sessions enjoyable to participate in without ‘gliches’, sound drop-outs, pixellated images, no sound, fuzzy sound, quiet sound…… Get the idea? 

What can I do in a webinar?

Do’s

  • Short 10-20 minute tutorials/workshops in which clear goals e.g.-
    • Ask them to read and report on a reading you’ve given them prior to the session. Treat it like a short ‘book club’ meeting
    • Ask them to report on their progress on their concurrent project work- encourage active participation by asking lots of questions and encouraging the other students to do the same
  • Short 10-20 minute Q&A sessions where you can make yourself available to answer any questions the students may have as they reflect on their project or class work. Ensure you engage each student by asking them to suggest possible answers to other students questions
  • Ask each student to run a session in which they report to the class on their project or group work. Remember, keep it short and sharp!

Don’t

  • Don’t let your sessions run too long- 60 minutes max.
  • Don’t replicate a ‘typical’ classroom session, do something that will be of real value and at the same time engage your students and make them feel it was worthwhile participating in the session
  • Set ground rules! (Yes rules, or how does classroom management sound?)-
    • Ensure that time frames are adhered to- a 6 o’clock start means being in the session 15 minutes prior to commencement to test equipment etc.
    • Ask that each student is in a quiet room away from noise etc.
    • when students enter the session test their microphones/trouble shoot then mute their microphones
    • Students should indicate when they wish to speak by using a ‘hand up’ icon or similar. Yep, sounds awful but if you don’t you’ll be ‘herding cats’ trying to keep them quiet so that the person you wish to speak may be heard
  • Don’t be under prepared (remember the 6 P’s) and have a fallback plan if some of your students experience technical issues

The one thing you don’t want to do in a webinar is simply replicate what you’d do in a classroom, it’s a waste of planning, energy, resources and download and might only serve to isolate your students.

 Below is a copy of a slide we display at the commencement of our webinars, please feel free to replicate it or offer us some suggestions on how we might improve ours. Enjoy….

Sample 'Welcome' slide to use at the commencement of each session

Sample 'Welcome' slide to use at the commencement of each session

 We hope you’ve enjoyed this post, please feel free to leave a comment or advice. If you’d like to have a try of Big Blue Button with us please email us as we’re keen to ensure our set up is robust and having others say Hi in a session is a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

Till next time,

The Learning Innovation Team 

‘Herding’ image: http://imgfave.com/view/1258353
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One response to “Herding cats or Facilitating a webinar, what’s the difference?

  1. Hi Team,

    Given I am using BBB for the Diploma of Sustainability Distance Education students I thought I should leave a comment with an update of how it is going from both my perspective and the feedback I have had from students who have been using it for four weeks now.

    It’s fantastic! Now that we have the early technological issues sorted, everything runs very smoothly and all the feedback I have from students is that it is a wonderful add-on to the usually somewhat “lonely” life of a distance education student. To date we have used BBB to introduce ourselves and get to know each other, share information and make comments about our sustainability challenge projects, discuss current sustainability issues, view short presentations and discuss all manner of things related to their study. It has certainly added to their learning experience and I have certainly enjoyed the extra “connection” I have with these students.

    The feedback from students about incorporating BBB into their learning experience ranges from pure delight that they can actually connect with me and their fellow students in real-time and something approaching face-to-face to relief that they can attend “class” from their loungeroom in their trackies and without the travel (especially good in these cooler evenings). 🙂

    The students have a good understanding that BBB is not a perfect tool in that it cannot replicate perfectly a face-to-face classroom, but they have made it clear that they would much rather use this tool than not. Attendance is high and our scheduled hour is now commonly running over time.

    I fully support what the team have suggested for using BBB and particularly with respect to the pedagogy issues – if you aren’t going to add to the experience for the students then it isn’t an application for you and them. I do think it is an excellent tool for distance education and remote students and it is impossible to escape the sustainability elements of no travel requirements using BBB. I found it quite easy to use and learning how to manage our online class has also been easy to pick up.

    I have to add that I have found the experience of using BBB for the DE students has surprised me – it is more like a face-to-face class than I had expected and I love using it! I’d be more than happy to share my experience with you at any time.

    All the best,

    Ali

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