First experience of a Webinar

The term Webinar was introduced to me recently during my PGCE PCET training. I was keen to find out exactly what this was and how it was used in my specialist subject of Early Years Education. A ‘Web-based Seminar’, as the name suggests is a presentation that is broadcast to an online audience (Mohorovičić et al 2011). The idea of utilising this medium for teaching and learning sounded very interesting. I wished to explore how a Webinar can be used to teach students, and examine how effective this might be for enabling learners to learn.

My Department of Early Year’s relies exclusively on Webinars for delivering The Foundation Degree in Early Years. Fortunately, one of the lecturers leading this course offered me the opportunity to observe her teaching through a Webinar. The lecturer had a very positive attitude about this method of delivery, explaining her initial apprehension about moving away from the tradition face to face sessions. However, once she had tried using a Webinar for teaching her students for the first time, she recognised that it was a powerful method of communication, and really enjoys teaching the Foundation Degree in this way. It emerged that the use of Webinar’s had the additional benefit of saving students travelling time and costs; which was welcomed as a number of students have full-time work and family commitments.

The lecturer used ‘Adobe connect’ to help her create a new Webinar meeting. This process gave her a URL website hyperlink to upload on to the Virtual Learning System for students to access. From here the Lecturers planned PowerPoint could be uploaded for students to see. What I thought was particularly interesting was how the lecturer before the session, adjusted and repositioned the PowerPoint, live chat box, activity panel and poll’s size and location on the screen to suit the delivery of the session. I commented on how it resembled a teacher organising tables and chairs to suit the style and delivery of session. The lecturer agreed, saying it is exactly like that; the chat box needs to be large enough to read student comments, see the PowerPoint slides move and for instructions to be read. The lecturer actively managed the time, and ensuring the students have sufficient access to what they need.

To begin the session, the lecturer followed the protocol of accepting all students’ requests into the webinar. The microphone was tested, welcoming students to the Webinar and asking them to raise their hand (using the hand-up icon) if they were able to hear her. This took a bit of time, as not everyone responded promptly. The lecturer in response went through the list of students communicating to them individually. A Webinar is solely reliant on technology, as well as the students having ready access to the right tools to access the material. Overcoming these minor but obstructive problems is possible, but time consuming and may mean that particular students cannot fully participate in all elements of the lesson.

Before marking the register the lecturer set an active poll for the students, asking ‘Name 2 theorists that support language development’; this revisited the topic covered in their previous Webinar. As the responses to the answers came in, the lecturer said she has exclusive access to the answers, only she can see the every individual’s responses to the question. This is a useful assessment tool, the lecturer can see exactly who replies and which individual(s) need prompting or support. A student’s answer would demonstrate their level of knowledge of the topic. Once all answers were in, the lecturer used her microphone to thank everyone for their response; she went through the answers methodically and gave feedback for the entire group to hear. One of the limitations of this way of responding is that students who answered quickly, were required to wait for everyone to answer, which took quite some time.

One student offered totally different theorists to the language development question during the poll. The individual was unsure of her answer. The lecturer shared this possible answer with permission of the student, and was able to ask other students for their views on these theorists. Some students were able to research the named theorists, and feedback this information. The lecturer’s role was that of a commentator reading out student’s comments as they came in, but also using reflective questioning to establish the development of ideas. The process was highly collaborative, resulting in the students being able to clarify that the named theorists suggested were in fact not linked to language development. The students had become researchers, responsible for their own learning; reading, analysing and extracting information to share and discuss with others online. The learners embraced this active learning and produced very worthwhile results.

The lecturer moved the session on, and asked for feedback from the students in relation to their child observations (from placements) centred on language development. The lecturer enabled the microphones of each student individually, to allow them to speak and others to hear. As the lecturer listened to the feedback she was able to make notes, to clarify certain points she wished to make when the student speaker was finished.  An opportunity to listen and whilst making notes would be difficult to achieve in a face-to-face teaching session, as eye contact is requiring the lecturers full attention is needed during active listening. The faceless contact assisted the lecturer, allowing her to make thoughtful notes. However, it may be a little disconcerting for the student talking, as there are limited social cues which would normally allow a student to interpret the situation. The lecturer more fully aimed to comment positively to the speaking student, to demonstrate she was listening. It took a full 30 minutes for feedback to be collated from the students.

The lecturer then began to introduce new learning, talking through slides on moral development, whilst posing a new theory to the students. A scenario was presented by the lecturer; she explained that the students would be split into breakout rooms, to work through the scenario and endeavour to apply the theory to it. Breakout rooms were similar to setting group work on tables in a classroom. The lecturer would monitor the breakout rooms by entering the student conversations. At the end of the task the lecturer broadcast a warning to the groups about the time left for the task, the students were also asked to select one person to feedback their answers. Many of the students were anxious about speaking through the microphone. They were given option to use the microphone or type; the majority preferred to type. The lecturer could then see who was participating, as the names were listed on the chat room column, and you follow who was actively typing. The lecturer took on the role of a commentator again, reading out the comments. The students found listening to the comments useful. However, it proved problematic when some students had typed one sentence and had not finished what they had wanted to say before the conversation in the chat box began to move on. Lee (2010) recommends that Webinar’s be limited to group numbers of 15-17, to allow high levels of interaction. Students who respond more slowly are at risk of being left behind in the development of the lesson.

I was pleasantly surprised to witness first hand an active, collaborative and enjoyable Webinar. I had some reservations about this approach initially, as I really value the personal interactions between the teacher and learner, and I thought this might be sacrificed. It is clear for a Webinar to be a good quality learning experience, the teacher has to be confident and competent in their ICT skills and be well organised to ensure the process runs smoothly. As Andersen (2010) says ‘giving an effective webinar requires some presentation redesign and technology skills that you don’t necessarily need in a face-to-face presentation’, I realise how exciting a Webinar session can be, especially when the lecturer is skillful in the use of her voice, and is able to motivate and energise the students. A lecturer must plan a session carefully to ensure that all learners are involved and maintain concentration throughout. I would relish the opportunity to use a Webinar, where appropriate in my teaching. The high degree of energy and skill needed by the lecturer to deliver a successful Webinar, I recognise and would wish to develop. I plan to explore the possibility of developing my professional teaching skills in this area.

 

References

Andersen, M. H. (2010) Tips for effective webinars [Online] Available from: http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1710034 [Accessed 30th October 2016]

Lee, K. (2010) Ensure Webinar Based-Training Success. [Online] Available from: http://www.cedma-europe.org/newsletter%20articles/Training%20Magazine/Ensure%20Webinar-Based%20Training%20Success%20(Nov%2010).pdf [Accessed 30th October 2016]

Mohorovičić, S., Lasić-Lazić, J. and Strčić, V. (2011) Webinars in Higher Education. MIPRO. May 23-27.

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