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Experimenting with the webinar as a learning arena

04/09/2015
by Astrid Krohn
Language: EN

By Torhild Slåtto, Director Flexible Education Norway. 

The webinar as a form of meeting provides a wealth of opportunities for collaboration and learning across national borders. Participants meet through their computers, and also increasingly via their smartphones. Webinar is a new word, formed from web + (sem)inar. The technology provides the means, but in order to make the webinar an interesting learning arena, human effort is needed.

Matthias Gessler is searching for trainers who are running good seminars. He believes there are no guidelines for the pedagogy of webinars. In his article on EPALE (/en/content/european-blended-learning-and-hdr-photography-participate-international-online-seminar), Gessler observes that the webinar is a useful tool for learning activities, and that good pedagogics can increase their attractiveness and efficiency. Gessler is developing the webinar platform in the Erasmus+ project European Blended Learning and HDR Photography.

There are a number of “how to” guides on organising an effective webinar. For example, Citrix has published a comprehensive “Guide to better webinars”, which also describes teaching methods. The guide has a number of good tips, but they need try-outs for educational purposes. Such testing and try-out is going on in the Nordplus programme Webinar - for interactive and collaboration learning.

The background to the project was a need to transform the webinar – with its use of monologues with slides and the obligatory questions and answers – into a truly collaborative platform facilitating interactivity and network-building. The project will run for another year, however, some of the results are presented below.

The webinar as a collaboration workshop in online courses 
Brock Online Academy in Denmark is testing the webinar as part of the working method in online studies. They are developing a model for ‘webigagement’, which entails a prepared multistep method. Their work is based on a combination of two online learning models; Cynthia Clay’s ‘5 Principles for max Engagement in Webinars’ (http://netspeedlearning.com/greatwebinars/) and Gilly Salmon's ‘5-Stage Model for Interactivity in Online Learning’ (http://www.gillysalmon.com/fem-trinns-model.html).

The Danes have devised a preparation phase for the students, which is then followed by four progression stages. First, the students are welcomed “on board” in the webinar, and get to test easy pods and gamification elements. In the next stage, the students take part by interacting with fellow students in the webinar. The tasks are relatively easy to start with, but gradually become more advanced. In this way, the webinar is designed to be used as a collaboration workshop, where knowledge is built through information sharing, case studies, documentation and reflection.

The webinar as a network builder
In Iceland, the webinar concept is being tested by an export firm with branches and customers in a variety of countries. The aim is to develop the contact between them and build networks across national borders via the webinar.

The webinar as a classroom
David Röthler, who teaches at the University of Salzburg, uses webinars in his teaching, including as a collaborative forum for the presentation and discussions of student assignments. This working method enables the students to participate, even if they are physically nowhere near Salzburg. Experience so far is good; most of the students see many advantages in presenting their assignments online, and are particularly pleased that they receive feedback along the way as well as afterwards.

The hybrid webinar   
Using the webinar as a classroom enables students who are physically present to be linked up with students connected via the Internet. This creates a hybrid form that is now being tested. The partners in the Nordplus project have demonstrated this form of webinar in various conferences, where participants have joined the webinar with people located in different parts of the world. The hybrid webinar can be a useful platform for knowledge sharing, exchange of experiences and adult learning in an international perspective.

The webinar as an information channel
The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise is also contributing to the Nordplus project. They are testing the webinar as an insurance information channel for its members. The potential to use the webinar for information dissemination purposes lies in the capability to receive information, while at the same time providing an opportunity to discuss the topic at hand, ask questions and exchange experiences. The learning is that this may be a suitable option for the future, but the Confederation also recognises that online collaboration requires the fine-tuning of technical equipment and a degree of digital expertise among the participants.

When a webinar series becomes a course
Together with the Nordplus project, Studiesenteret.no in Norway has experimented with courses for older age groups as a series of webinars. The course organiser was Norwegian, the trainers were Icelandic and participants were scattered throughout Scandinavia. The course was held over four evenings as four unique webinars. The webinar platform provided an opportunity to show illustrations, conduct polls, hold lectures and present cultural contributions. The evaluation shows that participants enjoyed this way of learning. However, many improvements were needed related to the technical equipment and skills. Provided these issues are resolved and more interactive elements are added, the format has the potential to become an exciting way of running adult learning courses.

Preliminary conclusions and recommendations: 

The Nordic webinar project will continue for another year. Some very preliminary conclusions can, nevertheless, be drawn:

  • A webinar is intense by its very nature, and should not last longer than an hour.
  • The structure and the meeting hosts need to be clear and unambiguous.
  • The layout of the meeting room should be user friendly and intuitive.
  • Participants must be able to actively sign up for the webinar in advance, e.g. by placing themselves on the world map, responding to a mini survey or answering simple questions in the chat field.
  • The webinar must have variety, and it is important to avoid long presentations. Interview sequences can be a good way of adding variety and can work just as well as a presentation.
  • Several short features with interactivity create a good dynamic and generate interest, e.g. connecting to a wiki to run a session on shared writing.
  • Discussions should preferably take place using the chat function for groups of more than 6-8 people. Otherwise, if a verbal discussion is called for, participants should be divided into groups in separate sessions.
  • Sound is often the most problematic element in many of the platforms. There is also no escaping the fact that the participants’ digital skills and their technical equipment might be inadequate. Fortunately, however, technology and digital skills are both showing a positive development.

Variety of platforms

Webinars can run on various platforms. Experiences referred to in this article, mostly relate to the Adobe Connect platform.

The webinar project’s blog on working methods and testing: https://effectivewebinars.wordpress.com/

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