How to run a webinar?

analog Zoom

Pretty much every time I’m talking about L&T these days, I find myself saying that we shouldn’t be beating ourselves up about being perfect, but we should be thinking about ways to improve.

It’s for that reason I’m going to reflect a bit on my webinar for the PSA, part of their Teaching Politics Online series (do sign up: lots of excellent speakers still to come).

And also because I wasn’t totally satisfied with how I did.

Part of the issue was that rather than the just-about-manage-a-conversation registration of 20 people, we instead got nearly 70 joining in (and a bunch more who’d registered). Fortunately, I’d been able to think about that beforehand, but not to a reassuringly tidy conclusion.

At the back of my mind was the message that we’ve all been writing about on this blog for years – what’s your objective?

The point

Yes, I’d been asked to talk about the impact of the online-shift on us as teachers, but what was the message I was trying to communicate?

Oddly – and I use that word sarcastically – thinking about it in those terms was a big help, getting me to fix more on the core points and working through to possible ways to reinforce them.

Here I got to something of a dilemma. On the one hand, 70+ people is too much to do much that’s interactive. On the other, who wants to listen to a talking head for 45 minutes (plus Q&A)?

So, a compromise.

As well as some (nominal) slides, I put together a couple of short quizzes and activities (you can see them all here).

These each only took a few minutes, and provided some input from the audience and some focus for my headline messages.

For instance, seeing that institutional uncertainty was a big barrier/problem meant I spent more time on that than on more nebulous concerns about personal motivation.

Plus the meme-making activity is quite enjoyable.

And the point is?

On the plus side, I think these did give something more to the session, and helped to keep some people more engaged, but that was at a cost of keeping it tight and focused: it turns out academics are just as good at staying focused as everyone else, so various people raced ahead on the activities, or lingered in making memes. And some people didn’t really do any of them.

As much as comments I’ve had have been very positive, I’m not sure I’d do it like that again, mainly because I’m coming back to my evolving thinking about online instruction.

In particular, I’m not sure about how much of a role synchronous formats can/should play. I feel I could have provided a much more concentrated pre-recorded lecture, asked for engagement with some brief activities and then followed up with another pre-record and/or a live Q&A.

That said, I know how hard it is to get and keep peoples’ attention: I’d guess I’ve have gotten much less engagement with the activities in that format than I did when I had them right there.

So it’s a trade-off, and we come back to the question of what we’re trying to achieve.

If I take this across to my teaching, does it matter more that I work with those who are present, or with creating content that is more passive, but is there for everyone, whenever they access it?

The ideal answer is that you maximise both tracks, creating compelling learning moments that students want to take part in, but also providing a more rigorous safety net for those that can’t/won’t.

Get to the point

I’m drifting from the original purpose of this post, but it’s useful to return to the question of how could I have improved on my webinar.

A couple of people said it had been a useful place to think about their situation in the round, to reflect on how they might draw on what they already knew. That’s good, because part of my core objective was to try and make All This look more manageable, because it’s actually primarily just another example of working around the constraints we’ve always faced with our teaching.

And maybe that’s a good point to try to end on: each of us has a different path of learning.

Just as creating varied learning environments can be useful in creating more points of access for students, so too might we have to learn how to create that variety in remote settings. No one way of doings is going to work for all learners and all subjects, so exploring the possibilities is essential.

And hopefully the reflecting on that exploration can open our eyes to how we might make the most of what we do.