Back in the autumn of 2009 I was researching webinar software with a view to running a pilot series for Giftedkids.ie. As a small voluntary group we had very little by way of budget and our target audience of parents and teachers were geographically spread. There was no way that we could afford to run a series of talks across the country. We began to look at using technology which could bridge that geographical gap. I couldn’t believe my luck when I came across Learncentral.org, a global educators’ network sponsored by Elluminate and run by Steve Hargadon, a fearless education and edtech advocate. LearnCentral allowed educators to use a free public virtual meeting room to hold large webinars or group meetings. To qualify, the events had to be 1) education-oriented, 2) free (no charge to participants), 3) recordable, and 4) open to anyone to attend.
Fred Boss, NCTE CPD Project Manager and founder of #edchatie was a great help as we put the first webinar together and using surveymonkey we asked participants to evaluate each webinar on content, technology and presentation style. Overwhelmingly the response was very positive; teachers liked the idea that they could access cpd content from the comfort of their own sofa and in their own time.
I remember the excitement of our first webinar in January 2010 when we had 90+ participants in the room. It seemed that every second a new participant logged in. For many this was their first time participating in a live webinar and we, like they, were not completely sure what to expect. The chat area was a blaze with reaction, links and resources; a hugely effective back channel. We were also lucky enough to have both Steve Hargadon (LearnCentral, Future of Education, Web 2.0 Labs, Global Education Conference) and Kim Caise (Classroom 2.0) as moderators on that first outing. As seasoned moderators and presenters Steve and Kim were our dream team and we learned a lot from them.
Since then, we have run several webinars, all recorded, enabling us to build a bank of resources that can be viewed again and again. Using this technology has also allowed us to have presenters from both the US and the UK; experts that in the normal course of events we would never have imagined being able to host. And that is the real beauty of webinars, with a combination of interesting topics and great presenters you are constantly adding to the knowledge pool of any given subject. Participants can enjoy the instant feedback of the live event or view the recording in their own time. We also upload all presentations to Slideshare, so that they can be downloaded or embedded on other sites, thereby increasing our reach. This year MissionV Education Ltd, the not for profit organisation, I co-founded with James Corbett, has also ran a short webinar series focusing on game based learning in conjunction with the Dr. Patrick Felicia and the Game Based Learning Research Unit at Waterford IT.
So Why Do Webinars Work?
- Ease of use for both the presenters and the participants; they can log in from home.
- Allows you to tell your “story” or present information using a variety of techniques from desktop sharing, whiteboard tools, participant polling and web tours.
- Allows the presenter to host a round table discussion or a formal lecture style; the format is very flexible.
- Gets your audience interacting with the presenter and each other via the chat area providing instant feedback for presenters and a constant stream of shared resources, links and suggestions.
- Webinars are recordable, allowing organisations and educators the ability to build a resource library that has a life long after the live event.
- Greater choice of presenter; organisations can host worldwide experts, without the expense of travel, etc.
With Steve Hargadon at the helm, Learncentral was a fantastic organisation, it allowed individual educators and education groups from all over the world to share their message and resources in a totally unique way. I say “was” because on September 19th Blackboard who had recently taken over Elluminate decided that it could no longer support Learncentral. On December 31st 2011 Learncentral.org will sadly close. So I, like many of those who used the host your own webinar series, am now seeking alternatives. Coursesites.com, for example, is yet another fantastic free resource sponsored by Blackboard. Here educators can design online course material and deliver it using Blackboard in a 50 seater virtual meeting room with all of the usual webinar tools available. The only downside is that the webinars are not recorded.
Web 2.0 tools and resources have turned the web into one great big conversation, making it so much easier for those individuals and organisations to tell their story and get their message out to those who need to hear it, through various social networks, blogs and websites. Webinar technology can have a key role to play in that online conversation. I would love to see a major education conference based in Ireland using this technology. We have some amazing educators here who deserve a worldwide platform. Any takers?
Free Education Webinar Series