“Host Your Own Webinar” Returns

RLPlogoThe Learning Revolution Project, an online global network for educators, founded by Steve Hargadon, has recently announced that they will reboot the “Host Your Own Webinar” initiative. Steve is a true pioneer of 21st century learning and is dedicated to empowering educators and students as they reimagine the classroom and their place in it. He creates online collaborative spaces where teachers can develop their PLNs, share their experiences of teaching in the digital age and debate new approaches.

Back in 2010/11 we at Giftedkids.ie took full advantage of the Host Your Own Webinar series, then run by the now sadly defunct LearnCentral.org. Partnering with both the National Centre of Technology in Education and the Centre for Talented Youth Ireland we ran a number of webinars focusing on the key issues confronting exceptionally able and twice exceptional students. NCTE’s Fred Boss, in particular, was a wonderful help as we developed our presentations and visual content. Steve Hargadon himself also couldn’t have been more supportive, even helping to moderate our first webinar. In a pre-Google hangout era to be able to host realtime virtual events with little or no cost was quite honestly miraculous but crucially it also allowed us to build a library of content as each webinar was recorded and could be played back at a later date. We were also able to invite international speakers from the US and the UK and introduce them to an Irish audience. The series extended our reach dramatically and allowed us to connect with both teachers and parents on both a national and global scale. Such was the success of the Giftedkids series that we also ran three webinars under the MissionV Education moniker looking at game based learning and exploring how it could fit into the Irish classroom.

So, when the email dropped into my inbox announcing that the Learning Revolution Project was going to restart the series I was honestly thrilled at the possibilities it presents. Not just for our group but for all educators out there with a vision. As Steve says:  “We’re really excited to see what you do with this capability, and are hoping that it allows you to regularly gather other educators around interests in “historic” ways.”

So how exactly does it work? Well, much like Learn Central the Learning Revolution Project allows its members to use a free public Blackboard Collaborate room to hold education-related webinars. In order to qualify, the events must be:

  • education-oriented
  • non-commercial
  • free to attend
  • recordable
  • open to anyone

There are of course some requirements before you are let loose on an unsuspecting public. Before scheduling a meeting would be moderators need to attend free Blackboard Collaborate training, preferably a live but alternatively a recorded session. It is also suggested that they attend a session as a participant to see how it works from the participants’ perspective. In fact I would go further and recommend that if you’re planning to dip your toe into the world of webinars you should attend a number of them in preparation. It will give you invaluable insight into what works and how to increase participant engagement. I have attended too many webinars where it’s a case of death by PowerPoint with little or no interaction with the audience. Even if your content is excellent the method of delivery is crucial if you are to avoid turning your presentation into a snooze fest. Steve himself is a fantastic online communicator and is a past master at promoting audience participation, regularly hosting lively interviews and round table discussions. His webinars are a must see for both moderators and presenters alike. A first time out Moderator can find audience participation, in whatever form it takes, tough going. Moderating a lively ongoing chat channel or an open mic Q&A session can be challenging. However the chat feature can be one of  the most rewarding elements with participants responding in real-time to the Presenter, offering insights, sharing links and asking questions. Often these transcripts are as invaluable as the presentation itself.

Tips for First Time Presenters

  • Think about your attendees. What is the key message you want them to take away from this webinar?
  • Think visually. When it comes to actual presentations avoid too much text on slides. Think more about images that can be used to illustrate your point. You can always provide more detailed handouts for download by attendees if necessary.
  • Vary your voice cadence. Obviously avoid the biggest faux pas of them all, do not read from the slide.
  • Involve the audience – give them a reason to stay watching. Let participants participate.
  • Build in feedback – webinars are almost akin to a radio broadcast or podcast and without visual feedback from the audience it can be extremely difficult to gauge participants’ response. Alone with your laptop and headset it can be tough to see if you are “connecting” with your audience in the way you intended. Through the use of polls, emoticons, and asking for feedback through the chat channel you can engage the audience.
  • Use your moderator – if you experience any technical difficulties, they should have your back.
  • Blackboard Collaborate allows the presenter to use multi-media, share their desktop and tour websites. I’ll be honest here, in our presentations we played it safe due to the inconsistent bandwidth at the time. We even had some attendees who used dial up connections. So to avoid technical issues we kept to a simple presentation style with no video. Given that broadband speeds are getting better I would like to think that this time round we may be a little more adventurous and use the technology available more creatively.

Tips for First Time Moderators

  • Do your homework. Attend the Blackboard training and get up to speed with the technology. You don’t have to know the entire Codex back to back but you should be familiar with the all of the tools you or your Presenter intends to use during the course of the webinar.
  • Open up the virtual room early if possible and upload presentation slides in plenty of time.
  • Welcome participants as they arrive prior to the handover to the Presenter.
  • Always include an orientation slide on attendee controls and settings, particularly highlight any tools you wish them to use during the webinar.
  • Discuss with the presenter how they want to the webinar to be conducted. Do they want audience feedback during the presentation or would they prefer the chat facility to be shut down for the duration? Ensure that attendees’ video and mics are shut off if required.
  • Be prepared. Participants may have technical questions, particularly with regard to audio settings.
  • Be prepared to moderate and that includes bouncing any difficult participants from the room if they are disruptive. In my experience, this is incredibly rare.
  • Finally keep track of time, and don’t forget to hit that Record button!

These are some very basic tips from my experience as both a presenter and moderator. There are huge amounts written about webinar moderating and presenting online and many give good advice. In the meantime I sincerely hope that more Irish educators use this opportunity to create some fantastic learning experiences, connecting and extending their networks and helping to build our knowledge of how we teach and learn. For more information on how to host an event go to the Learning Revolution Project.



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