5 do’s and 3 don’ts and beyond for Webinar Teaching
The webinar dilemma.
The great dilemma when moving from face to face classes to online video-based tools is how to project what works in a classroom, what we know from years of developing our own style, and engagement methods, and yet take the time to reflect on and abandon poor practices.
The difficulty with this is that there is much good practice, but so many poor practices in classrooms that are rarely challenged, and the temptation is to use compulsory attendance rules, to project poor practices onto the webinar. However, a learner or participant has many more strategies to ignore you, and to appear present but be zoned out, when they are participating online. So, whether you like it or not, this is the time to critically reflect on your teaching and facilitation practice.
So, to ensure reasonable engagement from your learners here are my priorities for Do’s and Don’ts. Rest assured though, there is much more to ‘doing a good job’, and most of the clues about that, rest with you and your audience.
- Take time to introduce the group and understand the situation.
- Confront participatory styles and allow for difference.
- Encourage the use, even emphasis of new and old nonverbal cues, including hand gestures, perhaps even create a lexicon of gestures for your participants to use. Ensure you are aware of all the tools your webinar software offer and make an active choice to use or ignore them.
- Be organised, AND agile. Overemphasise structure. Email each person before and after the webinar, and discuss their needs. Treat the session like a movie script and make each session an adventure.
- Make it interactive, use polls, give research tasks, and use exercises/discussions in breakout rooms where they are available, but only for 3–4 people, with a convenor and scribe appointed. Allow plenty of time and call the roll before starting on return.
- Don’t bully or belittle the lurkers, listeners, or the over-sharers. Just as in a normal classroom, all voices and learning styles belong. It’s the teacher’s job to ensure they’re included through structured management.
- Don’t overuse PowerPoint or screen sharing. Presentation content must be concise, and support activities and assessment outcomes. Consider scripting your voice over, rather than commenting “off the cuff”.
- Don’t make the sessions too long without a break. If the full-day or half-day session is called for by the situation, break it into one-hour slots with a pre-scheduled 10-minute break. Make sure everyone knows when the break is coming. Suggested teacher input is 8–15 minutes per hour only. Keep strictly, very strictly to the scheduled time.
- Perhaps these tips are self-evident for you. They are not comprehensive; they are a bullet point list that represents what I prioritise. Every circumstance is different and requires you to consider your priorities. If you would like some more rationale for my current thinking, then read on.
Effective online e-learning, whether synchronous or asynchronous, ignores the ‘e’ and is fully informed about the intrinsic pedagogy for learning. The pedagogy that relates to human self-determination. That is, it is truly learner-centric. This is rare, as rare as can be. Described by Stuart Hase as Heutagogy (Hase and Kenyon ), this rare instructional design state has never found more meaning than in the new ‘cloud’ located learning framework in which we find ourselves.
Paying attention to emotion, to feelings, to context, to culture with all it’s meanings, to individual needs, and the wonder of the intrinsic human curiosity are the keys to successful learning.
The need for connectedness can be artificially stimulated by the media and graphical design ‘tricks’ you use. But so many infographics and visual cues lack substance on further examination, and it is the substance that matters.
The way to avoid this is to offer real connectedness, vulnerability, inquiry, curiosity, discovery, and relationship as learning devices. Offering information is easy, and often (but not always) redundant. Relevant, contemporary, and authentic information on any topic can usually be found easily with a few good research rules and the ability to type Google.
Educational leadership is about ceasing the role of ‘sage on the stage’. Seriously, the old models of “Master and Apprentice” have little relevance these days. I have thought a lot about it, and Confucian, Platonic and Socratic models of learning are over-quoted and over-relied on as theoretical justifications for education relations, sadly as are Piaget and Knowles these days I think. What do you think?
Facilitator, friend, guide, peer, listener, and encourager are the new roles of educational leaders. It all changed when Tim Berners-Lee proposed this wonderful web of learning, the World Wide Web, where all knowledge can be shared knowledge, and instantly accessible.
Mays Imad, quoting Antonio Damasio in Descartes’ Error, reminds us, “We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.”
Imad offers excellent tips for teachers of remote students in this time of crisis. I suggest you read her article for context, however, I have repeated them here for your convenience.
Reference: Hope Matters. M Imad Inside Higher Education 17 March 2020.
- Email your students to remind them that you are still there for them.
- Tell them how you are shifting your schedule to deal with the new situation and that change is part of life. Humanize yourself and make it casual and lighthearted. For example, you might talk about how, in between reading their discussion posts, you decided to start your spring cleaning, which you’ve been putting off forever.
- Reflect on the notion of rigor and continue to challenge and support your students. As instructors, we often must balance rigor and support, and this situation might be one where students will need more support than rigor. Establishing continuity doesn’t mean you increase the amount of work required of them. I say this because I worry that some of us might be fixated on the rigor of the materials presented. Let’s face it — the rigor may suffer, and that’s OK considering the situation.
- Repeat some of the lessons you taught in class. Especially for those students who are missing the classroom environment, this will probably help activate their memory of being part of a community and remind them that they are still part of one. For example, in your email you can say something like, “Remember when we talked about this and …”
- Use hopeful and optimistic language, such as, “When you come back this fall …” This will help students look forward to coming back to the campus.
- Offer students an opportunity to exchange phone numbers and, for those who are interested, help them create a WhatsApp chat group. It can sometimes be difficult for a student to ask for a classmate’s phone number.
- Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. If possible, talk about COVID-19 and fear. This is an opportunity for you to remind your students to consider the sources of their news and to beware of the large amount of misinformation.
- Remember that students have left behind more than just their classes and academics. On both residential and commuter campuses, there are important spaces where students meet and talk about their non-academic lives — sports, upcoming concerts, recently discovered shows and so on. Consider creating a community discussion board for them to share what is happening in their lives, especially given the stress, fear and strains in these uncertain times.
- Let your students know that you are there for them and that if they need help to reach out to you. Let them know that you are (I hope) in touch with counselors or mental health experts that can help them should they need to speak to someone. Most important, ask each of your students how you can help them. The Persian poet Rumi says,
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Likewise, in times of uncertainty and unknowing, we can create a space where our students’ voice and insights can illuminate the path we are carving out for them — and us.
The role of emotion, of feeling in learning, is grounded in studies by Shen et al and Um et al
These are inspiring and worthy of your attention, as is Mays Imad’s excellent article written at the commencement of the Corona Virus crisis for Inside Higher education.
Covid-19 has forced everyone active in society to examine what it means to ‘meet’ online. As we project our selves into this space, it is a great opportunity to re-think our approach.
 Hase, S. and Kenyon, C., 2000. From andragogy to heutagogy. Ulti-BASE In-Site.
 Damasio, A.R., 2005. Descartes’ error: emotion, reason, and the human brain, London: Penguin.
 Barks, C., 1995. The essential Rumi, San Francisco, CA: Harper.
 Shen, L., Wang, M. and Shen, R., 2009. Affective e-learning: Using “emotional” data to improve learning in pervasive learning environment. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 12(2), pp.176–189.
Um, E., Plass, J.L., Hayward, E.O. and Homer, B.D., 2012. Emotional design in multimedia learning. Journal of educational psychology, 104(2), p.485.
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About the author:
Mark is a learning solutions leader with 25 years of experience in internet-based learning systems and content development. He was the founding vice-president for Learning Solutions for US jobs giant Monster.com and founder of Intrinsic Learning. He is an Adjunct Academic at Flinders University and a member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development. His research field specialises in learner engagement and recognition.