In the world of online education, any opportunity to directly engage with students in real time (synchronously) should be valued highly. And it’s worth spending the appropriate time and energy investing to make it an engaging and effective learning opportunity. Webinars, the most common form of live engagement between online facilitators and students, provide such a unique opportunity for connection and the exchange of empathy and compassion—factors which have the potential to make or break a students overall online learning experience. —In the world of online education, any opportunity to directly engage with students in real time (synchronously) should be valued highly. And it’s worth spending the appropriate time and energy investing to make it an engaging and effective learning opportunity. Webinars, the most common form of live engagement between online facilitators and students, provide such a unique opportunity for connection and the exchange of empathy and compassion—factors which have the potential to make or break a students overall online learning experience.
However if not effectively thought out, planned for and facilitated, webinars also have the potential to be a catalyst for student disengagement. So, here are three top tips for running an engaging and effective webinar.
1 – Plan your webinar and be prepared
If you are new to facilitating online environments, running your first webinar might be a daunting experience. From not knowing how many students will attend, worrying whether or not students will feel comfortable speaking and sharing their thoughts, and wondering—if you can’t see their faces—how will you know if they are connecting with what you are saying and presenting?
Well, appropriate planning can overcome all of these things. Webinars are not something that should be ‘winged’ or improvised—no matter how skilled a facilitator is at doing so or how much of a subject matter expert an academic may be. If you are asking students to invest time into their studies, the expectation must go both ways. Investing the appropriate time and thought into preparing how to facilitate a live learning opportunity is absolutely essential to its success. Follow these two steps for planning and overcoming the above anxieties associated with running a webinar:
- In order to encourage attendance for live webinars, involve your students in the scheduling of them. At the beginning of the course, send a quick survey to your class asking them which day and time would be their preference for a webinar, and then schedule for the most popular time. This is a small technique which can have a big impact as it allows your students an opportunity to enact their own agency, and is a sure way to increase attendance.
- Then, in the days or weeks before your webinar is scheduled, be sure to promote it in your regular communication with your class. In your promotions however, don’t just state the day and time of the webinar, but give your students a preview of the content you plan to discuss. Perhaps even provide them with a question to consider in advance or a short task that involves minimal effort that they can prepare to share with their peers. These things will help to increase students anticipation for the webinar and ensure attending remains at the top of their priority list.
2 – Encourage engagement
In your webinar planning, try to maximise opportunities for engagement. With your promotion, be sure to explain the value in having the opportunity to connect in real time and set expectations in relation to the upcoming engagement. Ask students to ensure they have access to a webcam and microphone. Suggest that your students test their technology in advance so that on the day, you are able to see and hear them clearly with minimal technical issues.
Also do this tech practice yourself. Ensure that you are in a quiet room, with no background noise, so there is less chance for disruption. This will help to maximise the bandwidth for interpretation of both verbal and non-verbal communication throughout your webinar, offering an opportunity for deeper connection.
In preparing your webinar, put thought into incorporating particular activities that will encourage engagement and sharing of reflections in a safe environment. This doesn’t just mean the simple “ask a question to the group” strategy, which often results in long awkward silences or the same students being the only ones to answer. There are other creative ways to stir engagement. Often video conferencing software will have a group chat, polling, or even breakout room functions available within them that you can exploit.
- Use group chat to encourage multiple responses to a question at one time, and is a safe option for students who lack the confidence to contribute verbally.
- Use polling to gauge how comfortable students are feeling with course content, or assessments, and if student answers can be shared anonymously can allow them to see how others are faring and take respite in the fact that they may not be struggling alone!
- Breakout rooms offer fantastic potential for students to engage with each other in small groups and share their thoughts, ideas and experiences.
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3 – Connect course content and assessment advice in your webinar
This third point also highlights appropriate planning as the ultimate art of delivering an effective and engaging webinar for connecting the course content and assessment advice, but this takes thought and strategy. Understandably, students will likely be most interested in understanding how to achieve the best possible marks in their assessments. Therefore, this offers a fantastic hook which you can take advantage of as a learning facilitator.
Rather than covering ‘course content’ and ‘assessments’ as separate discussions, blend them and create activities or tasks which encourage discussion and learning about the applicability of course content, to the assessment tasks. If you can do this in a manner which is interactive and encourages engagement, then it’s even better!
Turning the tables is always an effective strategy. So, if the assessment your students are undertaking is an essay, perhaps consider developing three main arguments (purposely of varying degrees of quality) and presenting these to the class for your students to critique your work. This will allow multiple opportunities for discussion around both the course content and essential essay writing skills such as referencing.
Following these top three tips and ensuring appropriate planning to create opportunities for engagement and connect course content with assessment advice is a sure way to maximise the value of webinars. Webinars offer a unique opportunity for live connection in the online learning world. Don’t miss out on this chance to connect with your students in a new and exciting format.