The webcast was in support of a recent article we (Jackie Dobrovolny, Dave Young, and I) had published in Innovate (a good journal for people interested in online education). [Note: The article is on our use of Kolb's model of experiential learning in the eLearning MA/certificate program at UCD.] Innovate asks authors to participate in a webcast in support of their articles, sharing a presentation and facilitating a discussion. It is a fantastic idea, and one I think more journals should consider because I think audiences/readers crave opportunities to discuss the work (and, in my mind, it recognizes the criticality of social context). Anyway, I love the idea and think it serves its purpose well. [Note: By the way, Innovate has all of these webcasts archived. I have watched/listened to many of them, and found them to be a good source of information...even though I wasn't able to participate in real-time. You will need to register (for both the journal and the archived or live webcasts), but it is free. Also, Jackie and I participated in another webcast of our live presentation at the Innovation 2008 conference, in case there is interest.]
So, it caught me off guard yet again today when I was reminded of how much I rely on the visual cues of the audience. People nodding, taking notes, talking to a neighbor, or even glaring at me with arms crossed across their bodies...those cues give me information that encourages me, informs me, and often redirects me.
I am not a good multitasker. So, my other challenge -- one commonly expressed by people working in synchronous technology-mediated environments -- is that I wanted to deliver a smooth presentation while at the same time attend to the high volume of text-based comments and questions from the audience. There was a ton of interaction (potential and realized) from the audience of around 25 folks. All with great contributions. Yet, I was simply unable to track it all. In fact, there was one point where I completely lost track of where I was in the presentation...something that never happens to me in a face-to-face live setting.
Where does this experience leave me? I am not going to give up on webcasts, that I know. Again, I think there is a craving for synchronous connection, and there is power in that. So, I want to add more webcast opportunities to my online courses, and plan to use them to deliver professional development through UCD's Center for Faculty Development starting in the fall. But, I do have to deal with these two issues -- (1) my reliance of visual cues from the audience, and (2) attending to audience comments and questions. The second issue is much easier to deal with. I have had great luck with asking a colleague to step in and act as moderator during a webcast. The moderator can completely focus on the text traffic, and make sure that I address questions and respond to comments.
In terms of the first issue, I have come up with two angles I will pursue: setting ground rules, and structuring the presentation to support time for frequent interaction.
Setting ground rules:
- Demonstrate how participants can engage in side conversations using the "private" feature so that they do not distract the entire audience (or presenter).
- If there is no moderator involved, ask the audience to hold their questions and comments until the designated times throughout the presentation.
- If there is a moderator, explain to the audience that the moderator will track comments and questions, try to categorize them into themes, and present them to you during the designated times throughout the presentation.
- Share a set of emoticons that the audience can use to let you know whether they are in agreement, disagreement, want more, want less, and so on.
Structuring the presentation:
- If possible, collect potential questions and comments from participants in advance of the webcast. This gives you time to incorporate content that you may not have been planning to address.
- Make sure there is time before the presentation begins for people to check their technology and say hello.
- Share the ground rules. Ask if the group wants to change any of the rules, and adjust as appropriate. (If it is possible to send this information out in advance, great. But, review them at the start of the webcast so they are fresh.)
- If you are interested in collecting some pre-presentation data from folks (to make sure you will address questions, and to get them engaged in the topic), use the polling feature of your webcast tool. For example, the webcast today was in Breeze, which has a polling tool.
- Set up the presentation so that you are delivering content in 3-5 minute chucks.
- Between each chunk, open it up for questions. Make sure the time is monitored -- say, only 3-5 minutes for questions.
- Leave time at the end for a lot more discussion. (I have found that presenters so often fill up their allotted time with their own talking, leaving no time for the audience to participate. And, let's face it, they often do want to participate.)
- Use the polling feature to check for understanding throughout the presentation. This is a quick way to get feedback without waiting for a large group of people to type in their responses. Plus, it is something that can be set up in advance of the webcast.
- If appropriate, provide a way for you and the audience to keep the discussion going after the webcast using an asynchronous communication tool (e.g., threaded discussion).
Wish me luck -- I have another webcast coming up, and will certainly put some of these strategies into play.