Students in a virtual webinarWeb conferencing is a term used to describe synchronous, online meetings between individuals located at a physical distance from each other. A web conference is highly interactive, allowing participants to chat, collaborate in real time using webcams and microphones, view each other’s computer desktops, break into groups, and in some cases, interact with multimedia such as digital whiteboards or presentations.

A web conferencing session is often referred to as a “webinar,” which is derived from the joining of the words “web” and “seminar.” The term “webinar” is often used interchangeably with the term web conferencing, whether or not the meeting is conducted in a seminar format. This article focuses on “webinars” for the purpose of leading class sessions online.

Web conferencing is a technique commonly used in online and hybrid courses offered at UC Davis as a way to allow students to interact with their instructor and peers virtually in real time. Often, this web interaction is conducted similarly to how they would interact in a traditional face-to-face class session, only the interaction is online. For example, small and large group discussions and activities can be conducted using audio, video, and/or chat features; digital content such as PowerPoint presentations or videos can be shown; and instructors or students can work problems using a digital whiteboard to which they can all contribute.

There are a number of different tools you can use to facilitate webinars. Check out some examples of webinar tools on our Webinar Tools page and keep reading for some tips on facilitating great web conferences!

Strategies for Facilitating Great Web Conferences

  • Familiarize yourself with the webinar platform you’re using. Whatever platform you select (Adobe Connect, Google Hangouts, Skype, or something else), make sure you are familiar enough with it to be able to tell students/participants how to use it (and the features you want to use) effectively.
  • Practice using the webinar platform before you run your own web conference. Meet with friends or colleagues in your platform of choice to try it out a few times before hosting your first class. That way, you can anticipate the bugs and work out problems early!
  • Promote active engagement during the webinar. Avoid clicking through a PowerPoint and talking at your participants. Instead, leverage the technology to enrich your presentation: have participants respond to polls, participate in an on-topic back-channel conversation with the chat tool, collaborate on problems in small groups, brainstorm on a digital whiteboard, etc.
  • Be organized. Successful webinars really need to be quite organized to run smoothly. Come up with an agenda or lesson plan, including times to spend on each topic. You may even want to share this agenda with your participants. If you’re using a true web conferencing tool, like Adobe Connect, try to keep your room setup similarly each week so that students know where to go to do certain things in the tool.
  • Connect your computer to a steady, wired, Ethernet connection to the Internet, rather than relying simply on Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi speeds and can connections can vary greatly and, as a result, can impact the pacing of your meeting. Ethernet outlets are easy to find next to wall outlets and your department’s IT representative likely has an ethernet cord to use if you do not have one. That said, if this isn’t possible, make sure that you are near a wireless router and have a strong, steady signal.
  • Encourage your students to also connect online through a wired Ethernet connection if possible. If you’re asking your students to use high-bandwidth features such as desktop sharing and webcam streaming, students may have trouble participating on Wi-Fi networks. Even if you’re not having students use high-bandwidth features, instruct your students never to rely on “free wi-fi” signals at public locations such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, or even the CoHo. These public locations have notoriously slow connections to begin with, but also have many people competing for that limited bandwidth. Encourage students to locate themselves near Wi-Fi routers if they do not have access to a wired connections.
  • Ask an experienced webinar leader for assistance. As you’re getting used to the platform, it may help to have an experienced person assist with running the technology as you conduct your class or meeting. This could be a fellow faculty member who has experience with the tool, an ATS instructional designer, or even a tech-savvy student in your class. If you’d like an ATS instructional designer to support you in your first webinar, contact Margaret Merrill (mmerrill@ucdavis.edu).
  • Don’t worry if your first web conference doesn’t run as smoothly as you plan (it likely won’t). Running a web conference well is a new, and different skill combining technical skills, strong organization, and meeting facilitation – it does take some time to get comfortable leading web conference sessions.

If you’d like to learn more about web conferencing, please contact Margaret Merrill.

We find that discussion groups for webinars are in some ways just as effective or more effective than in-person discussion groups. For example, there’s no place for students to hide. Students can’t sit in the back of the room; you have thumbnails of everybody who is in the discussion section in plain view of the rest of the audience. Also, there are fewer distractions in an online environment. As a result students tend to focus on, contribute to, and absorb more of the course content and activities.Arnold Bloom, Plant Sciences

References & Resources

Adobe Systems Incorporated. (2012). Insight-driven webinars, mobile learning, and mobile collaboration. Retrieved from http://www.adobe.com/content/dam/Adobe/en/products/adobeconnect/pdfs/web-conferencing/adobe-connect-9-overview-ue.pdf

Dixon, N. (2015). Nine Practices to Make Webinars Interactive and Effective. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2015/04/nine-practices-to-make-webinars-interactive-and-effective.html

Gunder, A. (2012). 24 Easy Activities for Keeping Webinars Engaging. Retrieved from http://www.adesinamedia.com/24-easy-activities-for-keeping-webinars-engaging/

Kennedy, J. (2014) 6 insanely Useful Tips for Running a Webinar. Retrieved from http://teachgoodstuff.com/useful-tips-for-a-webinar/

Pavliska, M. (2013). Best Practices for Making Webinars More Interactive and Engaging. Retrieved from http://www.omnovia.com/blog/2013/02/best-practices-for-making-webinars-more-interactive-and-engaging/

Young, J. Designing Interactive Webinars. Retrieved from http://www.facilitate.com/support/facilitator-toolkit/docs/designing-interactive-webinars.pdf