Through the Computer Screen: On the Other Side of the Webinar

Article excerpt

Well-planned webinars include a little something for everyone, with enough options to keep the attention of today's multitasking public. But not everyone is a fan of webinar delivery. There are plenty of strong opinions in the opposite camp.

"And what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"

--Lewis Carroll

LIKE most educators, I've logged in to my fair share of webinars. These seminars, conducted through the internet, have some distinct advantages over the traditional, face-to-face group meetings. For one thing, every participant has a front row seat. Because meetings can be recorded, those who miss training sessions can view them in segments or in their entirety at a later date.

There's no question that webinars save on time and travel costs for both participants and presenters. They also balance information formats--visual information presented on the screen is just as vital as the auditory information coming through the speaker, while textual information, often in the form of hyperlinks, allows participants to further explore the concepts being presented in the session. Social types can interact through simultaneous chat pods and viewer polls. Well-planned webinars include a little something for everyone, with enough options to keep the attention of today's multitasking public. Besides, webinars are the ultimate "come as you are" form of professional development. If you log into a session wearing your favorite old sweatsuit from your college days and a pair of cowgirl slippers, who's to know? All in all, it's a convenient, efficient--and comfortable--way to receive and deliver information.

But not everyone is a fan of webinar delivery. There are plenty of strong opinions in the opposite camp, many of them coming from students and teachers. Complaints range from inept presenters to the conspicuous absence of real, face-to-face interaction. It's true that webinar formats are, shall we say, lacking in human dynamics. Devoid of the signals that let presenters know whether their audience is engaged, confused, or bored, facilitators tend to plow through their material relentlessly and without pause. Technical problems--echoing audio, presenters unsure of just how to switch screens or use the software options--throw another monkey wrench into the scenario, creating distraction and a general lack of trust in the delivery system. There are some attendees who freely admit to getting through webinar sessions only by opening another window and dividing their time between Facebook and FarmVille. "Every time I sit through a webinar, I feel my will to live start to flag," confessed one school administrator on his blog. Bottom line: efficient and convenient do not an engaging presentation make. And if you're not engaged in learning, well ... you won't learn.

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

--Lewis Carroll

These reflections--along with a few cautionary visuals--flitted through my mind at lightning speed when I received an invitation to present a series of webinars, based on my book, Engaging the Eye Generation: Visual Literacy Strategies for the K-5 Classroom, to teachers and administrators in Michigan's Oakland Intermediate School District (ISD) (www.oakland.k12.mi.us). Educators in Oakland ISD have been taking a close look at literacy, basing their studies on the Four Resources Model developed by Peter Freebody and Allan Luke (www.new literacies.com.au/what-are-newliteracies?/116). Oakland ISD continued its professional development focus on literacy with a 2010 initiative on the topics of critical and developing literacy.

True confession: My previous experiences with webinars fell firmly in the category of "passive pastime." My tendency was to log on and follow along, perhaps not always as diligently as I should have. …