I received a link to a webinar organized by a publisher in my university email inbox today. I had attended when it was live, but as usual in a distracted fashion. The arrival of the emailed link reminded me of one of the strengths of online instruction: if you are the sort of student who drifts off during lectures, you can always revisit the lecture either in whole, or a bit at a time when you are energized.
This got me to reminding myself that when you teach, you learn. I am not a fan of modern buzzwords such as ‘facilitator’ but I suppose these vague words are attempts to express this idea. The webinar was focussed on a question of much current angst among those of us who teach (facilitate?) in the Humanities these days: Why Study the Humanities? While I am not writing this post to engage with this idea, I do find it rather sad that the reinforcement of the foundational principles of our society (aka ‘the Humanities’) should be downgraded and questioned as to its relevancy. I suppose that is the downside of multiculturalism and ‘diversity’ – neither concept allows much space for the formerly dominant culture of the western world and diversity does not include people of European descent.
Anyway, what actually interested me here is the use of Webinars as a part of online teaching. It is not something that I have used, or even considered until now. Not that I reject the possibility, rather the use of webinars had not occurred to me until now – and I mean ‘now’ as it occurred to me as I was writing this paragraph.
I wonder how to incorporate a webinar into a course of study – how would one do this is a technical and practical sense? Would I ask experts in a field that falls within the course parameters to agree to become panelists, with myself, the instructor, mediating, asking questions etc. with email questions from students allowed?
Many years ago, I arranged an online seminar with another professor at a university in Chicago. We linked using emails as this was before the days when all courses had their own website – set it up for a particular time and got our respective IT departments to create a chat room for students in his class and in mine. Neither of us were teaching online, but in physical classrooms, but all students and faculty had university emails. I still think it was a good idea, but it proved an embarrassment for me. Firstly, only my students participated as it formed part of their seminar grade, while his received no academic benefit and as a result said very little. Secondly, we had no means to moderate comments and one of my students launched into a rather vile anti-American rant that had nothing whatsoever to do with the course content. I have come across that sort of stupidity occasionally here with students who buy into the myth that Canada is the greatest country in the world and the Americans are all vile idiots.
But I would try it again, and try again with cross university and international discussion as the internet has very few such boundaries. But I would have to have the ability to block trolls such as that student of mine (who by the way, dropped the class right after, showing her first sign of good sense.). I am not sure that the standard webinar format of a panel of experts speaking, then pausing every so often to answer one or two emailed questions, chosen by the mediator, is the best format for teaching. It seems to ape physical conferences, where a panel sit at the front of a room and do their individual thing, then at a point in the proceedings the floor is opened for a few questions from the audience. I am not of the opinion that (and I have said this before!) one should force new wine into old wineskins. That is, online teaching should not and should never mimic a physical classroom. This is not always possible because most designers and funders think in this fashion.
I think a webinar should be opened up -that is, there should exist a more freewheeling discussion – not a chat room (see vile rant above), but a situation where questions and comments could be put to the panel while they are speaking, so there is a discussion happening. I am not sure if this would work, or how it could work, but I am open to a discussion on how to discuss online!