Webinar Lessons Learned and Recommendations

At the research center I recently left, I was fortunate to be heavily involved in our webinars for a few years when we first started to conduct them.  After helping develop some of the routines and standard practices, including a checklist and standardized welcome slide, I remained somewhat involved the rest of my time but only on the periphery as we all became comfortable with the software, Adobe Connect.  Although some parts of those routines are common sense (e.g. “Register for an Adobe Connect account if not already registered several weeks in advance”), some were lessons we learned through only through experience and practice.  I don’t think any of them are unique to the research center at which I worked; these are lessons I have applied in my own work outside the center and ones I’ll carry with me to my next job.  The more interesting lessons and recommendations from the checklist we developed:

  1. Have a co-presenter that doesn’t actively present content but monitors text chat. This person can do many useful and important things that the presenter is typically too busy or focused to do, including (a) answer simple questions, (b) perform basic troubleshooting (without hesitating to tell someone, “Sorry, I don’t know what to do but here is a link with some common questions and answers about the presentation software. And we’re recording this webinar so if we can’t fix this then you can always come back later to view the recording.”), (c) pass along particularly interesting questions or questions asked by several attendees to the presenter so he or she can address them, (d) pass along URLs or other pertinent information as the presenter discusses particular topics, and (e) take notes about issues that arise in the webinar, particularly those that require follow-up.  This person can also play an important role in the text chat by modeling behavior: greeting attendees, reminding attendees that they can chat with one another, prompting attendees to ask the presenter questions, etc.  It’s often helpful for this person to physically be in the same room as the presenter as that makes it easier to get his or her attention to pass along important reminders and questions from attendees.
  2. Create a slide that will be displayed 15-20 minutes before the webinar until the webinar begins.  This slide should welcome attendees and give them important information that they may need for the webinar.  We created a standard slide that most of our presenters used in their webinars.  It not only included the title of the webinar and the time at which it would start but it also included technical recommendations and information such as (a) close other programs and applications, (b) visit the webinar vendor’s website to test your connection and web browser (e.g. this website if you’re using Adobe Connect), and (c) go to this webpage for further technical troubleshooting information (e.g. this website if you’re using Adobe Connect).  We regularly updated our standard welcome slide as we learned lessons in each webinar and received (sometimes negative) feedback from attendees.  For example, in response to attendee questions we began adding a link to presentation materials on this slide so attendees could download them before the webinar began.
  3. In the invitation e-mails and announcements, include a link to a registration form that allows registrants to submit questions in advance of the webinar.  This lets you understand some of the expectations of your audience so you can react accordingly.  Sometimes, we would add or tailor content to meet those expectations.  Occasionally we would receive questions that indicated that some registrants misunderstood the topic or the scope of the webinar so we would be sure that (a) we were very clear about the topic and scope at the beginning of the webinar and (b) our invitations, advertisements, and title were all accurate (so we could avoid similar problems in the future, if possible).
  4. Create a post-webinar survey allowing attendees to provide feedback and ask further questions. Have the survey live and available before the webinar starts and place a link to the survey at the end of the webinar so attendees can complete it immediately while they’re still at their computer.

It’s very, very helpful follow the first recommendation – have a co-presenter not focused on content but on attendees and other issues such as text chat – if at all possible.  Like many people, I have tunnel vision when I’m presenting material, especially in this strange context where you I can’t see or hear my audience beyond some abstractions that are very easy to miss or ignore.  So having someone who is not tightly focused on the content is incredibly helpful for me.  In practice, it was not uncommon for this co-presenter to quietly “save the day” in simple ways such as reminding the presenter to begin recording the webinar or swapping headsets with the presenter at the last minute. I had a lot of fun filling this role in many webinars, chatting with attendees in the text chat to answer their questions, help them, and encourage them to participate.

I’m sure that these lessons learned and recommendations aren’t unique to this one research center.  In fact, I know that others such as EDUCAUSE do many of the same things. If you’re involved with an online presentation or training, consider if any of these ideas might be helpful for you and your participants.

Thoughts on Backward Design

 This post will be less organized than most posts; some of these thoughts and ideas are still a little raw.

Backward design – the method by which one begins with the desired end result(s) of an educational program, determines acceptable evidence showing that the result(s) has been achieved, and then creates a plan to teach the skills and content that will lead students to provide that evidence – has been on my mind lately.  It’s one of the core concepts of a college teaching and learning course I co-teach but that’s not why I’ve been thinking about it.

For me, backward design is a “threshold concept;” it’s an idea that changed how I think about teaching and I can’t go back to how I thought prior to this change.  So although I learned and most often use and teach backward design in the context of designing or redesigning a single college course, I’ve been thinking about the role of backward design in different contexts.  For example:

  • I know that backward design has been and is used to develop curricula and not just individual courses.  Today was the first time I got to see firsthand how that plays out with a group of faculty to develop a full 4-year curriculum for this discipline.  I was most struck by how difficult it was to keep true to the backward design philosophy and not get mired down in content coverage and the limitations imposed by the current curriculum.  It was difficult even for me to remain on course as I tried to help facilitate one of the groups of faculty engaged in this process.  I underestimated the increased complexities involved in scaling up the process from a single course to an entire curriculum; it’s not a linear function.
  • There has been quite a bit of discussion lately among student affairs professionals regarding their conference presentations (e.g. this Inside Higher Ed blog post with 30 comments).  Put bluntly, many people are unsatisfied with the current state of these presentations.  Just as backward design can scale up from a class to a curriculum, it can also scale down to a single class session.  And shouldn’t a good 50 minute conference presentation resemble a good 50 minute class session?  So why not systematically apply backward design to conference presentations?  Many conferences seem to try to push presenters in that direction by requiring them to have learning outcomes for their sessions but that isn’t enough.
  • Unfortunately, pedagogy and good teaching practices are not formally taught and emphasized in most student affairs programs so I expect that most student affairs professionals have not been exposed to backward design as a formal process.  That’s a shame because it seems like such a good fit for what student affairs professionals do!  And it fits in so well with the ongoing assessment movement because it so firmly anchors design in measurable outcomes and evidence-based teaching!

Would any student affairs professionals out there want to learn more about backward design and try to apply it to some of your programs?  Please let me know because I’d love to help!  I’m positive this would work out well and I’d love to test these ideas!

Upcoming Student Affairs Technology Conferences

After many years of being a side-discussion at other conferences, technology in student affairs is finaly taking center stage at two upcoming conferences:

  1. The Student Affairs Technology Unconference is being held on July 29, 2011, at Boston University. Although the agenda is not set (and will not be set until the attendees set the agenda at the conference itself, one of the defining features of an unconference), this unconference is aimed at student affairs and higher education administrators who use technology and want to connect with others who share their interest. The conference is being set up by several persons who frequent the #satech Twitter hashtag; use #satechBOS to follow them. The event is free with participants responsible for their own lunch.
  2. The #NASPAtech: Student Affairs Technology Conference is scheduled for October 27-29, 2011, in Newport, Rhode Island. In contrast with the Boston event, this will be more of a traditional conference with a set schedule, invited speakers, and a call for programs that closes on July 22. The schedule has as many timeslots dedicated to unconference sessions as it does traditional concurrent sessions. This event seems to be aimed at the same general population as the Boston unconference: Student affairs technology users and enthusiasts.

I’m disappointed that I won’t be attending either of these events. I will be returning from England just a few days before the Boston event and the turnaround is just too quick for my comfort. I won’t attend the NASPA conference because (a) I will be attending and presenting at another conference and (b) I don’t care to support NASPA right now. (And while I’m being a Debbie Downer, I’ll also note that these conferences both seem to be aimed at the same audience with those who (a) build and support and (b) study the technologies and their users still lacking homes of their own.)

It’s exciting to see these events on the horizon! I hope this is a sign of more good things to come for those who work with technology in student affairs and other areas of higher education.

Viewpoints on Social Media at WASFAA

I’m in Appleton, Wisconsin, tonight because tomorrow morning I’ll be giving a keynote and then leading a concurrent session at this year’s meeting of the Wisconsin Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (WASFAA). In my keynote I’ll discuss using newer technologies to network with colleagues and in my concurrent session I’ll discuss using technology to reach students. I’ll post some notes and reflections from both events in a day or two.

Like many similar presentations people have given lately, #sachat will feature prominently in my discussion about networking as it’s a great example of many of things about which I’ll be talking. I’m also trying to encourage the use of a public backchannel during my keynote using the #WASFAA hashtag so you can follow along there, too. Finally, I’m a bit amused that one of the major topics of my keynote – intentionality and goal-setting – is also the subject of Eric Stoller’s newest blog post at Inside Higher Ed. Great minds think alike.

NACA on Board With Our Student Affairs Conference and Events Calendar

A few days after announcing the centralized and public Student Affairs Conference and Events Calendar, folks at NACA contacted me to ask if they could have edit permissions to add more of their events.  So not only is someone at NACA so clued in that they noticed this calendar but they’re also willing to pitch in and make it better!

One of the specific questions they asked me is if they can add their webinars to the calendar.  As I was initially creating the calendar, I had to decide whether to include webinars or just conferences.  I opted to exclude webinars for two reasons.  First, there are so many of them that the calendar would get very busy, perhaps making it less useful and more confusing.  Second, I don’t know how often webinars are changed or rescheduled; I don’t make any promises or assurances but I hope we can keep the calendar up-to-date and correct.  However, NACA is going to add their webinars to the calendar.  We’ll see how that works out and maybe we’ll want to add webinars from the other organizations.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of those NACA folks with their ridiculously fun conferences (they have many performers – musicians, magicians, etc. – at some of their conferences because those conferences are a great place to audition and book performers for campus events).  But I’m reevaluating my opinion after this wonderfully positive response!

Student Affairs Conference and Events Calendar

A few days ago, someone asked if there was a centralized calendar of student affairs conferences and events.  To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t.  So I’ve created one:

This has all of the national and regional events currently listed on the websites of the following organizations:

  • ACPA
  • ACUI
  • NACA

I did not include state-level events or Webinars.  I think you could make a good argument for including them; if you’re interested in making that argument then you’re more than welcome to add those events!  I’m also sure that there are many organizations and events missing from this calendar.  If you notice something, please let me know.

I don’t want to maintain this calendar.  I don’t think it should be one person’s job.  If I could immediately and automatically give everyone the ability to edit this calendar, I would do so.  But I can only give specific people permission to edit.  So if you are interested in helping to maintain this calendar, please contact me.

(A side note: It would be nice if we didn’t have to create and maintain this calendar by hand.  Most of the organizations already included in this calendar only had an HTML/text calendar on their website.  A few had RSS feeds for their calendar.  And only one had a more helpful calendar – a Google calendar – but it is embarrassingly out of date.  Once again, we can do much better than this.  And we can do it cheaply and easily. How wonderful it would be if these organizations all had up-to-date calendars to which we could subscribe, automatically updating our own calendars!)

2010 NASPA Conference: Day One – Doc Student Seminar and social media

Although I arrived in Chicago on Saturday, yesterday (Sunday) was my first day at NASPA.  I spent most of the day at the Doctoral Student Seminar, an event hosted annually by NASPA members to help doctoral students connect with one another and experienced faculty members.  There was not any technology focus for this event so I won’t write much about it here.

During this event, my primary technology-related thoughts were about how students could use technology to remain connected to one another to network and provide support.  Several students expressed frustrations about how (dis)connected they feel at their institution, particularly those from small programs or in unique situations like those who commute or take primarily distance ed courses.  It seems that we could find ways for those who attended this seminar to remain connected to provide that support for those students and open up new opportunities for one another.  Maybe it’s as simple as a Facebook group?  I don’t know if such an effort is sustainable or would be used by many participants but it might be worth a shot…

Unrelated to the doc student seminar: NASPA is making a big push to get attendees and members to use tools like Twitter and blogs.  NASPA has a blog set up for the conference and they are pushing – hard – for people to use the #NASPA10 hashtag for their Twitter posts.  And the #sachat folks are very active, too, with a demo planned for tonight at 6:00 Central followed by a physical meetup (a “tweetup”).

Current Student Affairs Technology Events: Twitter & NASPA

From my vantage point as someone who is deeply interested in student affairs and technology but not currently immersed in them (my classwork, research, and assistantship keep me quite busy!), here are some “current events” that are on my radar:

  1. The Twitter group using the #sachat hashtag continues to grow in size and popularity.  What began as a once-weekly discussion among a few dozen folks has now expanded to two weekly discussions among over a hundred folks and significant activity outside of the scheduled hours.  They’re a very friendly and resourceful group and even if you don’t actively participate you should check in on them periodically to learn from them.  I am not participating in these discussions as I am formally analyzing the group’s discussions and I don’t want to “contaminate” the data by actively participating.  But you should jump in and join the discussions!  The group has even provided an introduction and instructions if you’re new to Twitter.
  2. NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community has put together a list of all of the technology-related programs at the upcoming NASPA Annual Conference.  There are many interesting sessions on the program and it’s unfortunate that so many are scheduled at the same time forcing us to choose between them.  I’ll be at many of the programs so please say hello if you see me!
  3. On Sunday, March 9, NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community and Administrators in Graduate and Professional Student Services Knowledge Community are presenting a pre-conference session entitled “Tweet: Point-Click-Connect to Graduate Student and Adult Learners.”  The program description:

    This full day workshop at Northwestern University will focus on the ways student affairs professionals can communicate with graduate students and adult learners using technology.Workshop attendees will review the various social networking sites students are utilizing, learn more about the impact of these communication tools on adult learners, and discuss ways to maintain a personal connection in light of automation.Participants will also have the opportunity to discuss hot topics and share best practices from their own campuses.

    Not only does the content sound exciting but the format is also exciting as this program will be offered simultaneously online.  I think this is the first time that NASPA has done this and it’s wonderful to see their willingness to try something new that will give non-attendees a chance to participate and learn.  More information, including the costs and registration instructions, are on the Technology KC’s website.

I wish that:

  1. There were a listing of technology-related sessions at ACPA.  (I really wish we would get this unification started and over with so I could stop splitting my attention and money between two nearly-identical organizations but that’s off-topic.)  I know, I know – I could put together such a listing myself.  But I’m not going to ACPA this year and I’m not terribly keen on diving that deeply into the program of a conference I’m not attending.  It would be very depressing to read about all of the really cool things that will occur that I can not attend. :)
  2. NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community and the #sachat folks would link up.  It would give them both some excellent resources and energy.  It would give #sachat an immediate formal link to NASPA and access to some its resources.  And it would give the Technology KC access to a group of very excited, experienced, and knowledgeable student affairs professionals who are actively using technology in an exciting and innovative way.  This seems like a very obvious and easy connection to make and I am a bit confused why it hasn’t already occurred.

Reflections from NASPA Region IV-E Regional Conference

A few weeks ago, I spent a few days just outside of Chicago attending the NASPA Region IV-E Regional Conference. I was there primarily as the regional representative of the Technology Knowledge Community.  As the regional representative, I had two primary duties:

  1. Attend the Knowledge Community Gala before the opening dinner.  At this event, each KC has a table where he or she places information about the KC, augmented by a poster, candy, giveaways, or whatever else he or she deems necessary (a determination that seems to widely vary from KC to KC).  The KC rep then hangs out near the table to answer questions, encourage new members to join, etc.  I thought that I had a decent spread this year with much of it focusing on our new website (go check it out; it’s pretty snazzy).
  2. (Co-)Host a table at Monday morning’s breakfast.  Many tables were specifically designated as being focused on topical discussions and most (all?) of the topics were germane to two or more KCs.  Each table therefore had one or more KC representatives to help run the discussions.  I was partnered with our representative from the Sustainability KC and our topic was “Economy – sustainability and technology.”

My table at the Gala was sparsely attended and my breakfast table even less so.  Nationally, the Technology KC is a niche KC that only appeals to a small percentage of NASPA members.  When you get down to the regional level, the number of NASPA members interested in the KC and its topics is even smaller.  When you go all the way down to the number of people who attend regional conferences, that number is very small indeed.  And when you factor in the type of people likely to attend the regional conferences (i.e. it’s not a random sample of the regional membership), the number appears to virtually disappear altogether.  So it’s not surprising (although it is disappointing) that very, very few people indicated an interest in the KC and its topics at this year’s Region IV-E conference.

I’m not particularly bothered by the lack of interest in the Technology KC at this conference.  But I am very bothered by the lack of full-time faculty members and researchers at the regional conference.  I am bothered by the fact that the practitioners and scholars inhabit such radically different worlds that they have completely separate conferences (e.g. I can’t imagine there is much overlap between the attendees of NASPA and ACPA conferences on the one hand and ASHE and AERA on the other).  At this particular conference, the attendees seemed to be predominantly Master’s students, entry-level practitioners, and some mid- and senior-level practitioners.  I am particularly bothered by the fact that so many younger practitioners were being professionalized and implicitly and explicitly taught the norms of the profession at this conference, norms that now include the absence of “serious scholarship” (I place that in quotes out of deference to the quality research carried out by many dedicated practitioners but I think you get my point).

I don’t want to to go to this conference next year.  I don’t think there is much I can get out of it given the lack of overlap with the topics and approaches that interest me.  But I also feel guilty, knowing that I have a lot that I could contribute to the conference and its attendees; I only attended two sessions but I was honest-to-God complimented on and thanked for the comments I made and the insights I shared.  In this instance, I don’t know how to marry my interest in linking practice with research and my need for professional growth, particularly on my very limited (financial and temporal) budget.  And that tears at me and challenges me in a way that I don’t quite know how to match.

Economy – sustainability and technology

EDUCAUSE and NASPA Continue Leading Into the 21st Century

Several of our professional organizations are continuing to innovate, spurred in part by the economy.

EDUCAUSE, the 900 pound gorilla of higher education technology organizations, has created an online component of their annual conference to be held in November in Denver.  Not only are several events in Denver being simulcast online but they’ve created several events exclusive to the online conference.  This is a wonderful option for those whose travel budgets have been adversely impacted by the economy.  I wish that many other organizations would make similar offerings but I also recognize the infrastructure and expertise necessary to put this together, resources that EDUCAUSE has but many other organizations do not.  However, many of the necessary technical resources are cheap and easily available so hopefully other smaller and less-technically-inclined organizations will pursue similar creative options.

NASPA is changing its official journal from the NASPA Journal to the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice.  I’m not privy to all of the details of the change and the reasons for it.  But one of the changes is that they are broadening the scope of the review section to include resources other than just books.  Specifically:

Media Reviews summarize and analyze the full range of resources (e.g., blogs, websites, video, books, reports) available to student affairs educators. Media Review manuscripts, informative and critical, allow student affairs educators to learn of media useful to their work. Media reviews, invited and solicited by the Editor, should not exceed 1,200 words, and are to be discussed with the Associate Editor for Media Reviews in advance of submission. NASPA members are invited to suggest cutting edge and novel media to be reviewed in JSARP.

The new editors are actively soliciting reviews so feel free to submit one.

Finally, ACUHO-I is also changing its journal.  As with the change at NASPA, I’m not privy to all of the details but I’m excited about what I know.  The changes being made by ACUHO-I, however, are not near as big the changes made by NASPA.  The Journal of College and University Student Housing has previously been published twice a year but beginning next year it will only be published once a year.  Content won’t be reduced, however, so each issue will be twice as large as previous issues.  Most interesting is that the editors will be including a “study guide” aimed at helping practitioners make use of each article.  Research conducted by my colleagues in the ResNet Applied Research Group should be included in the next issue of this journal.