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Barb's Bits and Bytes

Topic: Behind the scenes at a webinar

May 2012

Last week, I wrote about the Virtual Round Table, a web conference. If you missed it, all of the webinar recordings are now available online.

Now I'm preparing for the 2nd iTDi Global Webinar, which happens this coming Saturday, April 28th. Since I'm also helping to organize this webinar, I thought it might be interesting to take you along for a peek behind the scenes, so you can see how a webinar is similar to, and different from face-to-face presentations.

Much of the preparation is very similar. You need to find speakers people will want to listen to and learn from. However, one big difference is that for a webinar you don't have to worry about proximity or the cost of flying speakers to your location. You do have to take time zones into consideration, and how comfortable speakers are with the technology of giving an online presentation. There's always a behind-the-scenes juggler or two making sure that everything happens as it should. In our case, the jugglers are Steven Herder and Gareth Knight. They won't be too visible during the actual webinar, but they're the ones who make sure that everything goes smoothly during the event.

For iTDi's upcoming webinar, we'll start with me in Japan, talking about the changing fashions in ELT. I'll be speaking at 12 noon GMT, which is 9 pm for me. Then, we'll hop over to Turkey to listen to Özge Karaoglu talk about what she's learned from using technology with very young learners. It will be afternoon for Özge. The speaker after Özge is Ann Mayeda, back in Japan. Ann will be talking about learner autonomy. Following Ann is Penny Ur, who is in Israel. Penny will talk about effective teaching and teachers. Finally, we'll head to Ecuador for the final presentation, from Kate Cory-Wright. It will still be fairly early in the morning for Kate when she talks about action research.

The audience members are also scattered around the world. So far, nearly 400 people have registered from over 65 countries. It's best to ask people to pre-register for a webinar because the only way to enter a virtual room is with a link to the room. At a conference, you give people a map to a presentation room. For a webinar, the url (link) replaces a map. As you might imagine, pre-registering 400 people and then getting them into one location (and helping everyone with connection problems) can be a big job. I'm glad that Gareth and Steven are willing to take on those tasks.

People who can't afford to travel to conferences can attend webinars. All you need is a computer and a relatively fast Internet connection. That can be a challenge. The concept of having hundreds of people in one virtual room, interacting with a presenter in real time is pretty amazing, so it stands to reason that the technology would have to be pretty amazing in order to make this happen. Some people have trouble attending webinars because either their computers or their Internet are not fast enough. Luckily, there are always recordings for occasions when the technology doesn't work out.

That's probably the biggest difference between a webinar and a face-to-face presentation -- the technology. First, presenters typically have to practice in the virtual room several times before a webinar to make sure that webcams and microphones work and that uploaded slides and videos play correctly. The moderator is responsible for keeping everything moving on schedule, supporting presenters when they run into technical problems, and monitoring the audience chat. The chat is where participants comment on the speakers' points, and ask questions. When you're actually presenting, it's hard to watch the chat closely, so you depend on the moderator to let you know when a question has been asked. iTDi is extremely lucky that Shelly Sanchez Terrell has agreed to moderate our Global Webinars. Not only is she extremely tech-capable, but she makes both presenters and audience members feel connected in what could be an extremely unconnected environment. She also seems to live beyond time zones, which is a plus for this kind of event.

While webinars are often free, the technology is not. iTDi uses Adobe Pro Connect for our webinars. Webinar attendance is generally 1/4 of the number of people who pre-register. Our Adobe "room" seats 100 people, which we assumed would be more than adequate for our needs, since pre-registration for each of our webinars so far has remained below 400 people. We underestimated the enthusiasm of teachers around the world. It's just as frustrating to be unable to enter a virtual room as it is to be denied entrance at a conference because a session room is too small for the number of people interested in attending. Even though we record all of the webinar presentations, we still feel bad knowing that someone who wants to be in the room can't be. But, we can't afford to upgrade to a larger room, either.

Enter Heike Philip of let's talk online sprl. Heike, along with Steven, Shelly, and Berni Wall, coordinated last week's Virtual Round Table. Nearly 700 participants attended webinars in her Adobe rooms. Anyway, Heike figured out how to connect two rooms so that we can double our capacity. (Heike knows her way around Adobe better than anyone I've ever met!) Now we don't have to worry about turning anyone away on Saturday. Chuck Sandy will host the crowd in our second room so that we don't miss any of the conversation or questions that come up there. It will be just like having one large room, I think!

The final consideration for a webinar is promoting it. Luckily, Chuck coordinates our publicity efforts. Chuck has more friends than just about anyone I know -- except perhaps Shelly. There would be little point to the effort involved in putting together a webinar if no one knew about it. Social media makes it relatively easy to share information, as long as you have friends willing to share. In the friends department, iTDi is blessed with the best. Our Associates and friends do an incredible job in sharing information with their online networks.

There you have it -- a peek behind the preparations for iTDi's Global Webinar. It's online collaboration at its best. Organizers in 3 countries have worked to facilitate the event with a moderator and speakers from 4 countries, and participants from 65 more countries. The fun happens this Saturday, April 28th, beginning at 12 noon GMT (9 pm in Japan). I'm happy to be able to say that with our new room arrangement, you can still register for the webinar and be confident about being able to find a seat.

I hope to see you there!

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