The ‘Green Learning Network’ Google hangout – How to better engage your webinar audience?

At the end of November I had the pleasure to facilitate the first Open Discovery Space (ODS) webinar and deliver a presentation on our recent work carried out for the Green Learning Network (GLN). ODS is a European funded project that started in April 2012 with the aim to empower stakeholders use, production and assessment of educational resources and activities through a single, integrated access point. In the context of the project, a series of webinars are being organised to foster a dialogue between various learners, educators, researchers and policy makers to promote the project and its outcomes.

The Green Learning Network (GLN) webinar was the first in this series of webinars. It addressed educators, parents and researchers interested in exploring how digital open content, innovative tools and educational scenarios can support environmental education at school level and beyond. Building on inquiry-based and resource based teaching approaches, the webinar introduce accessible authoring and discovery tools that connect classrooms with science centres, museums and global collections of high quality openly accessible educational resources. To showcase our work, I’ve introduced the GLN data pool and explained how Discovery microsites and Pathway authoring tools can serve as great educational tools.

Over 100 people attended the webinar, out of which 71 had registered using a Google form and around 50 confirmed participation using the Google+ event. Most of the participants were teachers and researchers outside of the ODS project, although the exact profiles of the participants is not known to me (a challenge for such webinars).

The platform chosen for this webinar was Google Hangouts, which was new both to me and the organisers. To publish and promote the hangout, a Google+ Events page was created. This allowed me to monitor announced participation and know in time who will be attending the event.

By their nature, Google hangouts make dialogue easy: participants do not need to click any button to speak and can at any time see and hear all the other participants. However, since only a limited number of participants can join a hangout (under 15, I believe), the organisers decided that only me (the facilitator) and the moderators will be ‘inside’ the hangout. All the rest were able to watch the webinar through live streaming either on the Event’s page or
directly on Youtube. This resulted in two shortcomings: the videos not being perfectly synchonized, and second and most important, limiting interaction and discouraging dialogue. Participants could, however, ask questions using Twitter or by adding comments on the Event’s page, which were collected by the moderator.

As you may know, to use slides in Google hangouts, you previously need to upload them in Slideshare. Then you need to access and open them using the Slideshare app on Google. If you do this only a few hours before the hangout, the app will probably not be able to retrieve your slides from Slideshare – this is what happened in my case. The only option I had left was to share my screen as an alternative way of presenting. I found this a bit inconvenient, as I also had my notes on the screen and I could not successfully navigate between the two without compromising the viewing quality of the presentation. I am confident that alternatives do exist. The functionalities of Google hangouts are numerous and largely unexplored by me, but I am interested to use the platform in future to a fuller capacity.

Finally, facilitating live webinars can be a stressful and time consuming task sometimes. One of the reasons is that engaging your audience effectively is challenging, and without engagement it is hard to assess whether the webinar has been relevant, interesting and well paced for your audience. This is what happened in the case of the ODS webinar, where although participation in terms of registration and attendance seemed high, the involvement and
participation in the webinar was quite limited.

Maybe encouraging questions and participation along the way, instead of having the audience passively listening is a good solution worth exploring. Maybe participants should be able to choose between speaking, writing or other ways of expressing opinions. How do you make sure that your audience is engaged? What tips do you have for delivering a great webinar?

1 Comments

  1. Thanks for the really interesting post Mada. I will stick to the Google Hangouts part as I recently had a similar experience with Google Hangouts (The 1st e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability); we used the same platform for the e-Conference and faced the same issues:

    1. How to encourage the participation of the audience? We needed to highlight the fact that the participants can comment either on the Event page created for each Session of the e-Conference or directly at the YouTube video page (where the live stream was available). We did not go for the Twitter option you suggested, as we wanted to keep things organized and stick to the existing tools (another one could be distracting for our audience).

    2. We had issues when presenting our slides full-screen during the Hangout; noone managed to receive anything but a blank screen so we had to display it as slides and as a result all animations were lost…let alone the comments in each slide, which were made available to the audience. Despite the fact that we had a discussion about that some days before the 1st session, we could not organize the uploading of each presentation at Slideshare as not all participants had an account there. An alternative would be for the presentations to be uploaded in GDocs, but this also required some time as formatting of the slides might slightly change.

    3. We had a registration form so we knew how many participants were registered and some of them confirmed their participation at the Event’s page but we did not know how many people were actually attending each session.
    4. For a specific session, we needed a way to provide the links to different PPTs and videos (the offline presentations). I thought that the optimal way would be to create an Event page for that and I started posting the links to the presentations, However, the next day everything had disappeared and I only got a blank event page, which was rather embarrassing for me, as I was responsible for the specific session. I still cannot figure out what went wrong…

    To sum up, Google Hangouts looks like a promising tool for such purposes and has a number of advantages (e.g. free, including up to 10 people for video conference / unlimited number of attendants, screen sharing, automatic video recording of the event, combination with Event page (including all related info), etc/ However, it is obvious that there are some issues (e.g. the full screen presentation) and of course it may take some time for the preparation. Other free tools (such as Flash Meeting) have also their advantages and disadvantages and commercial software is usually available as a demo with severe limitations.

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