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Momenta Learning

A blog on topics related to E-learning, online education, and instructional design.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Conducting successful webinars

I have conducted my fair share of webinars and I would like to share some of the things I have learned and picked up along the way, with the aim of providing some useful nuggets on how to make it into a successful event.
  1. Prepare, prepare (and have a moderator)
    Yes, and get a moderator for your webinar. You need to prepare slides and materials, check that you have the software and hardware required, and you need to set up a time for practice. Having a moderator will reduce the amount of work for you and will let you concentrate on your task: delivering an engaging webinar. It will be helpful if you could get somebody well known to be the moderator or the speaker (then you can be the moderator). This will draw a good audience to your webinar.

    You need to be ready for the webinar, don’t try to wing it because you think it looks easy to do, believe me, it is not easy at all. Don’t think that because you have given countless of live presentations in front of audiences, a webinar will be easy pie. It is not, believe me. It doesn’t matter if you are a good speaker in a room, a webinar is a totally different animal. Having said that, it is helpful that you are a good speaker but the second key component is that you prepare a powerful slide presentation to show to your audience. Just you speaking with a blank page (or even just one slide) will put them to sleep, many will bolt out in a minute. It is important that you work in this presentation so that it has a visual impact, which has second importance next to the core of the content. Adding meaningful images, cartoons, or short phrases does help in conveying your message. Remember that they only have two things to assess how good your webinar is: your slides and your voice (although some presenters like to show on webcams, I find this distracting).
  2. Practice with the moderator
    One day before the webinar run a small test with the moderator and maybe a couple of volunteers as audience members. Technology does fail sometimes and you have to be prepared for any eventuality. Make sure that you are in a room free of interruptions and external noise. Make one run to make sure you do not go overtime, it is OK to make mistakes but take notes of them. Your slides might need tweaking, this is the best time to make note of them. Create a short bio that your moderator can use to introduce you. This is the perfect opportunity for the moderator to practice your introduction, you both can make adjustments to come to an agreement that satisfies both of you.
  3. Check your hardware
    Invest in a good headset and microphone, if you use the integrated microphone in your computer, bring it as close as you can to your mouth and test your volume by recording your voice.
  4. Stop, breathe
    In between the webinar you should make some time to stop and breath. Is the audience engaged? Has the audience grown since the webinar started (by paying attention to the attendance record), are people bolting out the doors? Have you had questions so far? While you ponder these questions, you could create a two minute recess by asking your audience to answer a short question related to the webinar content and why it is important to them. Maybe you create a short game mechanism that engages your audience in thinking about a topic. They will also appreciate the break to move around and do something to recharge batteries. This works if your webinar is actually an hour long or more.
  5. Make it interactive
    If you are planning on talking for an hour non-stop, think again. You need to make your webinar interactive. Ask questions to the audience. If you systems allows it, prose the question on the screen so that they can answer immediately. If not, pose the question on a slide and watch the chat system for the answers from the audience. Do this at the beginning of your session, some time in the middle, and maybe one at the end. Of course, you have to pause when somebody asks questions. Unless the subject is short, don’t take questions yet (but make your audience aware of this) until the end, otherwise, tackle questions during the presentation.

    Present a slide with some kind of inside joke (any profession has one) that conveys a message related to your presentation. This will make them smile and be more attentive to what you are saying.

    Don’t try to show videos, the time delay (because you are sharing your screen) and connection issues will derail your effort. Instead, provide the link to the video and let them watch it later on.

    Take a quick poll on some issue to calibrate on which side your audience is leaning on. Or maybe you would like to know what is their line of work, their occupation, their position, their college degree (if applicable) and so on.
  6. Field questions
    Be on the look out for questions. Most webinar systems will have some kind of chat feature that will allow attendees to type a question, if you don’t pay attention to the feed you might miss those questions, your audience will be frustrated by your lack of attention. Some other systems allow attendees that have microphone and camera to speak. I don’t recommend that, unless your moderator (it comes handy at this time) is willing to grant the microphone to any in your attendance. The webinar will have distracting background noise if you let everybody with the microphone open.

    Don’t go over more than two minutes in answering a question. Be succinct, if the answer is actually long, make the promise to answer by e-mail to all attendees and take a note of it. But be sure to at least give some nuggets they can take with them, then expand on it in your email. Don’t just say you will respond by email.
  7. Some Web-etiquette
    You have to be at least 15 minutes in advance to the the scheduled start of the event. Do not come late to your own webinar, even if you are the presenter and somebody else is the moderator. It is disrespectful to your attendees to show 10 minutes after the supposed scheduled time of the webinar. Make sure you answer all questions that they may ask during the webinar, encourage them to ask questions at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the webinar. Encourage them to send you questions by e-mail later on if you run out of time. Likewise, if time runs short and you still have questions to answer, send an email with your answers immediately after the seminar has ended. Do not wait till next day to complete this task. Be courteous all the time, treat your audience with familiarity and make them feel welcome by thanking them for attending the webinar, it also helps if you share something personal with them (like a picture of your pet, your children, your house, your office, and so on).
  8. Follow up, recording
    The very next day (or even a few hours after the webinar) make sure to send out a follow-up e-mail to all of those that register to the webinar (even if they did not attend but registered anyway), thanking them for their attendance, inviting them to the next event, and maybe promoting that the visit your website to watch the recorded session. If you slides are valuable to your attendees, share them, it won’t hurt.

    If you have an editing software, you may want to convert the video to a universal file type such as MP4, if you don’t have any copyright or other restrictions, upload the video to a sharing service (such as YouTube), and share the link. Embed the video in your blog or website so that they come back to your site, this will drive traffic to your site.
These are some of the recommendations that I offer to you from my experience conducting and hosting webinars. If you have more tips and recommendations, please share them with us. I hope you find this post useful.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Is Wikipedia an appropriate source content these days?

In my work as instructional designer I have come across content that had links to Wikipedia entries on many different subjects. I just didn’t think that much of it because I use that source myself when I need a quick and down definition to something I don’t know. But is Wikipedia an appropriate source for e-learning content?
If you were asking me this question in 2005, I would have said no at the drop of a hat. In those days, you could hear rumors and chatter about false entries, biased entries that helped support an agenda, or simple pulpits for somebody’s rants. I have never posted anything on Wikipedia, or helped shape a post already there, so I cannot talk about the whole process. But you can go to Wikipedia and open an account for free (you don’t even need to provide an e-mail), and you can start helping by editing entries, they even claim that you do not have to be an expert in the field because you can help catch grammar or style missteps.
Wikipedia has come a long way, especially in subjects related to science, engineering and technology. Many of these entries have references included in the post that can be checked for accuracy or review. Some of the subjects are developed beyond to what a regular textbook would offer. This has happened thanks to the collaboration of thousands of people around the World who have volunteered their time and patience in editing entries in Wikipedia. This link provides the current statistics on Wikipedia. As time has passed, and as more people has participated in the process, Wikipedia has improved a lot. But even after all I have explained here, still many instructors are reluctant to using this source for their class content. I have bad news for them: most likely your students are using that content anyways, for good or for bad, so why not help them see if that content is good for them to use? The process of reviewing these entries requires critical thinking. You can start by reviewing the content in a particular post and point out where the flaws lie so that your students can form an idea of how reliable those sources are. I don’t think is good practice that you just tell them not to use those sources, and then they will turn around and use them behind your back anyways.
For some historic facts, things might get trickier. Nevertheless, I have seen many entries (like the Gettysburg address) that have references included. But I guess that would be open to debate. Many of these entries have images that help understand what the entry is about (I don’t know if copyright releases are in place before posting). Along the post and text there are other links included to other Wikipedia entries, videos, external pages, and so on. Even historical figures have entries in Wikipedia, from the past and the present. Highly publicized murderers, politicians, scientists, public figures, artists, singers, etc. have Wikipedia entries. It is rumored that many of them have people going into their entries to modify things they don’t like in it.
So if you have doubts about using Wikipedia for your course content, this should help you make up your mind: if Wikipedia was printed into a book the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica, it will contain more than a million pages (and somebody is trying to do that). Many of the contributors in Wikipedia are actually experts volunteering their time for the project. There are references that you can check (which are not other Wikipedia entries). And of course, you can always go in and make the modifications yourself, if you find that the post is biased, incomplete, or inaccurate. At the end of the day, resisting to the use of Wikipedia is futile, your students are using it a lot, professionals are using it too. The argument that is not a reliable source of content is not accurate anymore.

Common Core & Ed Tech: Top Nine Posts for March 2014

Common Core & Ed Tech: Top Nine Posts for March 2014

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 5 personal relationship levels any ID needs to develop

I have to confess that when I started working as an instructional designer (by pure coincidence), I thought my job basically involved making HTML pages, making objects using Javascript, and maybe some graphic design. Somebody else would pass the content over to me and I would just insert that content into the pages. In fact, there was a time when I thought most of my work will take place in my cubicle, in front of my two huge computer screens, just moving to get coffee, going to a team meeting, or having the casual conversation about work with my colleagues.
But instructional design requires the ability to work with and for others. Building relationships in the workplace, and outside of it, is as important as the basic course design needed to develop the courses. In my experience, I have found that there are four levels of relationship that an instructional designer needs to cultivate and grow:
  1. With your supervisors
  2. With your colleagues
  3. With support teams
  4. With outside vendors
  5. With your customers
Here is how I break it down, please realize that this is not a model for all environments. The corporate world is more complex than the university setting (where I operate).
  1. Your relationship with your supervisors
    I don’t mean to be a suck-up, you will have to disagree with them when you believe you are right. Do not bend over backwards to please your bosses, it will not serve both sides in the end. You also have to respect the position they are in, after all, they are there for some reason. You have to consider their vision of the section or team, the direction they want to take, it is their job to trace the way to go, it is your job to support those goals and do what you can to achieve them, even if you do not agree with them. But you have to voice your concerns if things are not working the way it was planned, this way, your boss can rectify the direction before it is too late.
  2. Your relationship with your colleagues
    They are not your drinking buddies, but you may have a beer with them from time to time. You will be with them in the trenches, at this level your relationships become a little less formal because you will be spending most of the time with them, so the casual sharing of personal information is more common, which allows for a more comfortable interaction. It is important to be a team member, ready to help when any of your colleagues asks for it but able to decline when you have other priorities, do not drop everything you are doing to help a colleague, unless your boss asks you, or if you certainly do not have any looming deadlines (that is rarely the case), or if the project involves the whole team for delivery. Clashes of character and lack of affinity will sometimes be unavoidable, nevertheless you should keep things at the professional level, do not let your emotions cloud your judgement, do not let your aversion to a co-worker influence your opinion about an issue at work. This a fertile area where I could add other issues related to how you handle your work relationships (and personal) with your colleagues, for the sake of space, I will deal with this on a later post.
  3. Your relationship with your support teams
    They are not your lackeys, do not demean those around you that provide a service or a support role to your team. Do not look down on them because you have the big college degree and they do not. Treat them with respect, respect the work they do. Ask as you would ask a colleague for help, they are an essential part of the organization as well. In some cases, some of these relationships will develop beyond the workplace. Show genuine interest in who they are, what they do in the organization, observe how they do their daily work, you might learn something new.
  4. Your relationship with outside vendors
    This includes instructors, since many times they are hired to deliver content. This is one of the most demanding relationships in your circle. They will be the professionals you will be in touch the most. You have to keep up with production, your schedule, and with demands from your supervisors and the organization. Sometimes, this is the area where projects get delayed, the subject-matter expert (SME) would not cooperate with you or they will not work at your same speed. This is a very tricky situation because you are not their boss, certainly they are not your boss, your are the liaison, the glue that keeps the course production in schedule and on budget. You need to know your SMEs well, how they work, their styles, how they respond to your requests, and so on. There are also outside vendors. Unless you are the guy that makes the decision to purchase a product for the organization, they will bug you that much. But you need to have their number and information handy when you need it for technical or product support.
  5. Your relationship with your customers
    Your customers are the population that will be learning in your courses. In many cases, when debugging is needed, the buck stops with you. Many organizations have student support and your intervention might not be needed. But you have to be ready to deal with students that do reach your help desk. You need to have the course and organization policies regarding refunding, assessments, deadlines, and accessibility.
I created this classification from my own experiences dealing with relationships in my workplace, as an instructional designer in a university setting. In the corporate world, things might be a little different. If you can help me reshaping this classification for a more general workplace (both academic and corporate), or if you have a different idea, please let me know. I am always looking for new learning experiences regarding my relationships to others around me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My comments on Week 2 Films 1 and 2.

To say the least, these two commercials show a very rosy future. It is clear that they are trying to convey the message that the technologies they are promoting will be present in every aspect of our lives: from when we rise in the morning, to when we go to sleep. Who is to say that in the distant future, portrayed in those two films, everybody in the world will have access to that kind of technology, when right now we are not able to feed the whole population on this planet?
The way education, at the basic level, is shown in the film suggests that the classrooms of the future will require every student to possess a computer or digital device. I just don’t want to spend time listing the failed attempts at achieving this that many school districts have embarked on, the recent fiasco in Los Angeles County is the latest one reported.
It seems to me that the classes in both films are heavily using media and interactivity, and this seems to suggest that this is the best way to teach something like building a bridge. I think that is not defensible because there are other methods that are as efficient as using multimedia and computer programs. Another suggestion is that the use of cool gadgets in the classrooms will enhance education, which is also not true.
In overall, I believe this two cases show an example of a utopian vision of the future. But I was left with the impression that these kids and their families belong to a privileged class. This is another issue that education is currently undergoing, just like in other parts of the economy, a dismal gap between people who can pay for college and those who cannot afford it. I would like to read research related to the effects of economic status on e-learning, especially attitudes toward the use of it.
One thing that is not depicted in these films is the interaction between the students. It is well documented that students communicate to each other using social media but the film failed to show how that is going to evolve when those technologies presented actually exist.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

An example of dystopian story about technology...

When I watched the movie "Pi" some years ago, I was impressed by the use of the camera looking at the actor while he was moving (accomplished by a camera strapped to the actor), which is commonly used nowadays but at that time was really innovative. I do recommend the movie but it is not for the faint of heart because of its dim and gloomy nature.
Even though many people think that what is changing the world is technology, many really mean the hardware behind that technology. But what actually drives these machines is not the hardware but the software (algorithms) that makes them do stuff. I have always thought that the revolution in technology did come from hardware improvements but the creation of more powerful algorithms is what has actually sealed the deal. And this movie talks more about the numbers behind the hardware than the hardware itself. This movie was made well before all that wave of web 2.0 came around, so there is little reference to the internet and more emphasis on the power of computers and algorithms. I consider this a good example of dystopia brought about by technology.

My comments on Film 4: "New Media"

This second film, although very well made, falls short on a new message. I know the visuals are impressive but to me, the message is difficult to see. The role of technology is not clear, since this really looks more like an invasion of machines more than the influence of technology in our lives. But the similarity to the other film "Bendito Machine III" lies on how a higher entity takes over our lives and environment through the use of gadgets, which most of the times, do more harm than good to us.
The final sequence left me wondering if the actor is the controller of those machines or if the machines are controlling him? I couldn't figure that out.