Yesterday’s webinar – learning the hardway

Stressed out bride to be, tearing her hair out

It wasn’t exactly hidden in the fineprint. The guidelines for running a mini-conference session clearly included something called a back-up plan. Most of my other classmates on the Facilitating Online Communities (FO09) course referred to some sort of alternative should things go astray during their session.

Based on intermittent access to Elluminate, the online learning environment, during the course and numerous technology hiccups with software on a weekly basis, I should have realised the importance of a back-up plan.

Yesterday, during the session I facilitated on using online tools for conservation planning I didn’t have a plan. So when things went wrong I was out on a perilous limb.

At 1.55pm I saw new people trying to enter the meeting room, but not gaining access I got a sense something was not quite right. Several emails alerted me to a message people trying to sign-in were receiving: the web meeting room is full.

Quickly searching the web I quickly realised I’d exceeded the limit of the trial account. How could I have not looked into that!! In hindsight, I know more indepth reading of the terms would have uncovered this basic condition.

Without a back-up plan I wasn’t really able to juggle the dozen things that needed to happen simultaneously. With some swift action by our tutor Sarah I did manage to find an alternative meeting space using Elluminate. My guest presenter Caroline Lees (co-covenor of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group) not only was able to login in, but she very quickly adapted to unfamiliar software.

The supportive words from my classmates and Caroline’s insightful presentation meant I feel we salvaged something. A recording will be available soon.

However, without a list of email addresses I wasn’t able to contact people who hadn’t been able to join in. Unfortunately, I lost many participants along the way.

Somewhat humbled by the experience, wistfully wondering if perhaps I was somewhat overconfident, it’s a true understatement to say I’ve learned a few things. I’m going to note a few reflections here.

  1. Have a back-up plan. Not just some notional one, but a properly tested one. In this case having quick access to the list of email addresses so I could notify people would have helped.
  2. Try to have a second facilitator or support person. When things went wrong, I just didn’t have a enough time to send emails, communicate in the first software programme, set up Elluminate, coach Caroline on the new software, etc. This is a good idea even if when things go well. It’s quite a handful keeping an eye on the chat thread for questions, noting down URLs, contributing follow-up questions with a guest, and technical problem solving.
  3. Practice. Practice. Practice. Learning in this space takes more than reading or listening to good advice. Take every opportunity to learn.
  4. Have guidance on likely technical hiccups on hand, eg how participant’s can connect their microphone. An instruction document or screenshots would be a big help. If it’s really important to have all participants join in, coach people through this before the meeting proper through one-to-one sessions. This is something Caroline said was relevant to the mala online workshop process.

I’ve been really been fortunate to make a stumble running my first webinar within the supportive environment of the FO09 class. The encouraging comments and joint problem solving means a lot. A thread running through our discussions, made very visible last night during a session hosted by Catherine, is that making mistakes is a learning strategy.

Despite this rather stressful formative experience I still believe online learning has a lot to offer community and voluntary groups. I’m going to quietly look into running a series of webinars in 2010 about using technology powerfully for good causes.

Photo credit: Brittney Bush.