Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
As Extension continues to function during these chaotic times due to the Corona virus pandemic by shifting from face to face programming to remote program delivery or distance education. In this installment of Next Step to Success we are going to discuss Utilizing Webinars Effectively in an Extension Educational Environment.
In a report published in 2016 by the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy stated that “if Extension is to continue to assist local communities, citizens and interest groups to solve problems and improve the quality of life, it needs to continually change and adjust, or in other words, it must innovative.” Embracing innovation includes the incorporation of technology delivered educational events in the portfolio of educational methods utilized by Extension educators. According to Robinson and Poling (2017), there is a need to use available technology and resources to augment Extension educational efforts.
One resource that can be utilized effectively to delivery educational content is the webinar. A webinar is a seminar or presentation that takes place live over the Internet, allowing participants in different locations to see and hear presenters and interact with the presenters to ask questions, and add to the discussion, (Pluth, 2010). Webinars are effective as educational tools in Extension because they allow the Extension professional to use a virtual setting to bring together and engage audience members across a large geographic areas (Johnson & Shumaker, 2016). Internet-based education opportunities, such as webinars, help Extension educators maximize program impacts without the constraints that have traditionally limited in person program delivery (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
Although some general guidelines exist for planning and conducting Extension webinars (Robinson & Poling, 2017), there remains a lack of guidance from seasoned Extension professionals on certain specifics of webinar production—the details and practicalities that are integral to facilitating topically relevant and technologically seamless webinars (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). Dettenmaier and Locklear (2018) reported the positive impact that focusing on the specifics of webinar production can allow. These authors reported that from February 2012 to August 2018, that Learn at Lunch webinars were presented to more than 7900 viewers; had attendees participate from every U.S. state and 41 countries; garnered 2,900 views of entries on their YouTube playlist where the Learn at Lunch webinars were posted; and observed substantial growth in participation, with the average number of attendees increasing from 56 in 2012 to 223 in 2017 (298% increase) (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). The objective of the Learn at Lunch webinar program was to provide a reliable, Extension-based, online education opportunity for obtaining pertinent, in demand information on urban and rural forestry issues (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). In order for the authors of this article to determine if these objective were met impacts were measured related to the Learn at Lunch webinars in 2017 ((Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). The results of Learn at Lunch webinars revealed that 51% of respondents had observed some level of improvement in the trees they worked with as a result of attending an Learn at Lunch webinar, 94% believed that Learn at Lunch webinar topics had addressed their professional needs and/or interests, and 95% considered Learn at Lunch webinars informative and useful additions to their work (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
Based on the authors experiences and background they developed some guidelines the assist Extension educators facilitate an educational webinar. The authors focused on details and practicalities and divide their recommendations into sections that correspond to specific parts of the webinar process, providing recommendations to help readers execute technologically seamless and impactful webinars from start to finish (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). All technological recommendations are based on use of Zoom (https://zoom.us/) as the webinar platform (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
Number of Speakers
Select one or two speakers for your webinar and then, as desired, allow additional experts to join the Q&A session following the formal presentation (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
Because webinars are different from in-person presentations, it can be useful to provide speakers with recommendations for giving an effective webinar presentation (Dettenmaier &Locklear, 2018). Table 1 outlines recommendations have proven to be particularly beneficial (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
It is also important to conduct practice sessions with speakers (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). Hold a practice session 3 to 5 days prior to the webinar, and have the speaker practice sharing his or her screen, advancing slides, adjusting volume on the microphone and headset, switching between displays (when multiple screens are being used), and muting sound and turning off video (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). It is also good practice to have a speaker email their presentation to the facilitator before the webinar (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
The authors of this article suggest that registration be required for your webinar, and include up to four questions in the registration questionnaire to obtain information that could be useful to the facilitator concerning attendees (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). It should be noted that too many questions will discourage registration (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). It is suggested that registrants be asked about their profession, how they learned about the webinar, and what topic they want future webinars to address (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). Registrants should also have the opportunity to “opt in” to an email list to facilitate future contact that will assist the Extension educator in providing follow up correspondence designed to reinforce content covered in webinar (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). Dettenmaier and Locklear (2018) reported that by adding this “opt in” email feature they have grown their email subscriptions by 377% since 2016.
The authors of this article suggest to open the webinar for the speaker(s) 30 min prior to broadcast time, and practice screen sharing (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). Also, the facilitator should ensure that lighting is adequate by suggesting that light sources be oriented in front of the speaker(s) (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). The broadcast to all participants should be opened 15 min prior to the webinar start time, sharing your screen and audio and displaying the opening slide (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). Play music during this time will help audience know whether their audio is working (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). Finally, record the webinar for future viewing (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
Before and during the webinar, use the tips presented in Table 2 to overcome technical glitches (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018):
Table 2. Common Technical Glitches Encountered When Facilitating a Webinar and Associated Solutions (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
|Problem||Possible solution||Plan B|
|Speaker’s audio not working||Having the speaker take the following actions:
· Plug earbuds into the computer
· Upon entering the meeting room, select “Join Audio Conference by Computer” and do a sound test by clicking “Test Computer Mic and Speakers” and then clicking the down-down arrow next to each option to determine whether the correct device is selected.
· Check the computer’s control panel and actively select the desired “output device.”
|Have the speaker use the “call-in” number to participate; using a cell phone with earbuds is a suitable alternative in this situation.|
|Connectivity is lost||Have the speaker verify that his or her computer has an active Internet connection. Once this is done, have the speaker attempt to reconnect to the webinar using the webinar URL.||Because the speaker emailed his or her talk to you, you can launch the presentation, share your screen, and have the speaker use the “call-in” number to present the material while you advance the slides.|
|Speaker is unable to share his or her screen||Have the speaker confirm that his or her presentation is loaded, but not in presentation mode, and that other browser windows are closed.||Because the speaker emailed his or her talk to you, you can share the presentation while the speaker presents via computer audio.|
It is suggested that the facilitator initiate an evaluation survey at the end of the webinar, just before or during the Q&A period (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018). The authors of this article suggested that the audience be asked the following (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018):
Other questions can be posed related to intent to adopt a practice, technology or change of behavior depending on the topic and content of the webinar. The ability to customize surveys using Zoom allows for the collection of valuable feedback about the viewer’s experience and helps the Extension educator to assess impacts and quantify knowledge gained (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
Applying these practical guidelines can assist Extension educators present a webinar that runs efficiently, maximize the impacts of the webinar, and create an effective learning environment for clientele (Dettenmaier & Locklear, 2018).
Dettenmaier, M. & Locklear, M. (2018) Start-to-Finish Techniques Regarding the Practicalities of Producing Purposeful and Impactful Webinars. Journal of Extension, 56 (6), Article #6TOT2. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/2018october/pdf/JOE_v56_6tt2.pdf
Extension Committee on Organization and Policy. (2016). Extension Task Force Innovation Report. Available at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/b60wf849zb5smhp/Innovation%20Task%20Force%20Report.pdf?dl=0
Robinson, J. & Poling, M. (2017) Engaging Participants without Leaving the Office: Planning and Conducting Effective Webinars. Journal of Extension, 55 (6), Article 6TOT9. Available at https://www.joe.org/joe/2017december/tt9.php