D. Schreiber

Distance Training Incorporated (UNITED STATES)
An ongoing challenge to instructors delivering webinars is the lack of engagement and interaction among participants. Students arrive with little or no prepared work, receive minimal guidance for discussion, and experience limited personal connection to the group. Miscues from audio and visual displays often compound the problem. To employ the webinar as an effective online learning tool, the instructor must harness its natural collaborative and interactive capabilities.

This case study identifies best practices for student webinars in a first-year, online graduate research course, within a blended EDD program. WebCT and Breeze software are used for communication and delivery of the webinar.

The author describes interactive web-based instructional design strategies that align webinar activities to student-centered performance objectives, creating an online environment that engages participants and facilitates collaboration. The resulting best practices address the following five webinar-related issues: group size and duration of webinar, design of webinar learning activities, preparation prior to webinar, participation and contribution during webinar, and grading and feedback.

Fifty-three students participated in this qualitative study. All participants were first-year doctoral candidates. The methodologies used to collect data included observations, interviews, and review of email correspondences. Data analysis included open and axial coding, which enabled analysts to identify patterns and themes among the data. These patterns and themes were then organized into a matrix. The matrix was then tested for inter-rater reliability.

Interactive student webinars may be thought of as a hybrid between a tutorial and a recitation. The goal of webinar is to provide a small class, in a synchronous environment, online to engage and focus student learning. Following are some best practices that ensure maximum learning during webinars:

Group size and duration of webinar:
- schedule one (1) hour per webinar
- permit six (6) students per session
- enable students to self-select date and time for attendance

Preparation "prior" to webinar:
- send welcome letter; include learning objectives, agenda, and technology requirements
- establish assignment submission deadline as 24 hours prior to webinar start-time
- prepare learning materials; include slides for webinar introduction, agenda and content
- students submit deliverables: graphic organizer for speaking points, mindmap, and/or matrix

Design of webinar learning activities:
- develop web-supported, student-centered, performance-based, interactive events
- incorporate instructor-led and student self-paced designs; include teamwork
- ensure accountability

Participation and contribution "during" webinar:
- require on-time attendance
- adhere to time allotments: schedule 3 minutes for initial speaker, 3 minutes per student rebuttal, 10 minutes total for discussion item (based on one-hour webinar with six students)
- display student and instructor materials; include photos; follow netiquette

Grading and feedback:
- provide formative and summative evaluations
- utilize grading rubrics
- email individualized feedback (include personalized introduction, and customized response)