The previously described conditions may at first appear to argue against the usage of webinars. However, with a few didactic modifications to your existing presentations, online seminars can offer a very promising teaching format.
Most participants will have little or no experience with webinars. Thus, it is important that prior to the start of the online lecture you identify such participants in order to introduce them to the technology used in webinars and generally “show them the ropes”. For example, you should make sure that all participants know to mute their microphones to prevent feedback. Analogous to face-to-face classroom events, virtual classroom participants may signal (by sending an icon in the chat) when they would like to speak. Only after you have called upon them may they then switch on their microphone.
The most important element of good webinars is the regular, i.e. every three to seven minutes, emergence of highlights. Their function is primarily to hold and regain the attention of the participants. Many common elements of webinars can be recognized as highlights: a relevant picture, an insightful quote, or an interaction with or among the participants can suffice. Highlights can also comprise rhetorical elements: Hermann-Ruess points out the relevance of the “Limbisches Kommunikationsmodell” in this context.
The greatest challenge in designing a webinar is finding highlights which can be customized to your content. A highlight should not be used simply for its own sake, rather always in support of your main topic. Techniques such as “face yoga” and the “eye test” – which one may find in the literature on webinars – are therefore not necessarily advisable.
Good PowerPoint slides are an even more important indication of presentation quality in webinars than in face-to-face contexts. In our ProfiLehre blog entry on “PowerPoint slides” you can learn about an alternative to the usual “list-slides” design. Here are the main points of the article:
- Get rid of bulleted lists on PowerPoint slides. Every key point should have its own slide.
- When designing your slides, use many quality pictures which relate to the topic.
- Avoid, as much as possible, the use of logos, labels, etc. They are generally just distracting and overload the slides.
- Try to fit as little text as possible on the slides. And if you have text, make sure not to read directly from it. Your participants will already have read and started to think about the content before you get to reading it aloud.
- In principle, when designing your slides, aim more for a slide show where the slides change frequently in order to correspond to shifts in the focus of your presentation.
Attempt, whenever possible, to regularly involve your participants in the lesson. It is highly likely that participants will be tempted to quickly check their emails, or to send messages or check for news on social media platforms during webinars. Interactions with participants, in addition to frequent switching of slides, ensure that the focus of the participants remains on the webinar and that their attention is consistently directed towards the course. The possibilities for achieving this range from dead man’s switches in the form of icon-feedback to teamwork exercises, where the participants are assigned to virtual groups and then work together using a shared whiteboard interface.