Webinars present some specific conditions that one usually doesn’t have to deal with in a face-to-face lecture. Thus, the following points will need to be rethought for the webinar context.
As a rule, you will be unable to see your audience, and they will also be unable to see one another. While it is possible to use webcams, doing so will exhaust the bandwidth such that you or some of the participants lose connection to the session. Ultimately, this means that you are presenting in the dark: you generally cannot be certain that all students are present at their devices, or whether they are using social media in other browser tabs or whether you are being understood with regard to both the content and acoustics. Thus, you must trust that the participants are still “with you”.
Unfortunately, one cannot expect that the technical side of the system will always function as it should. As the organizer of the session, you may perform a technical check before the webinar starts. Participants will often, however, arrive punctually at the start of the webinar or may be late. Microphone and connectivity issues are the order of the day. Unless one has an e-tutor (student assistant participating in the webinar) available to moderate the session, it’s important to find a middle ground between fixing problems and facilitating the webinar’s progression.
Seminar rooms and lecture halls may be seen as insulated learning spaces: normally, the learning process progresses uninterrupted by outside influences such as telephone calls, roommates, etc. and students can concentrate entirely on the course. In the webinar, meanwhile, one must assume that participants are located in uninsulated settings: some will likely be sitting in their offices or in their kitchens, or may possibly be outdoors, depending on the time of day, or may have to simultaneously care for a young child.
The unprotected learning space is in fact less problematic than another potential distraction. Web conferences with AdobeConnect run via browser. Thus, distractions are only a tab away. You and your webinar must compete with YouTube, Facebook and the email inbox for the attention of your participants – a fact that you should always keep in mind when designing your webinar.
In a face-to-face classroom environment, you naturally perceive the participants as people (as do the participants themselves). This understanding is accompanied by appropriate behaviors based on consideration of and respect for others. In the webinar, however, you only see the name of another individual, and possibly just a pseudonym. Social presence – “the extent…to which an interlocutor is perceived as a real person in communication via electronic media” (www.e-teaching.org/materialien/soziale-praesenz) – exists at first only to a limited degree. The potential consequences of insufficient social presence can regularly be observed in social media in the form of trolling and hate speech.