For the last several weeks, I have been participating in Rosemary Capps’ Designing Hybrid Courses graduate seminar. Last week, we met over Adobe Connect. This was my first webinar, and it was an interesting experience!
As our webinar leader, Rosemary introduced us to the environment and facilitated conversation, like any teacher would do. The difference was that we, the students, had our microphones muted. We used the “raise your hand” icon to indicate when we wanted to speak, but since Rosemary was the only other one with her microphone on, it was somewhat like speaking into a void.
There was also a text chat, which I found preferable to speaking, though some of the participants found this feature distracting—they felt that they were more likely to “listen” to be people “talking in the corner” than to the person speaking. Interestingly, the chat allows you to message everyone, or to engage in private chats with the hosts, presenters, or other participants. I messaged my co-course-designer almost immediately and enjoyed being able to send her messages about how the larger discussion related to our specific project. This feature was one of my favorite parts of the webinar, but a teacher has to have a lot of trust in the students to permit this kind of autonomous side conversation. I’ll admit that I’m not sure how I would feel about my freshman having this capability.
I’ll also admit that at the beginning of the webinar, I was tempted to half listen and half check my email. However, as I began to engage more in the text chat, I got more invested in the conversation and the experience. We also spent a large portion of the webinar in break out sessions—essentially, Rosemary pushed a button that separated us into “rooms.” I was in one with only three other students, so any inclination I had to multitask disappeared pretty quickly. We were also motivated to stay on task because Rosemary could enter the room at any time and see/hear what we were talking about.
Finally, I think it is notable that while I am pretty comfortable with new technologies, this experience was disorienting, especially in the first half an hour. To me, it was a good reminder that, no matter who your students are, learning new tools is probably uncomfortable!