Breaking the Webinar Fourth Wall

I love running educational technology workshops: it’s a chance to meet face-to-face with a group of educators, to share ideas and approaches on how to use computers in the classroom, and then watch teachers’ imaginations light up as they discover just what could be possible. Well, that’s the plan anyway!

I have had the privilege of running the Greenwich Apple Regional Training Centre for the last four years, delivering iPad workshops with a diverse audience of teachers. But with the COVID-19 lockdown, face-to-face workshops are just not an option. So, starting a few weeks ago, we started hosting some Apple RTC Zoom webinars. I had seen Zoom webinars being used successfully (such as for my church’s Sunday morning livestream!) and so it seemed like a good platform to go for.

Initially I thought of just running these webinars using a normal Zoom meeting, with each attendee appearing in the well-known video wall. However this puts an extra pressure on those attending to open up their homes/offices to complete strangers and doesn’t allow people to just tune in and listen. I also wanted to be able to integrate between Zoom and Eventbrite, both to know who is actually signing into the webinar and to make the sign-in process for attendees as easy as possible. So instead we went for the paid Zoom webinar add-on. The difference with this is that the host is the only one who can share their screen video.

Now with this comes the challenge of how you still reach out and cross the fourth wall and help attendees still feel like it’s an interactive workshop and not just watching a TV show. If we just wanted to put on a ‘performance’, we could just record it in advance and put it on YouTube and be done with it. Rather we wanted attendees to be able to contribute and share in the workshop, which makes increases learning and generally makes it much more enjoyable too.

Here’s a few things we’ve tried:

  • Chat. With Zoom webinars, you can turn on the chat box, either for discussion between the host and attendees, or between everyone on the webinar. This can be used for discussion or the sharing of contributions, ideas and feedback.
  • Q&A. There is a ‘question and answer’ box, which allows attendees to post questions or comments that they have and then the host to respond to them at an appropriate point in the webinar.
  • Polls. Zoom webinars has the option of launching live ‘polls’, which allows attendees to answer multiple choice questions, which the host can then share with everyone. This is really fun, and allows for everyone to share their experiences and for the host to get a better sense of the attendees’ context.
  • Live demos. This always raises the element of danger in a presentation, as things can go wrong! But if you’re doing a live demo of an online platform, this can really increase the engagement of attendees. During our webinar on using Showbie for home learning, we got attendees to sign up for a free Showbie account and then join a test classroom, thus all contributing to a shared digital space.
  • Voice contributions. A great way to include attendees is to allow them to talk in the webinar. In a webinar on Apple Teacher, we asked attendees if they wanted to explain how they would answer a question in the badge quiz. Attendees then pressed the ‘raise your hand’ button, which then notified the host who could then invite that attendee to unmute their microphone and contribute their answer.

Running a webinar can feel a bit like sitting alone in a radio booth, so all of these little features can really help improve the engagement and flow in a webinar session.