Monday 7 August 2017

Wondering about Webinars

Usually when I deliver training it involves standing in front of people giving a talk or facilitating a workshop. Although these sessions get good feedback from participants there are also several downsides to this model. It's not always possible for librarians to leave their duties to attend training, especially if they work in a small team or on a busy front desk. Finding a time that suits everyone who might want to attend is also impossible - different working hours, annual leave and previous commitments combine to make things difficult. There are also constraints for the trainer - a venue has to be found and there is often a good deal of time needed to travel and set up a room. A one hour training session can mean three hours out of the office for the trainer which is not the best use of time.

All of this got me thinking that I should explore some new methods of delivering training. I've attended many webinars before and when they are done well I've found them a good way to learn without taking too much time out of my day. Even if I can't attend them live I can usually access the recording later meaning they are easy to fit in with my schedule. Happily the University of Cambridge is trialing Adobe Connect as a way to deliver content online (something the OSC uses to live-stream events) so I was able to attend some training and start delivering webinars of my own.

Working in scholarly communication one of the areas I often cover in my training is Open Access. I've had a lot of requests from the Cambridge library community for training on various aspects of Open Access but not all of these would justify a full in-person session on their own. These sessions seemed like a good candidate for trying out webinars and last month we ran a series of three: Open Access for College Librarians, Open Access for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and an Open Access Update. The feedback for these sessions was overwhelmingly positive so I'll be doing more webinars in the future.

So, what did I learn from this experiment? You can't underestimate the importance of preparation. Getting all of your documents and schedules ready in advance saves a lot of stress on the day, particularly if you're delivering the webinar solo. Having a run through is also a good plan, both to test the equipment and to make sure you stick to your running time. If you want people to attend the webinar live then you need to make it worth their while. Include some elements of interactivity so that they get something extra out of the experience. You also need to balance this with the rest of the content to make sure that those watching the recording can still use the content. Including links to the sites you're mentioning or to further information in the chat box stops people having to scrabble around to find it themselves. Finally don't get too involved in the mechanism of delivery at the expense of the content of the session. Just because you can do a certain trick on a webinar that doesn't mean you have to use it unless it adds to the main learning objectives.

Given the success of the webinars I've already started moving ahead with further plans. The scholarly communication training programme I run each summer - the Research Support Ambassadors - is being delivered almost exclusively through webinars this year (more on this to come). I'm also exploring the possibility of opening up these webinars to the wider library community in the future although it's still very early days. Hopefully this will make it easier for everyone to improve their knowledge of the scholarly communication landscape.