Monday, 15 June 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Webinars

This is the third in a series of blog posts looking at my experiences of developing online learning materials. Hopefully sharing these is helpful as people work to deliver online training at their own. As always, this blog post only represents my own views and experiences. Webinars have been around for a while but they have taken on an increased significance during the COVID-19 crisis. Suddenly everyone seems to be offering webinars - with varying degrees of success! 

What is it?

Most people are probably familiar with webinars - certainly more so than before they went into lockdown! There may even be some webinar fatigue starting to set in... 

A webinar is an online presentation which is usually delivered live and/or recorded so other people can catch up later. They are often used to replicate lecture style sessions or conference presentations - anything where a presenter would be talking to an audience. Traditionally this involves talking over a set of slides, much as you would in a traditional lecture. Live webinars increasingly involve elements of interaction such as quizzes and online chats designed to engage learners.

How are we using it?

I first started giving training sessions as webinars in 2017. At the time I was responsible for an educational programme aimed at teaching librarians the basics of scholarly communication and one of the biggest problems was getting people to attend face-to-face sessions. Cambridge is a large university with locations spread both across and outside the city. For some people, coming to an in-person session meant a half day commitment with travelling time and this resulted in a drop in attendance. I introduced webinars to replace the majority of the lecture style sessions meaning more people could attend online and then had more free time to attend the interactive workshop style sessions. Since then I have regularly given webinars to both staff and students, both live and recorded sessions. These typically last between 45 and 60 minutes and you can see a recent example below:


How to...

The good news is that most of the popular online meeting tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams can also be used to record videos and deliver webinar like sessions using screen screensharing. Up until recently at Cambridge we have used a paid-for tool called Adobe Connect but unfortunately that is being discontinued by the University so I've had to get up to speed on other methods quite fast! One thing I've learnt is that you don't get a lot for free and most of the true webinar features of these tools such as chat boxes are only available via paid accounts (often as an extra cost add on). However, you can still deliver online presentations to a live audience and record them using the free versions. 

There are many how-to guides available so I won't reinvent the wheel:
I will add a few top tips I've learnt from hosting webinars on different platforms over the years:
  • If possible have two people to host a webinar, one to deliver the content and the other to moderate. This helps to deal with any chat messages and technical issues without distracting the presenter.
  • Send out joining instructions a few days before the event, even if you think people know how to use the software. It can help to answer many questions and deal with last minute problems.
  • If possible, mute participant microphones when the main presenter is talking. This helps to stop pets/children/noisy neighbours making background noise that can make it hard to concentrate on a webinar. You can always unmute people if they have questions. To eliminate your own background noise invest in a set of headphones with a microphone. I bought some for about £25 when I first started hosting webinars and they really help the audio quality.
  • Run through the webinar first without an audience. If you're recording the session, a rehearsal can sometimes be a good time to do this. It allows you both to practice what you're going to say and allows you to create a recording with no identifying attendee information/questions. This obviously depends on how interactive your webinar is intended to be.
  • For live sessions try to include some level of interactivity which makes it worth the audience taking the time to attend. One of the negative pieces of feedback I got from my sessions was that there was little incentive to attend the live session if it would be just as easy to watch the recording later (a fair point).


Pros

For teachers, webinars are one of the easiest ways to replicate the content of a face-to-face session, especially if there was minimal interaction involved. You will already have some slides and a script/notes so all you really need to do is to choose the right tech and you're ready to go. The webinar format really forces teachers to think about their slides and general presentation style - something I see as a positive although I can appreciate that others won't! Getting the design and content right is always important with a presentation but I think it's even more vital when giving online sessions as this is the main thing people will have to focus on. Students find webinars useful as a way to review topics they might want to go over again as they can access the content on demand. It can also be nice in these times of social isolation for both the teacher and the student to have some interaction during a live session and many good webinars start or end with some general chat. Of course one of the main benefits of webinars is that it means those who wouldn't be able to attend a face to face sessions have a chance to get some of the same experience - something particularly important at the moment. 

Cons

The big mistake people make with webinars is assuming that they will be a straight replacement for a face-to-face session. You can replicate the content but not the experience in a webinar and you need to treat it as a different type of reaching session. For teachers delivering content online it can be really hard because it feels as though you are talking to no one (and I've held webinars where this has literally been the case!). This can make your delivery quite stilted which in turn makes the session boring for attendees. It can be hard to keep attention over a long session so shorter is better. I'm rethinking the length of the webinars I deliver as I think that even 45 minutes is too long in my context. It might be worth thinking about chunking up the content into several shorter sessions or at the very least including a time-stamped index to content. It's harder (although not impossible) to include interactivity in a webinar. You need to consider both your own and attendees technical capabilities including access to broadband. It's great to plan a highly interactive session but not much point if this causes everything to freeze. It's impossible to find a time to suit everyone who might want to attend so just go for the best you can and make a recording if possible. Again, this impacts on interactivity as those watching the recording are unlikely to get the same benefits as those attending live. Finally, remember that your attendees are likely to be suffering from webinar fatigue. Since lockdown began and sessions began to run online there has been a dramatic increase in webinars covering all sorts of topics and it may be hard to convince them to attend yet another one. Consider whether a webinar is really the best format to deliver your session and consider looking for alternatives that might be better suited for both you and your students.

Next steps

Webinars are definitely something I'll continue to deliver as we move into the new academic term but I'm going to need to rethink exactly how I deliver them and what I include. So many of our students and researchers have returned to their homes across different time zones that it is going to be impossible to find a time to suit everyone. This means that I'll be relying on recordings and so I need to balance this with  including interactive elements. I also want to shorten the length of the sessions in order to encourage higher attendance. Not everyone is experienced with delivering or attending online training and a successful webinar can be a good introduction into moving towards online learning. 

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Lumen5

This is the second in a series of posts discussing my experiences of creating online learning materials. I've had some successes and some things which haven't worked so well but I get asked about them a lot so I thought that now was as good a time as any to share what I've learnt!  As always, this blog post only reflects my opinions and experiences and I'd be open to hearing from anyone else who has tried similar tools and wants to add  their own thoughts in the comments section below. 

This post will talk about my experiences of making short videos using Lumen5 - an online tool which lets you create short videos with images, music and onscreen text. This is one of the most popular tools we have used and the resulting videos have been viewed thousands of times across a range of platforms  - a great result considering how simple they were to create. They were also one of the most fun things to put together and offered a nice distraction when other forms of training got a bit heavy!

What is it?

As described above, Lumen5 is an online tool which lets you create short videos. It's entirely web and app based which means that it can be accessed anywhere - a definite bonus when working across multiple sites/machines/working from home. There are lots of tools for video creation out there but one thing that makes Lumen5 stand out from the crowd is that you can paste text straight into the editor or add the URL of a blog post and it will create a video for you. It does this using AI to select 'appropriate' images but this can be a bit hit and miss! However it can sometimes save a lot of time or provide inspiration if you don't know where to start. You can also just enter your text and create a video from scratch using the media within the site or uploading your own. I find the short videos it creates a great way to present text heavy content in a more engaging way. Videos can have static images, videos or a plain background with on-screen text. There is no real option to record a voice over unless you upgrade to a professional account and add your own audio track but this isn't really a problem for most videos. Like other sites there are paid-for account options which give you extra features like removing the Lumen5 branding and using a wider range of stock images but the free version hasn't let me down yet.

How are we using it?

Lumen5 video title cards
I've used Lumen5 in both my current and previous roles to make short videos explaining key research topics. These started as a series of videos called Research in 3 Minutes but because condensing topics such as open access into three minutes wasn't enough of a challenge these have evolved into the Moore Minute series which are roughly 60 seconds in length. They cover a range of scholarly communication topics from across the research lifecycle such as OA, data management, copyright and publishing. I find that most people (including busy researchers) have short attention spans and although video is an increasingly popular way to reach out, only the most dedicated will watch a video for more than a couple of minutes. 

The Moore Minutes in particular have been successful in reaching out to a new audience who might not otherwise engage. They can be shared on most social media sites and function almost as an advert for our other training and resources. The videos are also useful tools to embed in other online training resources such as Moodle or Sway. As the videos are so short they are a really good reflective tool for me as a teacher as they force me to think about what the audience really needs to know about a topic. There isn't much room for error and there have been hard decisions about what ends up on the cutting room floor to get some videos to time but overall I'm happy with the results. You can see an example video below:


How to...

Lumen5 is a fairly intuitive tool. You will need to register for an account to use it and although paid for options are offered I've always been able to do what I need to on the free version. 

Lumen5 main menu
Lumen5 main menu
When you first log in you will be offered a choice of options depending on how you want to build your video. You can copy text directly from a blog and let the AI do the work, add your own text, upload your own media or skip any of these options to go straight to the editing tool and get to work. A range of templates are also offered if you are new to using the tool or lacking inspiration. Whichever option you choose you will be sent to an editing page to begin changing or creating your video. You can alter the text (known here as the story), add media like videos or images from the built in library, or change the style or format of the video. You can find a lots of media on the in-tool database but I would be careful when choosing and double check any of the copyright restrictions. You can also upload your own media which is useful if you want to use screenshots or in-house branding on any of the videos. Constructing a video is a matter of planning out the content, finding the appropriate background to suit and then altering the times so that people have a chance to read the text on screen. I find it easier to plan out what I want to say first as a short series of bullet point and then create a video straight in the editor but otherswill have different ways of doing things.

One of the most useful features is being able to alter the format of a video at the click of a button. This means that you can change things like the orientation, making it more suitable for a different social media sites, without having to create a whole new video. There is sometimes a slight rearrangement of content needed but it saves a lot of time. Once completed, videos can be downloaded to add to YouTube or shared directly via social media sites. Even with fast download speeds the videos take a short time to render once published but I just use this an excuse to get a well-deserved cup of tea after my hard work!


Pros

As mentioned above, although Lumen5 offers paid options I've always been able to do everything I need to in the free account. This is listed on the sign-up page as 'forever free' but you never really know with online tools! The main advantage is that you can create engaging videos really easily as everything is provided for you. You can even set it up to automatically create videos from blog content (although double check the output before sharing!). Although it's an online tool you can download your videos and store them where you like which is good if like me you've lost content before when a site has disappeared or changed hands. Personally, a major advantage for me is that you can create something which looks good without having a lot of design skill. The templates are a little limited but it's easy enough to find something that will work without spending hours agonizing over a concept.

 
Cons

The major disadvantage comes from using the AI to construct videos automatically as some of the choices are just bonkers! Many of the stock videos/images used as backgrounds are also a bit cheesy so sometimes it takes careful hunting to find what you want. I would also recommend triple checking the copyright of any media you add to your video, especially music. We have been caught out when uploading a completed video to YouTube and having it held for copyright infringement due to the music we used (which claimed to be available). The accessibility of the finished videos is another concern. Although having the text appear on screen allows the videos to be viewed without sound making them easier to access for some there are concerns around how this works for those using screenreaders and other software. I am not an expert in this area but it's  something to think about with all online training. Finally, the free account limits you to creating five videos a month which are watermarked with the Lumen5 logo. I've found that this is more than enough and that the logo is unobtrusive but it might be a block for some people depending on circumstances.  


Next steps

Using Lumen5 to create videos has been one of the most successful of my experiments in online training. The videos have been really popular and they are very versatile which means I can use them in other training resources such as presentations and LibGuides. If anyone else is using Lumen5 and has tips they want to share please feel free to share them in the comments section so we can all benefit.

You can find some helpful guidance on how to use Lumen5 in their online Learning Centre which seems to be accessible to all even if you don't have an account.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Microsoft Sway

Like many people I've been thinking about how I can pivot the training I offer students to a fully online format. Although I've had plenty of practice creating online resources in recent years I decided that I wanted to try something different. I was looking for something that could replicate the information delivered in a face-to-face session but without having to record a long webinar that I wasn't sure people would watch! I had come across Microsoft Sway in the Office package that Cambridge subscribes to and although I had looked at it briefly I had never had the chance to fully investigate it until now. It's been a useful tool and one I will be using as we move into the next academic year. I know that other academic libraries have used Sway but I struggled to find many examples online so wanted to share some thoughts in case other teaching librarians were looking for a new tool.

What is it?

Billed as an 'online presentation package' and a successor to the much derided PowerPoint, Sway enables you to build an interactive presentation which users can navigate through. The end result is a professional looking site which brings together a range of content including text, images, video and links to more information. I've seen Sway described as a narrative tool and this is a good way of thinking about it. You can create a narrative to guide your learners through a topic, including other content and building on it as they move through.

How are we using it?

As mentioned above, we are using Sway as a way to offer what would have been our face-to-face sessions in an asynchronous online format. As a multinational university our users are all over the world and even with the best planning in the world it would be hard to replicate our content as live webinars which all attendees would get the most out of. I produce detailed presenter notes for any sessions I give (online or in person) and these have formed the basis of the text you see in a Sway.

You can see an example of our first Sway on responsible metrics at the link below:

Go to this Sway

If you look at the start of the Sway itself you will see a set of learning outcomes which deliberately mirror those you would find in one of our face-to-face session. I have also identified the section of the research lifecycle where the topic best fits. As more resources are built up the plan is to map these to each stage of the lifecycle so that researchers are supported whatever stage of their work they are at.

For me one of the major benefits of using Sway is that it allows me to bring together some of the existing online training formats I've been developing such as the Moore Minute videos and the Moore About guides on various topics. These have usually been produced in conjunction with face to face sessions and the replacement Sways will allow this practice to continue with new content produced for the Sway which can then be repurposed to a different format/audience. 

Finally, each Sway will contain activities throughout the module and at its conclusion. This offers users a chance to think about how they can put into practice what they are learning in their own work. This applied learning approach was something that worked well when I used it for the Research Support Ambassador Programme (aimed at library and administrative staff) and I wanted to give learners the same opportunity here. In a classroom situation this might be a time when we had a small discussion about some element of the content or a hands-on exercise to try something out. Obviously in the Sway these activities are optional and I have no way of knowing if people have engaged but in this context that is less important to me. The activities are there if people want to do them and hopefully they will at least offer a moment to stop and reflect.

How to...

I always find it helpful to have some how-tos when I'm trying out a new tool.  Sway is pretty intuitive to use once you have had a chance to play with some of the features. It is essentially made up of two main sections - the storyline and the design.

Storyline is where you add your content such as text and images. This is done by defining presentation sections and then adding 'cards'. Each type of content has it's own card and these can either be static or dynamic - for example a static paragraph of text or a dynamic slideshow of images. As with PowerPoint there are templates which you can use of you can start from scratch. My top tip: plan as much of your content as you can first before seeing how it will work in Sway otherwise it is easy to get sidetracked.

Design is much like the design option in PowerPoint and offers some different ways of presenting your information. Here you can select colour options, change the font and most importantly decide how your content will be presented. There are three main options: horizontal scroll, vertical scroll or slides which operates as a scrolling slideshow. My top tip here: choose a design concept fairly early in the design process. You can toggle between them fairly easily but you might find that your content is displaced if you do this too often.

It is worth noting that you can also convert an existing PowerPoint to a Sway although you might find that you have to play around with the content quite a lot to make it work in the new format. I tried this but on balance decided I would spend less time if I started from scratch!

Pros 

There are several positives to using Sway. It is an easy to use tool which makes it relatively simple to create an engaging, professional looking product with little technical expertise. The Sway can be embedded easily either as a static link (as above) or a dynamic view of the presentation itself. Again, this is done through a simple link provided by the tool which seems to work well with existing library tools such as Moodle and LibGuides and means that learners don't have to leave the space where they are to access the resource. Sway allows easy embedding of dynamic content such as videos and images, something which works well for us as we already have these and can just include them in the new format which saves time. Being a relatively new tool it was designed to work with mobile devices and some thought has been given to accessibility. There is the usual facility to add alt-text to images and Sway also offers an accessibility view of the resource as a whole - essentially a PDF which retains the dynamic content (a 'normal' PDF can also be downloaded for printing). Although not perfect, it does go a long way in making the resource available to as many people as possible.

Cons

Obviously there are also some downsides. Sway is a Microsoft product and so ultimately works best with other Microsoft products. For example, it is much easier to embed a Microsoft Form rather than a Google Form which may be an issue for some and limits what you can include in terms of interactivity. As a Cloud based tool it might be hard for some creators to use, especially with current strains on broadband capacity. Although it offers choices in layout and font these are fairly limited which might not fit with existing branding. In replicating a 45 minute session there is a lot of content to go through and even after careful editing and adaptation of some content the resulting resource is longer than I would like and requires a lot of scrolling. However this may well be my fault rather than the tool itself! The biggest problem that I have come across so far is an inability to link to a specific section of a Sway. So for example in the responsible metrics resource it would be great to be able to link straight to the section on 'metric limitations' for use in other resources. A quick Google reveals that despite being one of the most asked about features there is as yet no way of doing this on Sway which is a real disappointment.

Next steps

Although there are issues with Sway this is true of any tool and in the current environment it is something which I can use to replicate my face-to-face sessions without resorting to a webinar. Time will tell what the researchers it is aimed at will think but the responses I've had so far have been positive and it offers a way to make the best use of the materials we already have.

I've put together a list of some of the main resources I've been using to educate myself about Sway:

Monday, 18 May 2020

Moving Your Teaching Online

Many of us are having to adapt to delivering training and other interactions online instead of face to face. This is a situation likely to continue for some time and it can be daunting to know where to start if you are new to developing online materials.

I have recently joined a team running a teaching course for librarians at Cambridge and my first task was to curate a list of resources on how to move training materials online. It's far from exhaustive and mainly represents what I have come across on Twitter or online but I'm sharing it here as a starting point if you are looking for similar resources. Please add any others you have found useful in the comments section and I can add them to the list.

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The current circumstances mean that there is an increased emphasis on the development of online educational materials. With traditional face-to-face training unlikely to resume for some time, many teachers will be thinking about how they can adapt their existing content for online delivery. This process is not as simple as just replicating the physical environment online or copying and pasting the content. It is worth spending some time thinking about the best way to deliver the training you can with the resources you have. The most important things to consider are the needs of your students and how you can meet these online.

General guidance on moving teaching online
Many teachers and trainers with experience in online teaching have shared their insights over the last few months. The following sources are particularly useful:

Moving classes and seminars online - Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning. 
CCTL has prepared a comprehensive guide to many different aspects of online teaching including accessibility concerns, dealing with interactions and how to prepare online materials.

Excellent blog post from Veronica Phillips from Cambridge Medical Library on her experiences of adapting her training for online delivery.

Teaching online in a time of crisis - Jane Secker and Kathryn Drumm.
Blog post from City University detailing their experiences of moving training online and including top tips for others looking to do similar.

Developing online instruction according to best practices – Ashley Lierman and Ariana Santiago.
This article from the Journal of Information Literacy contains a useful literature review and outlines some best practice for developing asynchronous online instruction.

A longer read but contains lots of thought provoking questions to encourage readers to consider how you can make the best use of moving teaching online.

Useful guidance on what you need to do to move to online sessions in a hurry.

Recording lectures
Creating videos is one of the easiest ways to adapt existing content, especially if you are presenting a lecture style session. All you need is a slide deck, your notes and some type of recording software. Many of the tools you will have been using for online meetings can be used to record lecture videos. These often use screen sharing to show slides whilst the teacher adds a narration. The teacher can choose to be seen on camera or hidden as they wish.



Webinars can be a little boring for the listener so try to make them as engaging as possible. This advice from Jisc is a good place to start if you are new to developing or delivering webinars. People have shorter attention spans online so consider recording a long webinar as shorter sessions e.g. four fifteen minute videos rather than an hour long session. If you do create a longer session consider adding an index to topics in the description. You can see an example on this YouTube video from the Moore Library (you will need to click on See More in the description section). This creates a clickable index so that viewers can go straight to the appropriate section.

Shorter videos
You can create effective videos outlining key concepts which can be used either on their own or as part of a larger resource/session. The advantage is that these videos can be viewed again if learners want to refresh their knowledge. There are many tools available to produce short videos, depending on the feel you are aiming for. Some suggestions to investigate are Animotica, Lumen5, Powtoon. You can find more details of some of these tools in this CILIP MMIT webinar (with slides).

In order to produce successful videos it’s important to understand how students learn online. This article on creating Effective educational videos by Cyntia J. Brame explains some of the theory behind developing good videos that help people learn.

Screencasts
Where your sessions involve live demonstrations of software or websites it might be a good idea to think about recording screencasts which can be included in online training. This involves capturing a recording of your screen as you perform a task (such as finding an item in the catalogue) and can be narrated if you feel this is needed. If you’re new to screencasting Screencastomatic and Screencastify are easy to use tools.

It is a good idea to keep these screencasts short if possible. Software and web platforms frequently change and it is easier to update shorter videos than re-record long ones, especially if you don’t have access to video editing software. This guide to free online video editing tools is useful if you want to investigate editing.

Interactivity
It’s important to think about how you can build interactivity into your sessions. This may be led by you as the teacher, students talking to other students or it may just be a reflective activity which students complete themselves. This interactivity can help students to relate otherwise abstract concepts to their own circumstances and help to embed learning. This graphic from Jo Boaler from Stanford University outlines some of the key principles for making online teaching interactive in small and easy to manage ways whilst the article 6 steps to effective online group work by Peter Hartley and Mark Dawson has some great tips on getting people to work together as well as a useful table comparing common tools that learners may have access to.

Top tips
There are plenty of lists with top tips for online teaching. Here are just a few:
Edited 30/5/20
Since I wrote this post I've found additional links which might be useful. These are included below:

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Online training in a hurry - please help yourself

I've thought long and hard about posting this. There are many more important things in the world to worry about right now and I don't want to be accused as cashing in on problems (although as I'm making no money from this that might be hard!) but I do want to do my small part to help.

Over the last few years I have been working on producing online training to compliment the face to face sessions I regularly deliver on scholarly communication and research support. As a result I have a bank of materials on this area ready to go including videos, slides and handouts. I know a lot of librarians are either moving to online instruction or thinking about it, something that will hopefully make both teacher and student safer whilst still getting the message across. Putting together even the most basic of sessions takes time so if it's useful please feel free to help yourselves to any of the resources below as a starting point.

I've compiled most things I've produced on a single website as even I have trouble finding it occasionally! Everything is organised by subject and then format within that e.g. presentations, webinar etc. There are slide decks and presenter notes for most sessions and I'm working on adding more as they are developed. Most of the content is aimed at librarians but it's pretty transferable for students.

There are also some resources for ready to go webinars:

I'm working on adding the current online content I'm developing for students and currently have slides and notes for predatory publishers and data management with more coming in the next few weeks.

Alternatively if you're self-isolating and want to use this time for some self education feel free to have a look at the online Research Support Ambassador Programme which covers the basics of library support around the scholarly communications lifecycle. It's an introduction but it's a start! 

If you are looking to develop your own online teaching materials then you could do worse than this guidance from Alison Yang:

Whatever approach you take during this time above all stay safe, stay healthy and wash your hands!