Monday, 4 June 2012

Webinar! What's that?

Are you interested in developing professionally as a language teacher but just can't find the time to attend seminars? Why not participate in a webinar?

Let's give it a definition for those not yet familiar with the term. It's a seminar that is transmitted via the Web. Easy to see how the word developed now isn't it? Substitute 'web' for 'sem' and add on the rest: webinar. The original meaning is still retained i.e. 'meeting for discussion of a subject', which dates back to 1944 according to the online Etymology Dictionary, but there are some differences. You don't have to leave home to participate in a webinar and often educational webinars are held for free, so you save both time and money.  

How do you go about attending one then? There are many language sites that host these events such as
Pearson ELT,  Macmillan English,  Oxford University Press  and Cambridge English Teacher. Click on a link when you have time and  browse through their webinar agendas. If you find a particular event appealing, then register online. This usually requires supplying your name and email address.

As the date approaches you will be sent a reminder and a link to check that you'll be able to access the webinar. Without getting technical, you'll need a few basic tools i.e. a computer, a high speed internet connection and headphones. Follow the link that you are given to check that your computer satisfies all the necessary requirements i.e. speakers, audio, connection etc, so as not to be disappointed on day X. The day before the webinar or on the actual date, you'll receive another mail explaining how to access the link in order to take part. Nothing difficult here, extensive digital literacy skills are not required, just a few clicks and you're up and running.

Now that you're in, you might see a screen that looks like the image below, it depends on which web-conferencing system is being used. Nevertheless, many of them have similar features i.e. some kind of white board for text and slide shows; a chat room for messaging; a list of participants and interactive icons to click on as a substitute for paralinguistic cues.

A screenshot taken from Elluminate Live . This site explains in detail how to use this particular tool for conferencing. 

As you have probably realized by now, webinars can be very interactive. There may be polls to participate in or links to follow. You might be asked to use the chat box to supply opinions or answers, so keep your fingers trigger-ready. Slides are generally shown, similar to a powerpoint presentation and you may or may not be able to see the presenter. It depends on what software is being used, which company is hosting the event and the purpose of the webinar.
Frequently, webinars are recorded which makes them available for further viewing. A great advantage  as this gives you time later to reflect on the topic covered and to write some notes for personal use, or to perhaps share with fellow teachers. Additionally, some of the language sites open up a forum on their homepage after the webinar for those who wish to engage in discussion. Make the most of these extra features as they are created for you and provide a platform to collaborate with others. I think this is especially important for private teachers or virtual teachers like myself, who are accustomed to working alone. It's an opportunity to discuss with like-minded people and gives you a sense of belonging to an educational community. It's a chance to make new contacts globally and to gain a perspective on what other countries are doing in the area of language learning.

I recently attended a webinar which was presented by Nicky Hockly and hosted by Cambridge English Teacher, concerning teaching online. This event was interactive and engaging and included all of the above mentioned features. The content and material was qualitative, the presentation professional and the background support enabled the exchange of ideas between participants.  It was a rewarding experience and I came away with numerous tips, some of which I have already been able to transpose into my online teaching classes.

Companies such as a Pearson will send you a certificate of attendance a few days after the webinar, which is something you can place in your portfolio as proof that you're keeping up-to-date and are interested in developing professionally.

It's up to you now. Search the web and if a webinar topic interests you, then take the plunge and try it out for yourself. Enjoy the experience.

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