Virtual classrooms, otherwise known as webinars, are a great way of teaching from a distance. It is similar to a video Skype session, with the added benefit of being able to share a Powerpoint presentation or other file with remote participants, and many remote participants can join in and can speak to and see each other. In addition, webinars are easily recorded for later reviewing. Webinars can be used for meetings, conferences, and class sessions. Webinars can be blended with a face-to-face group, to extend the group’s meeting to remote participants anywhere in the world.

There are many software packages which will support webinars. A good free package is Google Hangouts. The University of Leicester currently has licenses for Adobe Connect. As a university staff or student, you may create meetings with Adobe Connect and invite anyone in the world by simply giving them the URL of the meeting room; there is no need for the other participants to install any software nor to have formal affiliation with the university.

An example of Blackboard tips on wikis and discussion boards for online teaching from Media Zoo on Vimeo.

Tips for webinars

Presentation tips

Before the event

  • Ensure your PowerPoint presentation is simple, easy to read and not cluttered, use visuals.
  • Consider font sizes, colours for text and background to ensure accessibility for all.
  • Use left alignment and single column approaches for text.
  • Adhere to copyright requirements and reference correctly (this includes images).
  • Avoid using animations as these may not work once the presentation is recorded.
  • Do not include external links or those that require a password as these will not be able to be accessed by the recording.

During the event

  • Prepare the room to limit distractions such as noises, phones or visitors.
  • Make sure the room has adequate lighting and that you are not in front of a bright window
  • Set up and ‘frame’ yourself – not too close (it’s too intimidating) and not too far away (it’s hard to engage if they can’t see your face). Frame yourself as if you are a newsreader.
  • Make ‘interruption protocol’ explicit. E.g. Please put your hand up for questions.
  • If using sound, ask participants to turn off computer speakers to reduce the risk of feedback.
  • Set limits on when learners can enter the virtual classroom so that you can do any last minute adjustments.
  • Ask participants to introduce themselves at the beginning of the session and ensure that participants’ microphones or chat functions are working properly and they can see you.
  • For events which are a combination of face-to-face and online request students use the online chat only and use the microphone if presenting.
  • Speak clearly and not too quickly – pause when moving from one topic to another.
  • Try not to move around too much – if so, walk slowly and avoid sudden movements.
  • Be careful about moving the microphone without muting it first. Otherwise it can be very noisy at the other end.
  • Moderate the online chat so that students are allowed to discuss at specific times during the presentation (you may need a second person to moderate the session with you).
  • When screen sharing, make sure that the regions you want to share are displayed clearly on your desktop as this is what participants will see in the Share pod.
  • Give last the 5 minutes to ‘lost points’ or questions as a session wrap up.

In order to create an Adobe Connect meeting, you need to have a Connect account. Simply request a Connect account from ithelp@le.ac.uk. For full instructions and advice on Adobe Connect webinars, visit the ITS website pages on this topic.
Contact the Leicester Learning Institute for advice on your webinar plans.

Case Studies

The Institute of Learning Innovation held a series of international completely-online conferences in 2010, 2011, and 2012, using webinar technology. With over 200 registrants to each conference and participants from every continent except Antarctica, these conferences showed the power of webinar technology to bring people together over the miles, and to give them a shared learning and collaborating experience almost as potent as a face-to-face conference (and for a lot less expense).

The Thesis Forum, facilitated by the Graduate School, is a series of seminars designed to help research students deal with various issues related to thesis writing. As many research students are not on campus, it was decided to begin offering the Thesis Forum in a blended approach -- both face-to-face and by webinar. Students participating remotely have been very positive in their feedback about online Thesis Forum sessions and recordings.

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