When words (and worlds) collide
This week I facilitated a webinar on Motivational Interviewing for members of the Ontario Association of Social Workers. I like how webinars offer an opportunity for professional development in a distributed learning format from the comfort of home or office; and clinical social workers tuned in for our evening session from various regions, cities and towns. We had a fun and at times informal conversation in the chat bar, with some interesting discussion focused on my unintentional use of idiomatic expressions and vernacular language.
Idioms are culture-bound and can be confusing to diverse groups who may puzzle at their intended meaning. For example, when I talk about needing to keep my head above water in working with complex clinical scenarios. And one of my personal favorites is a skill or tool that’s as easy as pie. No doubt there was a time when pie-making was super-easy, but not anymore (at least for me anyway).
Expressions aren’t just culture-bound, they can also be generational in their meaning. In this week’s webinar I talked about the Coles Notes version of Motivational Interviewing in reference to a one-page “Motivational Interviewing Tip Sheet”. There was some light-hearted (another idiom!) text-chat in the sidebar about the generational divide among people who understand what Coles Notes actually refers to.
Last night I had a conversation with the teenager in my life about putting pen to paper. Her reply? “I don’t know what that means”.
Maybe I need to spend some time with urbandictionary.com.
Six Tips for Facilitating Webinars
Utility + ease of use are what really matter
Recently, I was asked to give a Keynote Address at the 2012 Ontario Association of Social Work annual conference outlining the “digital communication power tools” for social workers and other practitioners. Although I’ve taught an online graduate course for the past 10 years and have a longstanding interest in digital communication and online applications, I’m nowhere near as expert as the teenagers in my life.
However, the beauty of a “beginner’s mind” means that I can comfortably NOT be an expert – in anything – and still have something to share, in a spirit of exploration and adventure. And that is precisely the stance from which I developed the talk.
The three areas I covered (social media, online collaboration and e-therapy) are roughly overlapping, and provided a pretty broad terrain in which to navigate. The 250 or so practitioners at the conference included super-users, newbies, young and not-so-young, and all of us keen to better understand the ways in which these tools (because they really are just tools) can contribute to professional practice.
I think the most important take-away comes from the Technology Acceptance Model, where in one study, age and busyness of practitioners were not associated with uptake of social media in medical practice – rather, ease of use and utility of the applications influence attitudes, acceptance and behaviour. In other words, busy, old practitioners can and will use social media tools if they are accessible and relevant!
Here are the annotated slides (with Speakers’ Notes): Digital Communication Power Tools
Also on Slideshare if you’d like to experience the session via social media.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Over the last few years there’s been an explosion and widespread adoption of webinars as (in many cases) the primary or preferred strategy for delivering continuing education to large groups of geographically disparate people. It makes sense: education can be delivered in a brief, cheap and convenient form that has minimal impact on busy practitioners’ time.
But, just like classroom-based learning, there is huge variation in the quality, interactivity and utility of web-based learning. At their best, webinars are a model of multi-modal learning, with a dynamic and engaging facilitator, lots of interactive sidebar chat, and great use of visuals and reflective activities. At their worst, webinars are the workplace equivalent of a really boring TV show.
Here are a few tips culled from my own experience as facilitator and participant:
- It might not be a webinar: Sometimes network connections fail, either at your end or for participants. Send out a complete slide deck ahead of time and have a teleconference line just in case.
- I like text chat better than voice: In webinars, text chat is really seamless, especially with large groups (e.g., 100 or more). Encourage people to chat with each-other as well as the facilitator throughout the webinar. This brings me to two more points:
- Prime participants to participate: Most people regard online, text-based communication as more an act of publishing than as an act of speech. This cognition tends to constrain spontaneous conversation, so I ask participants to write down at least one question ahead of time. That way people are “primed” to participate, and once the ice is broken the group can really take off.
- You can’t do it all: With lots of sidebar chat it’s pretty much impossible to present AND read comments/questions at the same time. Having a moderator to help cue the presenter with key questions or pauses is essential.
- Ready for your close-up: Built-in computer webcams tend not to give the most flattering angle. Use a separate webcam for better camera postioning, add extra light, and talk to the camera. Participants want to feel connected to the facilitator.
- Less text more pictures: If text-heavy presentations are boring in person, they are even more deadly by webinar. (Plus, disengaged participants will toggle back and forth between a boring webinar and another, more interesting, website). Keep people engaged with well-designed content and activities.
I love the convenience of webinars, and done well they can really add value to an organization’s staff training and development strategy. The key phrase is “done well” – watching bad TV in the middle of the day is best kept for when you’re home in bed with a cold.