I just finished listening to a webinar on new features of the survey tool Qualtrics, whichwe use in our BA study program. As neither Elluminate nor Adobe Connect was used, I had hoped to get a good glimpse of what is possible with GoToWebinar / GoToMeeting. However, I cannot give a good overview as only a few features were unlocked for this webinar. Thus, I can write about the possibilities to restrict a meeting to a high degree which does not provide a fair image to what is possible with GoToWebinar. I guess, I will have to wait for another meeting using this service to see how the “regular” features work out. What I can say is that I did not encounter connection speed problems as sometimes with Adobe Connect and that the screen sharing was very smooth.

Anyway, this webinar showed to me clearly how I got used to the communication features generally available in online presentations, webinars, online meetings or whatever you may call them that I have attended in the context of educational technology.

Usually, a list of participants is displayed. I like to scroll through it so see if anybody I know is there as well. That is like in a face-to-face meeting when you check the room to look for familiar faces. In this meeting today I did not see a participants’ list. The organizers said that they had been asked to keep that information confidential. I was very amazed because in Elluminate and also Adobe Connect, you can choose any screen name and nobody will be the wiser who is behind that. Furthermore, I got the impression that those who asked for this confidentiality either did not want others to know that they were there,  what kind of questions they asked or they were not ready to communicate except with the presenter / support team. I guess, I will never find out because I do not know how many people participated and who they were.

Confidentiality and security over communication
Confidentiality and security over communication

In general, the chat / backchannel is important because people discuss the presentation, post questions and comments, share links and other resources etc. However, it can be highly distracting for me if the backchannel is very active. Then I have trouble concentrating on the presentation and I have to decide which to follow more closely: the presentation or the chat. Despite my own weakness in that area, others are great in handling the chat, the presentation and providing additional information. I am always amazed at presenters who can read chat questions and answer them while they are presenting. The chat enriches online seminars immensely because it draws in the participants and gives the presenter / moderator feedback on what people think about, what is important to them.

In today’s meeting there was no chat. I had a window for questions and answers (see screenshot above), but I only saw my questions and the answers I received. When I realized that I would not see the questions or comments of the other participants, I reached a very low point and was rather disappointed because I was not allowed to communicate with the others in the webinar. Sure, I could write comments and send questions, but I felt that I needed to write questions and not engage in small talk because my chat messages were only read by the support staff monitoring the chat and they surely only wanted to receive content questions. I felt very isolated like being in a box (“prison” would be too strong a word as I chose to be there on my own) with a screen on which I could follow the presentation, which was insightful by the way and nicely done, and only a small window to the outside through which a guard who was positioned in front of it kept watch of what I said and gave answers without allowing me to pass on and receive messages to / from other inmates in their individual soundproof boxes.

It was a rather lonely affair. I really missed the chat because when I read it, I get to know what other people are working on, how they relate to the content of the presentation, what kind of questions they ask etc. Ideas and solutions to problems are shared and it is not always necessary that the moderators answer all questions because often there are knowledgeable people in the chat who provide useful solutions.

As my experience with online seminars and presentations is mainly limited to the educational technology field, I do not know if the type of online presentation I participated in today is very common in other areas and I only had my webinar culture shock. The shock waves still ripple through me and it has nothing to do with the tool we used, which is most likely great when communication features are open to the participants, or the initial content of the presentation. Just the mode of delivery was not to my liking.

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One thought on “Feeling lonely in a webinar

  1. Hi Kristina, Thanks for a great post! You have very eloquently described that lonely feeling that is all too common for many webinar “participants.” The power of web conferencing is in its ability to facilitate a sense of community through interactivity, like chat, live audio, and interactive whiteboard, that enables participants to question, discuss, and share. Only then can true collaboration and learning take place. For many who are truly isolated by things like geography, economy, and disability, this enabling technology at its best can foster socialization, level the playing field, and enhance learning outcomes.

    – Beth, Elluminate Goddess of Communication

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