#vandr: the webinar experience

(Post copied from Danegeld blog, 7 Feb 2015.)

Updates and postscripts: Visitors and Residents is a concept which just won’t go away – see the foot of the post. And, Jakob Nielsen debunks teenagers as digital natives (Feb 2013).

On 9 December I tuned into the #vandr webinar, presenting findings from the JISC/OCLC Visitors and Residents project.

To get the most out of a webinar, or any webcast for that matter, you need to engage – either synchronously by contributing to the chat or livetweeting, or asychronously by reflecting later in a blog post like this one (what used to be called writing up your notes.) For that the session needs to be engaging, in terms of both content and delivery.

The visitors and residents continuum: the content

The content of the webinar centred around digital literacy and in particular students’ engagement with the digital information environment in higher education. Digital natives or no, according to JISC’s Developing Digital Literacies Programme Manager “it’s easy to overstate the digital competence of today’s undergraduate students and even postgraduate researchers”.

At the heart of the project is the visitors and residents continuum, which has Visitors, unseen, instrumental, functional and individual, at one end and Residents, visible, networked, communicative and communal, at the other. So, visitors lurk or consume, while residents participate and produce.

I’ve previously commented on the visitors and residents concept,  which I find problematic, in particular in relation to my own concept of the anti-social social networker. Not least do most people lurk (see the 90% rule), but there are also different ways of using the same tool, for example Twitter can be used for information sharing and gathering (sometimes classed as broadcasting) or for conversation – both methods result in learning. While I ‘lurked’ during the webinar (to concentrate on the task) I have now produced a blog post – where does that place me on the continuum?

However in his First Monday paper on a new typology for online engagement Dave White states: “the visitors and residents continuum accounts for people behaving in different ways when using technology, depending on their motivation and context” (my emphasis). The paper explores in detail concepts of ‘tool’ and ‘place’, allowing for a range of other factors which may affect behaviour – for example, the researchers have added a personal:institutional axis in order to plot a student’s online learning activity (described further in a post on the learning black market), and other axes could be added, perhaps consumer vs producer, individual vs social learners…the concept of a typology is more attractive than that of a continuum, which to me implies a progression.

The paper concludes that the majority of Internet use, including doubtless my own, takes place in the middle of the continuum. On that basis the visitors and residents paradigm may well have relevance in contexts beyond that of digital literacy – for example those promoting purely task based website architectures might like to consider that such approaches may only fit the behaviour of a minority of visitors (rather than Visitors).

The social webinar: the delivery

The chat during the webinar, which I downloaded and scanned afterwards, was pretty lively and added a lot to my understanding of the core concepts.  I suspect the most vocal of the 55 attendees were already familiar with the research – there’s no way I could have followed both the presentation and the chat, not least because of the constraints imposed by a netbook screen.

the #vandr webinar experience

multi-tasking on a netbook can be a challenge

Is lively chat a sign of a successful webinar, or was the presentation in effect providing background for a chatroom? In the same way as a conventional seminar should not consist solely of a presentation a webinar should offer opportunities for interaction – the idea of the flipped webinar takes this a step further, proposing a social webinar model where a short formal presentation is followed by a longer collaborative section.

The post-webinar page offers slides, audio and a recording of the session, but no summing up of the chat or listing of blog posts (I’ve found three – from Dave White, Helen Beetham and Alan Cann). This is a similar approach to that which prevails for most amplified events, and similarly a participant has done some of the job instead – see @digitalfingerprint’s live notes.


The #vandr webinar took place in Blackboard Collaborate (was Elluminate). The first time I attended a webinar I was initially slightly bemused, but the average Visitor (or Resident) should be able to tune in without needing specific guidance. Having said that it’s useful to be aware of the following:

  • you may need to install new applications or update them, so test your setup prior to the start of the session
  • other potential barriers to entry include firewalls, broadband speed and incompatible operating systems
  • the session takes place in a desktop console typically made up of windows for participants, chat (maximise to be usable), audio (ie take mike), whiteboard (for slides etc), video (talking head)
  • if you want to participate actively you may well need two screens to accommodate all the windows

Marieke Guy has written useful reviews of using both Adobe Connect and BB Collaborate (plus its predecessor Elluminate). These are high cost products for institutional use, with features such as VoIP, webcams and screensharing, but lower end systems exist, such as the open source Big Blue Button, GoToWebinar, Panopto…

Turning to the organiser’s side of things, it’s helpful to keep participants updated with what’s going on and what resources will be available from the webinar – here’s an excellent example from JISC.  After the session, consider preparing a summary, drawing in the main themes from the chat and linking to any blog posts or other social media, in particular for those of little patience with video or who simply don’t have the time to relive the whole thing. And, although I don’t think I’ve come across it yet, in order to make your webinar accessible add a transcript or subtitles. It’s not over when you turn off the mic!

Other webinars I’ve attended:

  • webinar about webinars by Ole Bach Anderson (på dansk) – nicely done post summing up the main points plus a lot of background information. Recording  on Vimeo.
  • couple by Gerry McGovern – dispappointing; uses GoToWebinar with just slides and audio, no chat or other interaction. While a talking head doesn’t really offer that much, you do need something to engage with.



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