The majority of interaction in a community of practice will take place online. Consider the following principles when designing both the collaborative workspace and the online learning opportunities.
Creating a predictable ‘rhythm’ sets an expectation around how and when to participate in the community. A ‘sense of place’ in the minds of community members is created through an integrated, thoughtful combination of face-to-face meetings, live online events, and collaboration over time within a persistent Web environment.
Adapted from: Wenger, McDermottt & Synder 2002
Regularly scheduled live online meetings are at the core of a virtual community of practice. They create the rhythm and focus for the community. Many communities combine meetings with webinars to make the most value of time. Meetings are typically scheduled four to seven times a year at regular intervals (e.g., first Tuesday of every month) and follow the natural flow of the school year. Based on the experience of recent Alberta communities of practice, the optimal time for scheduling webinars for educators seems to be from 4 PM to 5 PM on Tuesdays to Thursdays.
Typical agenda items might include:
Consider making an archived version of the meeting content available to participants who are unable to attend the live version of the meeting.
Although an online professional learning session offers the opportunity to increase the number of people who can participate, the number of participants will affect the design of the online meeting or webinar. The general rule of thumb is, the smaller the group, the greater the opportunity for personal interaction and sharing among the participants. The larger the group, the less personal the experience tends to be. However, creative use of technology and facilitation strategies can maximize the opportunities for engagement and interactivity, even in larger groups. A learning experience that consists of a series of webinars, no matter what the size, can offer more opportunities for connection and deep learning than a one-off event.
Adapted from Julia Young’s white paper Designing Interactive Webinars on facilitate.com
Begin webinars by sharing statements about what participants should understand or be able to do by the end of the webinar. Effectively written learning objectives serve as a filter to ensure ‘need to know’ content is covered before anything ‘nice to know’ is added.
Consider how content fits into one or more of the following three categories:
Knowing the types of content that will be included allows you to start developing the webinar into a series of segments, including pre-work and post-work.
Think of the interactive webinar as a real-time event packaged with information sharing ahead of time and continued reflection and sharing afterward. The real-time event is the synchronous portion of the webinar, generally a 60-minute real-time session combining a teleconference with web collaboration tools. The asynchronous portions, pre- and post-webinar activities, are critical components to setting up an interactive and engaging experience that maximizes and personalizes the learning outcomes for all participants.
While many speakers simply provide a copy of their slide files prior to, or after a session, the best handouts often don’t include slides at all. They are more of a guide or a workbook that combines content-focused note-taking and reflection plus key information that supports, not duplicates, the verbal and visual message of the live presentation.
Consider providing a guide to participants about one week prior to the webinar. The guide can outline learning goals for the upcoming session, provide links to research articles, offer questions for reflection, and suggest activities to complete prior to the webinar.
When designing the guide, leave room for participants to make their own notes and reflections. Content in the guide or other follow-up handouts can go beyond the webinar slides and include additional content such as checklists, reference resources, FAQs, and tips sheets.
Examples of pre-webinar activities that can be incorporated into a guide include:
Consider how the guide can support post-webinar discussion and reflection, especially if participants are clustered in common sites. The guide might include a series of questions that can be used after the webinar as conversation-starters, reflection tools, or calls to action.
View an example of a learning guide.
Examples of post-webinar activities could include:
Webinars typically rely on slides to introduce information and ideas and keep both the facilitator and participants focused. Consider the following strategies for creating effective slides:
The challenge in an online learning environment is to create a sense of presence so participants know they are not alone. Consider having one of the facilitators serve as host and greet each participant by name as they sign on. The host can also use the chat function to communicate with individual participants who are experiencing technical difficulties or have questions throughout the webinar.
Depending on the collaborative software available, there a number of interactive activities that can make webinars more engaging and meaningful for participants. Aim for at least four interactive activities in a one-hour webinar.