Webinars are something that librarians and teachers are going to have to be increasingly more familiar with in the coming years. We have to “go where the users are” and increasingly they are online. If you’re going into academic libraries in particular, it’s important to understand the distance learning is a growing component of higher education. ALA released a set of standards for distance learning students in 2008 that says, “Every student, faculty member, administrator, staff member, or any other member of an institution of higher education, is entitled to the library services and resources of that institution, including direct communication with the appropriate library personnel, regardless of where enrolled or where located in affiliation with the institution. Academic libraries must, therefore, meet the information and research needs of all these constituents, wherever they may be.”

I think that the current conception of webinars for us as students is as materials for professional development, and certainly that is a valuable use of the webinar format, but I think that we need to readjust our frame of reference for webinars to include the use of webinars as a tool that many of us may be using as part of our jobs to reach students.

Webinars are a new kind of challenge for instructors. In a distance learning situation, you no longer have the forced intimacy of a classroom in which to create interactions. I think this is the biggest challenge of a webinar format. How do you create meaningful interactions among students who are not inhabiting the same space? How do you engage students in learning when it becomes very easy for students to metaphorically punch in and out on a time clock without actually learning anything? How do you, as the instructor, get over the feeling of being a talking head in a virtual box?

I appreciated the approach that Matos et al took in their paper. They are asserting, essentially, that embedded librarianship takes many forms. It is effective in many different ways depending on the needs of the communities the librarians are serving. We often get caught up in the idea that we have to be doing whatever is new and current, or that there is a “right” way to serve our communities. I appreciated that the article acknowledges that whatever works best for your community is the “right” way, no matter what the literature says.

I have a number of questions about the Montgomery article. I think it gives a good overview of the definition of a webinar, but I am concerned with her tone which seems to say, “We must do webinars because webinars are online and our students are online and they’re on YouTube so we must ‘provide the same experience!'” I think webinars are an excellent tool, but just because they are an online tool does not mean that they are automatically the right tool. She refers to the “dreaded one-shot instruction session” but I do not see how using a webinar is any different from a dreaded one-shot, except that your students have more opportunities to be disengaged because they don’t even have to keep up a pretense of manners in a classroom. She suggests that scheduled webinars can supplement in-class instruction, and certainly they can, but this seems to me to be no more than offering a virtual solution to a face-to-face meeting with a student.

I don’t want to come off as anti-webinar. The suggestions in Montgomery’s article are all valid uses for webinars, but I think it’s important that we not suggest that because students are online we must replace face-to-face interactions with virtual ones. Certainly, webinars allow us to reach out to students in a unique way, but let’s consider this a tool for the magic bag of tricks instead of the one magic wand. Just because students are online and our resources are increasingly more online does not mean that webinars are always the right approach to reaching students.

Having said that, you might want to think up answers to some of the questions I posed about how we create meaningful interactions with students in a virtual space. It may or may not have come up in an interview recently. Just sayin’.

5 thoughts on “Webinars

  1. linguomancer says:

    I agree with you in that webinars should be a tool rather than a catch-all solution. They’re good for some situations and not so much for others. Even if we’re trying to stick with online resources, we have things like tutorials, screencasts, online documents (PDFs, Google Docs), chats, etc. that should all be considered if they are right for the situation.

    As for creating meaningful interactions, I definitely think it’s tough. I think a lot of it comes down to attempting to create real relationships and interaction despite the virtual setting so that people feel engaged and invested–though, of course, just saying that doesn’t tell us how to do it.

  2. Tyson says:

    I agree that Montgomery simplified things when it comes to webinars. It seemed to me that article was geared toward people who don’t realize that “online” is where students are and where we need to meet them today… and really, how many librarians today does that actually describe? I think the vast majority of people are aware of the challenges.

    I too was impressed with how the Matos article advocated taking whatever approach works best in your situation, and the degree to which the culture of your user base is going to affect that. Even within a single university, there are going to be a lot of different cultures, and acknowledging that is a pretty important thing for library administrators to do when they make decisions about endeavors like embedded librarianship.

  3. Naomi says:

    I had the same response to Montgomery as you did. It’s more important that technology integration is done well and meaningfully instead of “just because it’s cool” otherwise it is a waste of library time, and may alienate users!

  4. Miss Masura says:

    I also agree with what you wrote about Montgomery’s article and mentioned in my blog post that simply replacing human interactions with technology sells both the humans and technology short. It’s sad to see such powerful tools and powerful teachers sufficing to be used in such mediocre ways.

  5. katzalot says:

    I agree with both the posts and the comments about using webinars. From my own experience just because the students like technology does not mean they will automatically love what you are doing on it. Sure maybe the first time they will be into it, but if you are doing boring workshops on it, they will quickly grow to dislike it. Webinars should be used but if in person embedded instruction works better even if it might reach fewer people it should be used.

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