For some strange masochistic reason I keep offering to run hybrid webinar workshops at conferences around Europe, with variable levels of success. When it works it gives participants the chance to experience a combined on-site and online learning environment where online members can fully participate in what is essentially a classroom activity. The format we usually offer is to combine short input sessions with discussion and group work, the results of which are posted on a common workspace like Padlet.
The safest way to arrange a webinar is when everyone participates online. As soon as you add a classroom to the equation things can often get complicated. If you have followed this blog you will remember we have had a few difficult hybrid sessions in the last couple of years, as well as many successes. The classroom set-up can be as simple as a laptop, external microphone and webcam but obviously you can get better quality by adding a mixer, extra webcam and extra microphone for the participants in the room. However it is essential that you have a wired broadband connection and many conference locations seem to have trouble with this feature.
This week I ran three workshops for different projects (including this one) at the major European e-learning conference EDEN 2016 in Budapest. One worked perfectly but the other two were disturbed by unexpected technical difficulties. First up was the workshop based on this project. We had our equipment in order and we had a wired internet connection. So far so good! However the problem this time came from an unexpected source – the projector. The projector in the room simply didn’t want to connect with my Macbook Pro despite restarts and considerable coaxing. Finally we got the two combatants to be friends and the session could begin. However, halfway through the session the projector cable came loose and we lost contact. Plugging in again did not restore the projector view so it was time for plans B, C and D. We asked the classroom participants to log into the Adobe Connect room and follow the session that way and then we connected the projector to the PC that was in the room. We got back on track despite all this but by then the flow of the session had been disrupted and we didn’t have time to complete the full workshop as we had planned. However we still had some good discussions and everything is gathered here on Padlet.
For the second workshop we decided to abandon the Mac and use the laptop provided in the classroom. It took a while to install the external microphone and check the settings for Adobe Connect but all seemed well at the start. Then we discovered that the sound cut off every 10 minutes or so (both in and out) and the only cure was to exit and log in again. This of course seriously disturbed the session especially since our online colleagues had to stop and start their contributions. The final workshop of the week worked perfectly, possibly because we were in another room with a friendlier projector.
The moral of the story is that hybrid webinars are a risky business unless you know the room you’re going to use and can test everything well in advance. Using unknown computers is also to be avoided at all costs. Expect the unexpected!