Reach more learners through webinars

Allison MillerAllison Miller is a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog who is passionate about the delivery of engaging learners, to equip them with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. Today Allison teaches us how to reach more students through the use of web-based seminars, commonly known as webinars. Think you’ve heard it all? You might just be surprised.

A little about webinars

As internet connectivity improves across Australia, the opportunity to deliver training and assessment via a live web-based environment or a webinar greatly increases.

A webinar is like watching a YouTube video but with the added benefit of having a live presenter or facilitator and other participants that you can interact with. Webinars are delivered through webinar rooms which can have lots of interactive tools, such as:

  • whiteboards – so participants can brainstorm or debate ideas
  • text chat – so participants can simultaneously answer questions or offer information
  • polls and emoticons – so participants can virtually express how they are understanding the session
  • screen sharing – so presenters can share their desktop to give a virtual tour, and
  • web cam – so a presenter can either video stream themselves talking or deliver practical, hands on sessions demonstrating how to do something.

Webinar rooms also allow you to upload presentation slides, and record the session, so if learners miss a session or would like to revisit a session, they can view the recording. This also means that you can instantly create a learning resource which can be shared with others.

How might you use a webinar?

Webinars can be used to purely present information or for group activities, where participants use their own computers to access the training session. Alternatively, webinar rooms can be used in a hybrid approach, where a trainer is delivering the session in a workshop or classroom environment with students, and a few individual students join the session through the webinar room.

Webinar rooms can also be used for assessment such as viewing students in their workplaces through the web cam.  Or, a guest presenter can be beamed into a classroom environment.

Planning a webinar

As you can see webinars offer many great features and opportunities, however they do require careful planning to ensure that it is a successful experience for participants.

Planning starts with ensuring that the trainer is skilled in facilitating a webinar. Facilitating a webinar requires some rethinking about design and delivery of the virtual training to ensure that information delivery and activities are appropriate. It also means that the trainer needs to be given the opportunity to learn how to effectively use the webinar environment and its tools by having some practice sessions. Ideally, it is a good idea to have co-presenters in the first couple of sessions or with large groups, so they can help monitor participant activity or help deal with any issues.

Other planning considerations including scheduling or booking the webinar room just like you would book a classroom, so participants know where to go. Then contacting participants by email or a learning management system to provide them with instructions about the webinar room: such as:

  • having a headset with a microphone, and
  • entering the webinar room prior to the session starting so technical issues can be addressed, and to ensure participants can hear and speak before the session begins.

Lastly, ensure that you have some technical support before, during and after a webinar session to help troubleshoot any issues. This support can be offered through:

  • a link to online help information
  • having someone people can ring if there is a technical issue, and/or
  • providing a separate practice session prior to the beginning of a series of webinars so participants can ensure their webinar works on their computer and also get to know how to use some of the webinar’s features.

Facilitating the webinar

Webinar environments allow a facilitator to be as creative as they like in the delivery of their training. There are a few key things to remember, however, such as hitting the record button at the beginning of a session.

Other must haves include:

  • Welcoming participants with an introduction and a photo of the trainer so participants build a connection with him or her.
  • Explaining to the participants the different features of the webinar environment and how they can interact with them.
  • Incorporating virtual icebreakers so participants start to feel comfortable with their virtual colleagues.
  • Lots of interaction between the trainer and the participants through questions and activities.
  • Having a ‘Plan B’ if for some reason the webinar room is not available or you cannot load your slides or your web cam decides not to work.

Training online offers lots of opportunities for a wide range of students. Being an online student can feel very isolating, however, so always ensure you follow a webinar session by communicating with the participants either through email or your learning management system.  This follow-up communication will allow you to share the link to the session recording, and to ask for feedback about whether participants found the session useful.

And don’t forget your trainers!

Remember that your trainers need to feel confident enough to facilitate their students in an online environment. This means ensuring that they have been adequately trained to deliver via a webinar. But with a little thought and support you will find that webinars can be an effective way to deliver training and easily reach more learners.

Gathering feedback from your Moodle courses

bernadette-parry-headshotBernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support desk services. Recently she has received several queries about using Survey Monkey from Moodle Courses. This is of course doable, but here Bernadette tells us ten reasons for using the Feedback survey instead.

Ten reasons for using the Feedback survey in Moodle:

If you have never thought to use the Feedback survey in Moodle, here are my top ten reasons to give it a go:

  1. Course name, teacher names, etc are automatically added to the report. Why not make life easier for yourself, and prevent potential errors associated with manual data entry?
  2. There are fewer options for creating questions and collecting responses. While at first this might seem like a disadvantage, it actually makes the tool  simpler and easier to use.
  3. The Feedback can be anonymous. If the Feedback is anonymous, the participants see ‘Mode: Anonymous’ on the screen – so they are reassured of anonymity.
  4. Even if the Feedback is anonymous, you can still see which participants have not submitted in your activity completion report. This is particularly useful if the Feedback is compulsory.
  5. You can list Feedback activities on your Moodle landing page. This means that  learners can submit the Feedback without logging in.
  6. Logs will record student usage of the Feedback survey. Another way to measure learner engagement.feedback_01
  7. All teachers of a course can receive email alerts when a Feedback form is submitted. Staying within Moodle makes the form look more like an integral part of the course. Better branding, a more professional look and feel, and students more likely to complete the survey.
  8. Staying within Moodle keeps all tracking of student learning together. This not only helps out at auditing time, it makes results easier to find.
  9. If you already have Moodle, there is no extra expense! Why add another layer of cost and software when Moodle has everything you need?
  10. In the future, a new survey module will incorporate Survey, Questionnaire (which is currently a plugin) and Feedback – with the best elements of each. It’ll be even better!

Important things to note

  • ‘Survey’ is another Moodle activity, however with Survey, you can’t create your own questions like you can with Feedback.
  • If you don’t see the Feedback activity in your course, then it may be disabled. Ask your Administrator to ‘turn it on’!
  • Feedback results can be used for continuous improvement of your courses. Use it to gather student Feedback – and teacher Feedback – on how the course went, and how it could be improved.
  • To best analyse your responses, don’t forget to use question type ‘dropdownlist (rated)’. See the Moodle website for more information on the most useful questions to use.
  • See the results! In the screenshot below, four learners have anonymously completed a Feedback survey, ‘Learner Questionnaire’. The results can also be downloaded to an Excel file. Use this analysis to improve your courses.feedback_02

Keen to learn more?

For further information about the Feedback survey activity please visit the Moodle website.

But most importantly, try it! Let me know if you need any help.

Free audio troubleshooting checklist

Bronwyn Lapham

Bronwyn Lapham works within E-standards for Training, an activity eWorks manages for the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training. This project includes the annual research, development, review and ratification of the E‑standards for Training – the technical standards for the vocational education and training (VET) sector. As promised in the recently published blog post: Web conferencing audio issues? Get sorted!, Bronwyn now shares the perfect way to avoid web conferencing panic attacks – an easy audio troubleshooting checklist.

Now where did we leave it last time?

Okay, so we have already looked at:

  • The causes of audio issues in web conferences and webinars
  • The use of computer built-in audio alone
  • Best practice when it comes to headsets and microphones
  • Making sure that your speakers are set up properly
  • Consideration of your internet bandwidth
  • Screen sharing and making sure you have the right software in order to do this
  • Flash Players and associated plug-ins.

That’s all fine and well, but how will you go thinking through these factors in a time of stress, when your audio isn’t working at the start of a webinar for example? This troubleshooting checklist will help to get your audio sorted and you enjoying your web conference. We talk about BigBlueButton here, but the fundamentals are the same for most web conference applications.

Tick if OK Issue to Test

1. You have a decent-quality headset with speakers and microphone built in.

At the very least make sure all presenters and other listeners are wearing a set of headphones. Even cheap earbud/iPod headphones are better than nothing. It’s particularly important for the person speaking (whether presenter or attendee) otherwise, when using built-in mic and speakers, their voice going into the microphone is sent back to them via their speaker, then the microphone picks it up again and retransmits, creating a loop, which you hear as an echo. The software doesn’t know which is the important sound “stream”, and attempts to transmit it all.

You can use a conference speakerphone if your users are in one room watching the session on a large single screen. Make sure presenters are speaking close to their microphones.

2. All participants mute their microphones when not speaking.

If you are having audio issues with participants and their local hardware/equipment, one option is to mute everyone (except the presenter, of course!) and ask for questions and answers to be typed via the chat window.

Attendees can use the “Raise Hand” feature to get attention. They could then be un-muted to ask a question or make a comment.

3. Your Internet speed is adequate.

BBB users can check their speed at the time they have the audio issues using http://www.speedtest.net. Download speed should be 1.0Mbps or greater and their upload speed should be 0.5Mbps or greater. If you are using a webcam, you’ll need greater bandwidth – around 1.0Mbps upload as a minimum. (Speedtest step-by-step instructions below)

4. You don’t have ‘competition’ for Internet access.

Is anyone else on the network/at your house doing anything that uses lots of bandwidth (eg: downloading video from iTunes, YouTube, online gaming, VOIP based telephone calls)? Also make sure you only have the minimum number of browser tabs or windows open.

5. Your network is reliable.

Check network reliability by following the ping and tracert/traceroute instructions below.

6. The microphone on the headset is the one that BBB is actually using.

BBB uses the speakers and microphone selected in your operating system settings. To check what these are:

  • On Windows: Start menu > Control panel > Hardware and sound > Sound
  • On Mac: Apple menu > System preferences > Sound

Make sure the microphone’s record volume is set to high in the computer’s ‘sound’ settings. It is very easy to find speaker volumes on most computers but can be harder to find microphone input volumes.

If you need to change those settings, you may need to exit the BBB session and re-enter to for the software to pick up on the change.

To check that both you and BBB agree which headset and mic are being used from within a session:

  • Right mouse button click inside the BBB window during a conference.
  • Choose ‘Settings’ from the menu that appears.
  • Click in the microphone icon along the bottom of the Settings pop up window.
  • Make sure the microphone listed is your headset microphone.

Slide the record volume slider to 80% (NB if you choose 100% it may cause distortion and audio quality issues).

Tick the ‘Reduce Echo’ box.

7. You have the latest Flash Player version on your computer.

To check:

In a browser go to:   http://helpx.adobe.com/flash-player/kb/find-version-flash-player.html

Check your version shown against the current version listed. If they don’t match, follow the “download” and “update” instructions on the same page.

8. You have installed the latest version of Java.

If you can enter the room but you are unable to screen share it’s possibly Java related. Update or install Java – https://java.com/en/

9. You don’t have pop-ups blocked

If screen sharing won’t start check for any pop-up blockers (particularly Firefox where it is small, unobtrusive and at the top of the browser). Java won’t start until you’ve seen and clicked the acceptance message.

Test your connection

You can check the quality of your Internet access by “pinging”. Pinging sends small amounts of data (packets) to the server to measure response times to your computer (in milliseconds).

You can also check the route over which your data gets transmitted. The route taken is dependent upon your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and can highlight why you might be getting slow responses. An Internet outage somewhere might mean that your data has to be routed via somewhere out of the ordinary, or your ISP might be routing it in a way cheaper for them, but also slower for you.

The third test is the speed of actual data upload and download. The website speedtest.net will measure the amount of time it takes to upload and download 100Mb of data and report back to you.

Windows: ping and trace data route

The following tests are specific to BigBlueButton running on eWorks’ TVC. You would change the server to suit your specific situation.

Click on the ‘Start’ button.

Type cmd in the “Search programs and files” input field and select cmd.exe when it is located.

Ping – In the console window that appears, type ping bbb.trainingvc.com and press Enter. (Your window will have slightly different information unique to you.)

You will see any problems with loss of data described as packet loss, and round trip average speed ideally needs to be less than 50ms.

Route taken – In the same console window, type tracert trainingvc.com and press Enter.

This will show you the path that the data is taking to get to the BBB server (you may be surprised!) Somewhere between 10 and 15 ‘hops’ is pretty standard. Of course the more hops and the greater the distance between hops, the longer the data will take to get to and from you and your users, and consequently the more chance of your sound degrading.

This information can be very helpful when troubleshooting. To share this data with support:

  • right-click in the Console window and choose “Select all” from the menu.
  • Press Enter to copy the info to your clipboard. (Ctrl-C doesn’t work here).
  • Paste the info into Notepad or another text editor so you can then forward it on.

Mac: ping and trace data route

Launch Network Utility. (Use Spotlight to search for it.)

Ping – Select the Ping tab. Enter bbb.trainingvc.com in the network address input field and select the Ping button. You will see any problems with loss of data here (described as packet loss). Ping average speed ideally needs to be less than 50ms. If you want to share this information with support:

  • click into the information pane where the ping data is
  • Command-A to select All
  • Command-C to copy it, then
  • paste into a TextEdit or similar text editor window as a location to save it.

Route taken – Next, choose the Traceroute tab. Type trainingvc.com into the network address input field, then select the Trace button. As with the ping data, if you want to share this information with Support:

  • click into the information pane where the traceroute data is
  • Command-A to select All
  • Command-C to copy it to the clipboard then
  • paste into a TextEdit or similar text editor window as a location to save it.

Speedtest.net – Windows and Mac

In a browser window, navigate to http://www.speedtest.net/ and select Begin Test.

The software will select the appropriate server, and download 100Mb then upload 100Mb to get an average bandwidth measurement in both directions. It will also provide an average ping round trip.

(This reading is unusual in that upload speed is generally a good deal slower than download.)

The early bird and all that

Of course the best thing to do is log on early for a web conference or webinar, so that you have time to troubleshoot when there isn’t so much pressure. But even if you find yourself in a bit of a panic, this checklist should make life easier.

Good luck!

And of course let us know if you’re still stuck, or if you need a hand delivering or accessing online training in general.

Web conferencing audio issues? Get sorted!

We’ve all been there. You sign in to a webinar or web conference that you are either attending or (even worse!) presenting, only to find that the audio isn’t working. Your heart starts to race and you try to fix it, randomly checking your PC and control panels all the time knowing that you’re too flustered to think. Our advice? Don’t panic! Audio issues can have many causes, but they are generally easy to fix. And next time, after reading this blog post, you will know where to look to find the problem.


Credit: Voices, by Fe Ilya

What causes audio issues in web conferences?

With any webinar software, your microphone, speakers, and Internet bandwidth are all important and will affect the quality of the session. Screen sharing, the use of webcams and the inclusion of video will also have significant impact, particularly when bandwidth is poor. Symptoms of degradation include audio dropping out, speech and other audio sounding as though coming from a tunnel, or even under water.

Things to consider

1. Using computer built-in audio alone

Quality headsets give good separation of sound input (microphone) and output (speakers). This is particularly important for the person speaking, whether presenter or attendee. Otherwise, when using built-in mic and speakers, their voice going into the microphone is sent back to them via their speaker, then the microphone picks it up again and retransmits, creating a loop – which you hear as an echo. The software doesn’t know which is the important sound “stream”, and attempts to transmit it all.

2. Best practice

For best results, people intending to speak should use good-quality headsets with a microphone near their mouth. In order from worst-case to best-case scenario, the microphone/speaker combination for presenters or attendees with unmuted microphones would be:

  • mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop using built-in microphone and speakers. (This will generally give unacceptable audio quality and is not recommended.)
  • earbud-type headset with inline microphone
  • normal headset with boom microphone, or conference-type speakerphone.

A small speakerphone should be adequate for around six to eight people seated closely around it. If you were to use two of these in the same room, you would probably encounter the mic/speaker loop described above. We suggest researching online using the keywords ‘conference’ and ‘speakerphone’ to find one suitable for your situation.

3. Speakers

Let’s use BigBlueButton (BBB) as an example here. BigBlueButton (BBB) is an open-source virtual classroom package. It’s a good option, because it’s a web conferencing system plugin available for several learning management systems. BBB will use whatever your computer thinks is the main device for microphone and speakers (at the time of starting up BBB). That is, BBB uses the speakers and microphone defined in the operating system control panel. To check:

  • On Windows, go to Start menu > Control Panel > Sound
  • On Mac, go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Sound

In both instances make sure the correct speakers and microphone are selected. Should you need to change the selections, you will need to exit and re-enter the BBB session.

4. Internet speed

Internet bandwidth has an important effect on the quality of your session.

For anyone screen sharing or speaking, Internet upload speed should be at least 0.5 Mbps (megabits per second), and download speed should be at least 1.0 Mbps; you can test this at speedtest.net. The results from this test will vary depending on what else is going on with your Internet connection at the time. Are other people on your network using a lot of bandwidth? Do you have other bandwidth intensive processes happening? For example, is someone downloading a movie to watch later? Do you have several tabs open, each with a YouTube video?

5. Java

If you are going to screen share in your session, then you should have the latest version of Java installed on your computer. Update or install Java from the website.

6. Flash

You should have the latest Flash Player plug-in enabled in your browser. Update or install the Flash Player at Adobe’s website.

More specific connection issues?

For specific connection how-tos and troubleshooting, plus advice about BigBlueButton, the eWorks Team is here to help. And for a free audio quality troubleshooting checklist (coming soon) subscribe to eLink.