The Webbing Sisters… Who Are they?
Patrizia De Caterina, Maria Antonietta Sessa and Angela Maria Vitale are a highly committed professional teaching team with a long-standing experience in the sector of multimedia presentations and products, collaborative learning and action research. They have been speakers at many TESOL Conventions, with a joint seminar about the didactic strong points of webinars versus seminars at the 2019 edition; they have recently joined forces to publish their own webinars on the TED Ed eLearning platform. Therefore, if you want to take a look at what there already is in the Webbing Sisters’ “cauldron” you can visit our website (URL: www.webbingsisters.it )This article was written by Maria Antonietta Sessa on behalf of the Webbing Sisters. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A difficulty denounced by the majority of teachers wishing to update their professional skills consists in the excessive school workload, in addition to usual personal and family commitments, determining a lack of available time for attending seminars and workshops. Furthermore, the updating of skills has a very high cost that cannot always be addressed by the professional category of teachers which is, unfortunately, often targeted by government spending reviews.
A solution to the non-availability of time and/or economic resources, is given by the possibility of attending online seminars, the otherwise called webinars. But even in this case there are considerable drawbacks that this article takes into consideration while trying to provide an alternative solution.
Seminars date back to ancient Greece at least, when they were the favourite teaching instrument of the greatest minds of that time, e.g. Socrates who used this tool to engage students in the learning process by adopting the maieutic method of discovering truth. However, the similarities between Socrates’s seminars and modern ones end here: the number of attendees to an average seminar makes it impossible for the speaker to create situations which involve the individuals in the process of developing critical thinking and creative power. While Socrates’s classes promoted intellectual curiosity and independent learning the seminars, as we know them nowadays, tend to favour a vertical transmission of knowledge with very little contributions on the participants’ side.
The lack of both active participation and possibility of developing alternative solutions and divergent thinking increase in proportion to the size of the audience; therefore, we can say that the most successful seminars, from the point of view of customers’ satisfaction and learning results, are represented by those including a small number of participants, on the one hand, and employing speakers of high professional level and group management skills, on the other one. Only in these cases, in fact, the different attendees’ learning styles can be taken into consideration by the teacher/speaker/tutor and a direct relationship between the latter and each individual participant can be established.
Obviously, organizing seminars for a limited number of participants and held by excellent speakers is not a business within everyone's reach, since in this case the financial burden, both for the organizers and the participants, would be considerable.
The logical conclusion is that while the seminars characterized by a high level of speaker professionalism and a reduced number of participants represent the best possible training action, it is also proved by experience that their implementation may be highly problematic, due to the factors analysed so far.
The alternative to seminars in presence is represented by the seminars delivered online, generally known as webinars, which nowadays have been made possible by the fast connectivity of the Internet network and the diffusion of computers, smartphones and tablets. But even in this case there are critical points that can call into question the possibility of accessing useful and valuable training; this article intends to analyse these problems and offer a practical, convenient and very simple solution.
Most of the ideas presented by this article derive from the personal experiences and activities of action research carried out during the implementation of seminars organized on behalf of the TESOL Benevento Local Group.
In the course of formal and informal interviews, all the members of the Local Group expressed a strong desire to update their teaching competences and professional knowledge. But, as already mentioned, the main cause that usually prevents them from attending the seminars (even in the case of teachers living in the same city of the seminars) consists in the excessive school workload due not only to lesson planning and test grading but, above all, to the compulsory participation in a number of school meetings.
During the interviews colleagues were also discreetly asked whether the economic factor had a weight in preventing their access to seminars and the affirmative, though often evasive, answers were a confirmation of the hypothesis. Obviously, the problem does not refer to TESOL local seminars which are free, but to other types of professional training.
The next question was about the levels of appreciation of online seminars/webinars and, in this case, the answers were different. Most interviewees appreciated the variety and quality of the training resources available on the Internet, which can also be paid for by means of the ministerial bonuses offered to teachers in Italy. However, the levels of satisfaction and the types of objections were numerous and diverse.
Webinars do not solve the time problem: it is generally necessary to subscribe to them in a precise time window and then webinars are broadcasted at fixed times; if applicants happen to be late they are automatically excluded from participation. Therefore, the lack of time flexibility does not help to solve the problem of overload of teachers’ school work and the resulting scarcity of free time to be used for course attendance. In conclusion, webinars end by presenting the same problems of participation that characterize traditional seminars.
Furthermore, webinars training is generally provided in a continuous flow, without the possibility for the participants to take breaks in order to decrease the tension which comes from prolonged attention. Even if the attention span is longer for adults than teenagers it may still be rather difficult for the former to follow a lengthy videoconference if no possibility of relieving the stress level is given.
Another negative element is the technical problems often affecting webinars, such as poor connectivity and attendees’ scarce familiarity with the use of hardware and software, e.g. a webcam and Skype; honestly, not every adult, teachers included, may boast the possession of high-level digital competences; therefore this is a feature to be taken into consideration.
An element that is often underestimated but which turns out to be a deterrent in the use of a webcam and Skype (in particular for the non-millenials), is represented by the discomfort experienced by the attendees when seeing their own image in a live video. Many colleagues expressed their anxiety in watching their faces on the screen, feeling as if they were sort of “spectators of themselves”. Not to mention the natural desire of appearing aesthetically adequate during the videoconference…
The author of this article, after taking into consideration the critical points of both traditional seminars and modern webinars, has come to the following conclusion concerning the above-mentioned dilemma:
The best choice in the field of professional training is the attendance to webinars that are not broadcasted live since they are based on videos that can be viewed any time.
From the beginning the authors of the Webbing Sisters’ webinars have discarded the possibility of using videos that present a live recording of a lesson since these videos require the support of an experienced film director and the use of professional recording rooms to be effective; in fact, amateurish videos are, by experience, a total failure from the point of view of the audience engagement, being usually boring and ineffective .
Since the webinars’ authors possess competences in the sectors of animation and other types of multimedia and digital production, they have preferred to develop videos with cartoon characters starring as protagonists. Each character ironically resembles one author. The same authors have observed how teachers enjoy the light-hearted atmosphere created by a cartoon video which usually helps to decrease the stressful aspect of training; actually, the characters’ playful aura helps the participants not feel intimidated by the delivery of contents still unknown to them.
The digital platform that hosts the webinars is Ted Ed which, in addition to being a free hosting website, has numerous sections that contribute to completing the educational purposes of the videos. We can see examples in the images below:
- Watch: In this first section you can watch the video which presents some relevant and basic information about the topic;
- Think: the section presents a questionnaire to test the comprehension and acquisition of the video contents;
- Dig Deeper: here you can find additional information and online resources to “get deeper” into the subject; there may also be an assignment which must be accomplished by the attendee and sent to person in charge of the webinar in order to certificate participation and progress in learning;
- Discuss: this is an area where participants can interact with other colleagues and the “speaker”;
- …And Finally: in this section there may be a link to the webinar sequel, to further resources or information about other webinars published by the Webbing Sisters on TED Ed.
The problem of the high cost of quality training has also been solved since the webinars produced under the “Webbing Sisters” label are completely free and, thanks to the continuous feedbacks offered by participants, any flaw of the webinars can be amended in real time.
The variety of themes offered by the Webbing Sisters is already considerable but more materials are going to be uploaded in the platform in the next weeks/months; besides, participating teachers are encouraged to suggest new contents and even to collaborate at the development of more up-to-date materials.
Therefore, if you want to give a look at what there already is in the Webbing Sisters’ “cauldron” you can join the homonymous Facebook page at this link: https://www.facebook.com/mariandonia/?modal=admin_todo_tour
And if you wish to read the “Webbing Sisters Grafic story” just control+clik on the title.
At the moment of writing this article a new webinar about How to plan a students’ visit to a museum is “simmering” long with a website for spreading the “Webbing Sisters’ gospel” all around the world. Forgive the irreverence!
Links to the webinars
Sharifa Said Ali Al’Adawi, August 11 2017 /Exploring the Effectiveness of Implementing Seminars as a Teaching and an Assessment Method in a Children’s Literature College of Applied Sciences;
Nail Yildirim, 2010 Increasing Effectiveness of Strategic Planning Seminars Through Learning Style Gaziosmanpasa University, Turkey;
Kevin Baird , Rahat Munir, 7 September 2015, The effectiveness of workshop (cooperative learning) based seminars, Asian Review of Accounting;
Fazalur Rahman , Nabi Bux Jumani, Yasmin Akhter, Saeed ul Hasan Chisthi , Islamabad Dr Muhammad Ajmal, March 2011 , Relationship between Training of Teachers and Effectiveness Teaching, Centre for Promoting Ideas, USA;
Andreas Gegenfurtner, Christian Ebner, November 2019, Webinars in higher education and professional training: A meta-analysis and systematic review of randomized controlled trials, Elsevier.
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