Connecting with Students through Webinars

Don Boyes

Don Boyes is a senior lecturer with the Department of Geography and Program in Planning at U of T. He lectures at both the undergraduate and graduate level. In Boyes’ introductory courses (GGR272 and GGR273 ), students acquire the basic knowledge for using geographic information systems (GIS) in digital mapping and spatial analysis. In Boyes’ courses, the material is heavily dependent on technology on both the teaching and learning side. Boyes has been using Adobe Connect, an online webinar software, as a way of lecturing and interacting with his students.

Students who take the GIS courses are quick to familiarize themselves with Adobe Connect. The introductory courses act as a prerequisite for the upper year courses. Although the courses are smaller with the upper-year courses, Boyes continues to use Adobe Connect all throughout his lectures.Last year, when the  introduction to GIS course was taught in the fall, it  had two different sections: a regular lecture and online. It was through the online section of the course that Boyes began to explore different tools for teaching.

According to Boyes, prerecorded lectures “sounds good in theory,” but there were a number of problems that a pre-recorded lecture failed to capture. For instance, there was no way to go back and change something if Boyes left some material out of his pre-recorded lecture or if a student asked a question during his regular lectures that would be useful for his online students. The problems with pre-recorded lectures grew even more apparent when a guest lecturer was scheduled to speak during his face-to-face section. With pre-recorded sections, there was no feasible way of delivering the guest lecture material to his online students.

Adobe Connect, a webinar program, was his solution.

While Boyes is lecturing his regular class, he is simultaneously live broadcasting the lecture to his online students through the webinar. That way, students in both his online and regular class received the same material. Although Boyes wasn’t teaching an online course the next term, he decided to continue using the webinar as a tool in his regular lectures.

In class, students have the opportunity to participate online and offline. Adobe Connect comes with a live chat feature that allows students to chat among each other during the lecture. Surprisingly enough, students seldom strayed away from talking about the material at hand. It’s an incredibly useful tool for keeping up with the lecture as students can use the chat function to as others to clarify any material that they might have missed.

While some professors may use technology as a way of accommodating large classes, Boyes’ largest class has 180 students enrolled. So he uses technology  as way of helping students learn more effectively by giving them more choices and conveniences.

Students had the option of attending the section in person or online through the webinar. The broadcasted material is available online after the actual lecture, so students who cannot attend the class ‘live’ can watch the recording later on. From the students perspectives, the flexibility of being able to choose how they would receive the lecture material proved to be very popular. Boyes recognizes that students have different ways of learning effectively and by providing options, students can pick what works best for them.

The Adobe Connect webinar program is a web program that can be accessed from a Macbook, PC, tablet, and/or cellphone. It comes with many features that allow for effective teaching such as a chatbox and Q&A box, which Boyes monitors during his lecture for any questions that might be relevant to the rest of the class.

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