New Wilmette Institute Services: Webinar Courses and Optional Video Sessions

The Wilmette Institute has been offering online courses for most of its twenty years—since 1998. Now that it has a subscription to GoToWebinar—a reliable and capable web video system—it is in the position to add live web interaction to its courses. It plans to do this in two ways.

First, the Wilmette Institute plans to enrich its online courses with optional web video gatherings during which learners can ask the faculty questions. Online courses are normally “asynchronous,” meaning there is nothing a learner has to do at a particular time. Depending on one’s schedule, a learner can do the class assignments at 3 a.m. or high noon. Because the video sessions will be optional, they will not force participants, who reside in many time zones and have varied schedules, to change their routines. The courses that have been conducting optional web video sessions have used them for face-to-face discussions. Usually the faculty member gives a five-minute presentation to start the discussion but then lets the learners’ questions steer the video meetings. The Wilmette Institute hopes to make the optional web sessions available as video recordings to which learners can return or view later when they could be present at the original session, but it needs to explore technology options first.

Second, the Wilmette Institute plans to offer webinar courses. The webinars will be advertised as being conducted on certain days and at certain times so that the learners registering will know when they must be available. The webinar courses will be designed with both individuals and local groups of participants in mind. Such courses will have an online component as well, but the focus will be on the webinar sessions. Unlike the optional web video sessions in online courses, the webinars will be mandatory, but they will be videotaped so that registrants in the course can watch them again if they wish. The price of webinar courses will depend on how many webinar sessions are included. The first webinar course, on the Tablet of the Branch (beginning on May 6; see the course description in this eNewsletter), will have two webinar sessions and will have a base price of $50.

One advantage of GoToWebinar is that, for optional video sessions or webinar courses, learners do not need a computer camera and microphone to participate. Learners can connect to the meeting on their computers so that they can watch the faculty and then type a question in the chat box or call a telephone number to participate. The system only allows for six cameras to transmit at once. Generally, the number of participants in optional web video sessions has been fewer than that.

For webinar courses, only the faculty’s camera and microphone will be turned on during the presentation, as the images of others and the background noise from their microphones is distracting. During the question-and-answer period, the faculty member or a session manager can turn cameras and microphones on and off as desired.

It is too soon to say how quickly the Wilmette Institute will develop additional webinar courses or how many it will offer. The technology has many advantages, and most people have fast enough internet service to enjoy it. But the Institute will have to train faculty and will need to find volunteers or hire staff to manage the sessions. Learners will also have to get used to the new option and will have to understand the distinction between online courses and webinar courses when they see the announcement of a new Wilmette Institute course. Stay tuned for more information as the Wilmette Institute rolls out this new service rolls.

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