The webinar I attended was billed as a “forum to advance the discussion around the pressing issues at the crossroads of education and technology.” The forum is hosted by Bryan Alexander, https://bryanalexander.org/bio/ , and features different speakers every week in an “open video conversation about the future of higher education.” This week’s guest was Gary Rhoades, Professor and Director of the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education. Rhoades current research is around the working conditions of faculty with an emphasis on adjunct faculty.

I was hoping for a discussion around technology in higher ed, but it ended up being mostly speculation about the effect the new administration will have on higher education (not good, from the sounds of it). There were anywhere from 19-23 people attending. The url was https://client.shindig.com/client=ftf-rhoades The platform, Shindig was used . It’s kind of a strange format. The main speakers are featured in floating boxes at the top of the page. Attendees are represented by little thumbnails floating at the bottom of the page and sometimes featured scrolling across the bottom of the page. Shindig is designed to accommodate break out “turn and talk” discussions, which creates an active learning environment. If someone wants to talk to you their thumbnail image joins yours and then you can communicate privately with them, or up to 5 people. Kind of an awkward experience. I wasn’t prepared when the moderator announced the “Mingle” session. It felt like the childhood game of Red Rover. “Is someone going to pick me?” My first reaction was to bolt, but I waited the 5 minutes out and to my relief, nobody clicked with me to join in a private discussion. I get super shy in situations like that.

There is the capability to raise your hand, ask a question directly, or IM. You can see a live feed of yourself, but everyone else is featured as still screen shots. When someone asks a question or is involved in direct communication with the head speakers the screen just shows those people in conversation.

As far as production quality, the moderator was just wearing iPod earbuds, the guest was just using his computer’s mic. It was odd though, because the video feed of the guest was off computer. You could see that he was looking at his computer, but the camera feed showed the side of his head, not him looking at the audience. There was no professional, or intentional lighting, just ambient.

The tone of the forum was very casual and conversational, but I felt a little more professionalism from the moderator would have been appropriate. He has very long hair and would periodically take out a comb and brush it. Also, he would take drinks from a very large thermos, which was really distracting. A coffee cup or clear glass I could see, but this looked like something that would be fired from a bazooka. It was really very distracting.

As to the content of the forum, I mentioned it was primarily political in nature. Rhoades felt Trump would bring back more for profit colleges, that he would bring banks back into Financial Aid and increase privatization, and limit international student enrollment. Like I said, not good.

Shindig is a somewhat canned format. You can change the background as I noticed in the demo (link). But there were no other graphics or formal visual presentations beyond the selected background and the floating boxes of people. (screen shots)

I liked the relaxed, conversational tone of the forum and wouldn’t mind duplicating that. I’m not sure I’d like to use a tool like Shindig. The host froze up and dropped out at the end, leaving the guest, literally, just hanging there. He closed out and then I guess it was over. Very odd and unprofessional. I was embarrassed for him. I really haven’t experienced many webinars and am motivated to see more just to see what is possible and what I might like to emulate. The moderator said that he would post a recorded version of the webinar on his blog site.

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