Presenting Online and the Still-face Experiment

In the past few years, I’ve done my share of online presentations and online training. (You can call them “webinars” if you like, but I’d prefer not to add that word to the lexicon.) Here’s the problem with online presentations: there is very little attendee/presenter interaction, and current technologies like WebEx and GotoMeeting provide little help. If you teach online classes long enough, you’ll start to realize that this lack of connection, this lack of co-presence starts to wear you out.

Teaching an eight-hour class to a room full of students is exhausting, but, if you enjoy training, the experience can be very energizing. Teaching an eight hour class to a virtual classroom is even more exhausting, because you have to do so much more work to convince yourself that you are teaching a “room” full of people. When you are in the same room, you can see the head nods, you can see passive forms of engagement, when you are separated by the internet, a web cam, and a microphone, you have to compensate for the lack of presence by constantly stopping and forcing passive students to engage.

Even with the extra interaction tools on WebEx: the emoticons, the web cams, the Q+A panel, the chat. There’s a lack of human presence which factors into the experience. You start to feel like the baby in what is called the “Still Face Experiment”. While you can teach classes online successfully, on some level, your brain wasn’t wired to talk to a computer all day.

If we’re going to create effective, virtual learning environments I think that those environments are going to have to become more “immersive”.