Webinars and knowing your audience

Soon I will be creating a webinar. I am not yet sure what it will be about, but this week’s readings for SI 643 have given me a solid foundation to work with. Coincidentally enough, the readings were also, in part, about giving students a solid foundation to work with. I read another chapter of How People Learn that emphasizes the importance of a teacher being knowledgeable about the subject(s) they teach. It argues that students learn more effectively when they understand the theoretical underpinnings of a subject, and uses examples of history, math, and science taught in K-12 environments to illustrate this. A common thread among all these subjects is that in order to effectively teach concepts, the teacher must know their students and how their students learn best. What I liked about this chapter was that in many cases, the teachers were able to use the students’ (often incorrect) preconceived notions as elements of instruction, using models and examples to show where such notions were incorrect. I also liked that even first and second graders could discuss why they thought the way they did, I do not remember being so thoughtful at the time.

This is relevant to me because in my work at the Clark Library, I teach GIS and geographic information in general to patrons. GIS software has a steep learning curve, and it helps me to know what a person hopes to do with GIS to decide how (or whether) to teach them and where to begin. The article “The Embedded Librarian Online or Face-to-Face” examines two subject liaisons at American University, a music librarian and a business librarian. Both believe that it is essential to be physically near the departments they serve, but this also adds the challenge of ensuring that communication remains strong with the library to ensure that the library, the academic department, and the librarian are all on the same page. They find added flexibility in online tools such as webinars, but they are still no substitute for face-to-face interaction. The business librarian seems somewhat more confident that as distance learning increases, instructional tools like webinars will play a greater role in his work.

The challenge in creating a webinar appears to be getting a good idea of what your audience looks like and then tailoring your instruction to them. In my case as an academic librarian, there are potentially thousands of library users who could participate in one of my webinars, so how can I make my instruction meaningful to such a diverse group of people? Susan E. Montgomery’s article “Online Webinars!” discusses webinars in the context of embedded librarians, most of whom have already participated in face-to-face instruction in class settings or are familiar with the goals of the academic department they work with. I am curious to see how my webinar and those of my classmates will turn out when we are essentially starting from scratch. Our situation is certainly different from that of librarians who spend most of their workday among the intended targets of their instruction.

I enjoyed the one-shot workshops in class last week. One shortcoming that I and many other people found in them was that they were simply too short. My group, for example, discussed the recent Pew Study on Libraries in the Digital Age. I think that we could have discussed the study more fully if we had had more time. On the other hand, in our feedback many participants said that they were interested in reading the full study, so our one-shot workshop was successful in the sense that it piqued the interest of its participants and got them to think about how the study affects them as future librarians.



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3 responses to “Webinars and knowing your audience

  1. Targeting your webinar audience is a difficult task. With the planning of our upcoming webinar, this was my most difficult point. I want to be inclusive to a variety of people, but that risks watering down the content by being too broad. You offered some good insight regarding this.

  2. Tim K 643

    It seems like embedded librarianship and GIS librarianship might be an especially comfortable fit for one another. From my perspective in the Clark, it kind of feels like the SAND lab on North Campus is sort of embedded (or maybe it’s more like an outpost? I guess I’ll find out whether my impression is correct if I end up working there.)

    Maybe it’s just that the idea of “GIS librarianship” seems to be a little bit different from traditional ideas and roles we associate with librarianship, but it does seem like a GIS librarian could be well-positioned to identify and establish new kinds of roles and work models for librarians, simply by representing a fairly new (and therefore less-defined) kind of role in libraries.

  3. “One shortcoming that I and many other people found in them was that they were simply too short.”

    Oy, if I had a dollar for every SI 643 student who muttered this this year! 🙂 Truth be told, that’s an intentional constraint. It forces you to narrow your topic to something very manageable and, I hope, helped you recognize how critical matching of objective with time needs to be.

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