Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Problems with Webinars

Michael Gilbert talks about four problems related to Webinars...3 small, 1 big:

Three Small Problems

1. Too Much Lock In: You would think we would have learned the lesson of proprietary software lock-in by now, but it seems that we're doomed to repeat that one over and over again. Everywhere I turn among my colleagues who are also doing online seminars, I see their intellectual property tied up in someone else's web interface or file format.

2. Too Many Examples: We need more synthesis and fewer examples. Yes, of course, examples are useful for teaching principles. They can be inspirational when the student can relate to the protagonist of the example. And in large numbers, examples become the evidence from which we draw larger conclusions. This means either rigorously deriving generalizations from adequately large sample sizes of examples or just as rigorously choosing examples as tools for teaching. Instead, we get a bunch of stories tossed together.

3. Not Enough Integration: Stop making us use the telephone to get the audio portion of the presentation. Are there lots of people out there taking seminars who don't have the broadband needed for audio? Are all these workshops so small that the phone is the best way to take questions?

The Big Problem

Tips. Tricks. Hacks. Repeat that out loud a few times and eventually you just start spitting.

We search for tips, tricks, and hacks because we want fast fixes.. If Google is any indication, we want them all together - there are nearly 2 million results when you search for all three terms. We want quick solutions to hard problems. We need money but we don't want to invest in the relationships required. We want to feel informed and on top of things, but we don't want to be challenged.

If I were to write a description of an online seminar for nonprofits that captures what I see going on, it would probably be something like this:

Title: Don't Fall Behind in Raising Money: 27 Free Tips, Tricks, and Hacks for Online Fundraising

You can't afford to fall behind. Those online donors are being scooped up by organizations that are on the ball when it comes to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and all the other places new donors are hanging out. With this webinar, you'll have the secrets for getting your share. Each of the 27 online fundraising tips, tricks, and hacks are free and can be implemented in minutes!

This description might even work, right? But it has all the symptoms of fast fix obsession. It elevates and preys on nonprofit anxiety. It throws in some brand name buzzwords to leverage the appeal of the latest cool thing. Most importantly, it promises to reduce online fundraising to a set of tiny quick wins.

Don't get me wrong: Quick wins are great. As students, we all need the feeling that we can hit the ground running and see at least some immediate progress for our efforts. This is especially true when we're working on large projects. But the quick wins have become an end in themselves, rather than just another part of a balanced toolkit for teaching.

This misplaced emphasis on fast fixes is truly harmful in several ways. (1) After delivering some quick satisfaction, it sets us up for disappointment when those tips don't add up to anything. (2) It encourages sloppy thinking on the part of both students and teachers, generating lists of vaguely related ideas rather than coherent frameworks for thinking about the topic. (3) It fails to build the underlying strategies that in turn would make tips genuinely effective. (4) By asking so little of us, it appeals to and encourages our worst selves.

No comments: