Webinars, that modern combination of conference call and colloquium, are becoming more and more popular. And I can see why! Last week I took part in my first webinar. It was part of a series run by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). Last week's webinar focused on the Process and Nature of Science in Teaching Introductory Biology, and it was led by Judy Scotchmoor, from the University of California Museum of Paleontology. I figured that during a webinar you just zone out in front of your computer, the same way you'd zone out in a lecture if you were invisible and no one could tell you were zoning out. But Judy used a few tricks to encourage participation (we had to answer questions! And type stuff!), which kept me engaged. Judy demonstrated ways for introductory biology teachers to incorporate the nature and process of science into their curriculum. I am of course biased (I work for Judy and write for the Understanding Science website), but students, teachers, and frankly everyone else could really benefit from learning how science actually works.
The next few webinars in the AIBS series sound really great. On February 25, there will be A Virtual Book Party! Authors Chris Mooney and Carl Zimmer will be talking about their most recent books, Unscientific America and The Tangled Bank, respectively. They'll talk about education and evolution - and two lucky webinar participants will win a free copy of each book. I already have Chris Mooney's book, but I'll be tuning in nonetheless! And there are more webinars in the series - check here for the full list!
One last practical note: use a headset or headphones! This way, you don't have to hold the phone in your hand or cradle it between your cheek and your shoulder for an extended period of time. I dialed in to the webinar using Skype, so I could listen via headphones plugged in to my computer. You could also get a telemarketer-style headset, which can connect to either your computer or your telephone. I think having your hands free to type in responses and take notes will help keep you focused and prevent you from zoning out!
Webinars are big - and I think they can be convenient and effective ways to communicate science - for internal use within your organization, and for a large public virtual event.