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Author: Chris Roddenberry, PhD

Wooden cubes with the letters W E B I N A R placed between a pen, a laptop, and earbuds atop a wooden surface.

Webinars can be valuable additions to online courses because they lend a synchronous element to the class. They can also be valuable additions to face-to-face courses because some students are more comfortable interacting in a digital environment than they are having the attention of an entire room directed to them. By following a few basic rules, you can incorporate webinars into your courses to improve student learning.


Weekly webinars are a good way to help your class engage with the material and build a sense of community in your class. Creating and running a good webinar, however, requires planning and practice. A good way to ensure webinar engagement is to structure it with the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds allocates a webinar into three elements:

  1. Teacher-directed presentation
  2. Engagement activity (e.g., a video or an exercise)
  3. Student discussion

You will want to include a lecture in each webinar, just as you do in your traditional classroom. Most web conferencing tools let you share your screen or files such as PDFs and PowerPoints. This is where you set the context for the class activity and scaffold the weekly project you are supporting. This should be 10 or 15 minutes, and you should strive to make it engaging and visual.

After the short lecture you should switch to a different activity, such as one involving an in-class exercise, video, or website that the students can explore. For example, in an abnormal psychology class, you might have students watch a video and diagnose the character’s psychological disorder using criteria you provide. In a business class, you might put your students into small groups and give them a 15-minute case study to complete. In a math class, you might ask the students to complete an online quiz with practice questions before going over them as a class. And in a biology class, you might have your students visit an anatomy website to research an organ or body system and then report back to the class about what they found. The idea during this 15- to 20-minute period is to provide a short application of the content that allows the students to actively engage the material.

Finally, you will want to leave time at the end of the webinar for discussion. You can lead your students in a group discussion or, if your web conferencing software has breakout rooms, put students in small discussion groups.

You may choose to organize your elements in any order you see fit. For my class it makes the most sense to provide a short lecture to contextualize the activity, following it with a short activity and then giving the students time to interact with one another.

Webinar scheduling

You may have questions about when during the week you should schedule a webinar. Here are several suggestions from experienced synchronous teachers for maximizing your webinar attendance:

Other uses for webinars

Besides the weekly webinar, there are many other ways in which you can incorporate web conferencing into your class.

First week course orientation

The first day of almost any traditional class is an orientation day when the instructor explains how the course works and how students can succeed in it. In an online course a live, virtual orientation can humanize you for your students and thus make the class go better. Plus, almost all meeting apps come with a screen-sharing feature, allowing you to share you LMS and walk students through the course experience. The orientation is also a good time for icebreaker that lets students share information about themselves and learn about their classmates.

Office hours

Meeting software is an ideal way to hold virtual office hours. But instructors should not set expectations too high for student participation in these meetings. Some instructors who do virtual office hours complain about the lack of student attendance, but students do not come to traditional office hours very often either. Still, it is important to make the offer to demonstrate that you are open to meeting with students and care about their issues. Carving out dedicated time each week for virtual office hours available creates a welcoming environment.

Review and help sessions

Final uses of webinars include holding test reviews and problem-solving sessions, giving students time to work on group projects, and leading any other collaborative activity that supports your course. Many instructors wrongly assume that online students intuitively know how to collaborate and work with remote partners. In reality, most students have very limited experience collaborating online. By providing these structured events, you can help your students learn to work in remote groups, a skill that will undoubtedly be important in the 21st century.

Chris Roddenberry, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at Wake Technical Community College.