Facilitating Live Online Events

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

Live online events have become a common part of online learning. These include webinars, panel discussions, student work critiques (often with outside analysts), presentations, interviews, meetings, and other types of events. Faculty members and administrators are often tasked to facilitate such events. This module addresses some of the basic work of facilitating live online events.


Learners will...

  • Explore some of the different types of live online events in higher education such as webinars, panel discussions, student work critiques (often with outside analysts), presentations, interviews, and meetings.
  • Consider the various types of preparations needed for conducting a live online event pre-event and the post-event work that may enhance the benefit of the archived live online event.
  • Explore some basic features of web conferencing tools and consider how to dry-run these tools for participants.
  • Understand some of the challenges of facilitating live online events inclusively, accessibly, and with proper pacing.
  • Learn how to engage participants in the live, online event and maximize the shared, synchronous time.

Module Pretest

1. What are some of the different types of online events in higher education? How are they used?

2. What are some of the preparations needed for conducting a live online event? What pre- and post-events would enhance the live online event?

3. What are some basic features of web conferencing tools and immersive virtual worlds? How may these tools be dry-run for participants?

4. What are some of the challenges of facilitating live online events inclusively, accessibly, and with proper pacing?

5. What are some methods for engaging participants in the live online event?

Main Contents

For many years now, human interactions that have traditionally been conducted face-to-face and in-person have moved online. A majority of these interactions are asynchronous or not conducted in real-time. Some, though, are conducted in real-time—in live online events—using web conferencing tools or immersive virtual worlds.

1. Different Types of Live Online Events

To explore this issue in more depth, it may help to differentiate some of the types of online synchronous events. These include webinars, panel discussions, student work critiques, presentations, interviews, meetings, synchronous course sessions, and others.

Webinars are “seminars” that are held on the Web. Similar to real-world seminars, these bring together practitioners in a particular field around a shared topic. Often, the purpose of the online gathering is to share information and to learn together.

Panel discussions bring together experts around a particular topic or issue. Here, each of the panelists are given a particular defined time to make a short presentation. The co-presenters may address questions given by a host. Or they may engage in a facilitated discussion with each other. Usually, at the end of such discussions, the audience members may ask questions. Or their questions are accepted prior to the event and addressed during the event.

Student work critiques involve the integration of domain-field professionals (from various locations) in analyzing and commenting on student work. These events often involve the pre-uploading of numerous digital files (student films, blueprints, designs, and other elements) into the web conferencing system…and then an orderly presentation by the in-field professionals. This method is used in degrees that emphasize applied learning and a clear segue between the academic learning and the profession.

Presentations are a very common form of synchronous web activity. Here, a guest speaker presents on a certain topic with a mixture of voice and digital objects. Often, these synchronous events are parts of a whole series of events.

Interviews between an interviewer and a subject matter expert are another popular form of live, synchronous event. Participants are often encouraged to submit questions during this event, and a facilitator reads through the questions and selects what may be suitable for the particular presentation.

Meetings bring together colleagues around a shared project. Generally, the members follow a set agenda. All members contribute their parts to the discussion.

Synchronous course sessions may be part of an online course (although a majority are asynchronous). These sessions may consist of any of the above. They may also involve peer critiques of student work. Some sessions involve the presentation of online plays using avatars in immersive virtual worlds. Some interactions involve role-playing and other types of simulations. Others go into massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) for collaborations. Some instructors conduct office hours online. Academic counselors conduct advising sessions online. Student groups may meet to collaborate online and synchronously.

This list is by no means a comprehensive one. These do capture some of the types of live, synchronous events occurring online.

2. Pre- and-Post Live Online Event Preparations

Because of the high-value (expensive) aspects of live, online events, it is critical to maximize the value of the time. One strategy to enhance that is to stretch the preparation for that event and then stretch the post-event archival and other actions.

Pre-Event One important pre-event preparation involves ensuring that the event follows general legal protocols. For example, if the event will be archived and published, then it’s critical to include a slide in the pre-event to notify participants of this—so they can choose what to share and whether they may want to participate at all (if that is an option—as in a course setting). There may have to be a media release signed by the presenter before the event to release rights to the recording of the event.

Another pre-event preparation involves publicizing the event in order to get people to it. This involves a fair amount of outreach work to ensure that all possibly interested individuals may be notified and that they have the correct time recorded. Live online events have to be clearly represented, so those who attend will not be surprised by the contents. Generally, the longer the event, the higher the drop-out rate during the event. Often, if there is an interruption in the presentation during which, say, an assignment is given, often people will disappear, too, from the event.

To promote learning and value-added, there may be pre-event prompt questions or assignments—particularly for learners.

If large digital files need to be accessed, those generally are pre-loaded into the web conferencing tool server or in the immersive virtual world space. This pre-loading often enables much easier access during a live circumstance when seconds are perceived as much longer.

One other pre-event activity that is often helpful includes a dry run of the presentation. This tests the software. It tests the timing. It allows for pre-event tweaks that may make the actual live event much smoother. A very high-value preview may involve individuals taking on certain roles of an audience for a more authentic dry-run—say—for a presenter who has little online presentation experience.

Post-Event Many live online events are regularly archived, and the audio is often transcribed for accessibility.

To add value to the synchronous event, some organizers will set up downloadable slideshows and notes and other artifacts that may be beneficial to the audience and that may extend the experience from the live event.

Further, there may be virtual spaces for more discussions (like a shared wiki), or there may be other forms of virtual community and interactions set up.

On-going professional relationships with the presenter may be encouraged.

3. Some Tools for Live, Online Events

There are a range of real-time collaborative tools that enable the holding of live, online events. Two of the most common include web conferencing tools and virtual immersive worlds. What are some common features to each of these?

Web Conferencing Tools and Common Features

A variety of web conferencing tools are available in both the commercial and open-source (often freeware) markets. These tools offer some basic functionalities:

  • An identification of individuals by name and / or avatar
  • Textual (chat), audio (voice and sound), visual (slides, websites, videos), and other channels of communications (including private back-end channels)
  • Management tools for facilitators to manage participant roles
  • Different “skins” or design looks-and-feels
  • Various user interface designs (UIDs)
  • The ability to pre-load digital objects and links
  • The ability to create, launch and analyze surveys
  • The ability to archive recordings of the event
  • The ability to save recordings in various video-format and proprietary-format file types

Immersive Virtual Worlds and Common Features

Immersive virtual worlds are 3D spaces in which people may interact with each other through human-embodied digital avatars.

These tools offer some basic functionalities:

  • The ability to upload slideshows into the shared space
  • 3D objects and designs in a virtual physics universe
  • Access to public virtual spaces with simulations of presentation spaces (like theatres, meeting rooms, and auditoriums)
  • Add-on features of back-end learner tracking
  • Add-on features of private virtual spaces (which require membership and invitation to join)
  • The ability to archive and record interactions through machinima captures (difficult)

4. Challenges Facilitating Live Online Events Inclusively, Accessibly, and with Proper Pacing

Inclusiveness refers to the feature of making sure that all participants who want to have a voice in an event are invited to do so in a way that is constructive for the other participants in the event. Practically speaking, sometimes, the limitations (time, channels for communications) of a live, online event will not enable all to have equal access or voice. However, there may be other communications channels opened (such as wikis and comment areas in an online event) to enable input and shared considerations for all.

Another challenge is accessibility. For most live, online events, live transcription is the preferred method of making that event accessible. This means a real-time captioning of the event. Others offer a second camera-enabled use of American Sign Language. Still others use computer-assisted remote transcription (or computer assisted real-time transcription) (CART) to ensure that audio is rendered into text form. One more approach that adds value to the online experience is the enhancement of graphical illustration during a live event. Some events feature an artist who will illustrate the talk and ideas on-the-fly.

Getting the pacing down is a critical element in the facilitation of live online events. The pacing has to be comfortable for a majority of the audience. If the presenter is asking for feedback, sufficient time has to be set aside for that feedback. The speed of the event should not be perceived as cutting off the presenter or those who may want to participate constructively (ideally).

5. Engaging Participants in the Live, Online Event

One of the major responsibilities of a facilitator is to engage participants in a live, online event. This issue of engagement begins long before an online event is held. The hosting of an event begins with the name recognition of the presenter, an engaging topic, and valuable and original information. Such an event may be supported with pre-events such as digital poster sessions—that help “prime” participants to the main event.

A live online event may provide opportunities for participants to make professional and social connections with each other.

To facilitate effectively, it helps to set clear expectations about the event; pace so as not to frustrate people with too much speed but also to make progress; and to ensure that participants in the event have a voice in the event in terms of input and feedback.

It helps to have a sense of timing about when to interrupt a main speaker. It helps to know when to change the direction of a conversation as well.

Finally, an online event is engaging when it contributes to the making of progress on a shared project.


There are plenty of archived web conferences online. Some of these below focus on presentational approaches.

SoftChalk Innovators in Online Learning Series

Adobe OnDemand Seminars

(This access does require an Adobe account, which is easy to set up.)

How To

Experiencing a Live Online Event for Learning

Explore some of the free live online events that are made available by leading software makers like Adobe, SoftChalk, BlackBoard, and others. Or check out some web conferences from professional associations. Or experience such events at your local college or university.

Observe how facilitators conduct pre-event publicity and outreach to potential audience members.

Consider how early entrants into a web conferencing space are kept informed about the count-down to the event. Or better yet, consider how a facilitator may engage some of those early entrants into an activity or discussion.

Examine the digital artifacts that are used during the event. How does eachadd value? How does each detract?

How is the event paced?

How are participants included or excluded? What are the various channels of communications that are being used (Voice and auditory? Visual? Textual? Others?)

What post-event actions were taken to add value to the event? To create a virtual discussion? To create a virtual community? To spark the participants to a kind of action?

Write up some of your observations and reflect on how some of these strategies may be applied in your own live online events.

Possible Pitfalls

As the systems enabling web conferencing improve and become much more stable and robust, there are actually very few pitfalls to setting up a live online event. One main challenge has been ensuring that all participants know the exact time (with so many various time zones).

The challenge really has more to do with ensuring that the event has value to all participants. This issue of value-added may be strengthened with proper planning and development of the event.

Module Post-Test

1. What are some of the different types of online events in higher education? How are they used?

2. What are some of the preparations needed for conducting a live online event? What pre- and post-events would enhance the live online event?

3. What are some basic features of web conferencing tools and immersive virtual worlds? How may these tools be dry-run for participants?

4. What are some of the challenges of facilitating live online events inclusively, accessibly, and with proper pacing?

5. What are some methods for engaging participants in the live online event?


Extra Resources

Designing Accessibility for Live Online Events