“It helps us stay relevant and evolve rigorous curriculum,” said one faculty respondent in a recent effectiveness survey for the ICT Educator Webinar Series. There could not be higher praise. The purpose of the webinar series is to inform and support the faculty by sharing evolving technology as well as best practices that impact student success. Feedback from participants shows the series hit the mark.
The series recently completed its 36th webinar and has captured over 2,900 views. The target audience, California Community Colleges technology faculty, comes from 115 state campus locations and instructs over 300,000 IT and technology students per year. The technology scope of the series, Information Communications Technologies (ICT), includes IT, Cybersecurity, Computer Science, Office Technology, Digital Media and Cloud Computing.
As a free service, the webinar series developed by the statewide ICT sector team leadership is part of a combined communications plan integrating webinars, a sector website, regular newsletters and social media outreach to bring enthusiastic faculty together in an online community that serves their common goals. The statewide ICT Sector Team is grant funded by the Workforce and Economic Development Division of the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and hosted by Rancho Santiago Community College District.
The purpose of this report is to shed light on the work done and metrics attained that has made this program successful. Although initiated in a pre-pandemic environment, the usefulness of the integrated approach is now much more relevant as government, associations and many far-flung networks of professionals seek to establish a reliable purpose-driven online organization.
Why a Webinar Series?
Over the years, the statewide sector team observed many limitations that exist for faculty who want to attend in person conferences as part of their professional development efforts. “We realized over a year ago that the traditional two-day conference event was too expensive and very limiting in value for the few faculty that could attend,” said Steve Wright, State Director of the ICT Sector for the CA Community Colleges. “So, we decided a regular weekly ‘show’ held at the same time and same day every week with a series of conference-level quality presentations by subject matter experts that encourages faculty feedback could be more effective. The goal was to build a large online community audience and bring value through relevance and integrity.”
What Topics Are Covered?
The most frequent topic covered by the series is educational technology. Thirteen separate sessions on various technology lab platforms and student engagement technology (NETLAB+, Practice Labs, Haiku, Cyber Competitions, Digital Badges, Nepris, LinkedIn, EON Reality) provided faculty with the latest updates, capabilities, user experiences and peer critique tools that are relevant to their time and academic investments. Live surveys are used to capture the audience response, and the chat discussions are a great resource of attendee contributions and links.
Other webinars provide instructor updates on industry certifications, i.e., Cisco, AWS, Google IT and CompTIA, as well as options in remote certification testing that provide critical value to faculty and students alike.
An essential topic for workforce educators is current insights on labor market demand for Digital Media, IT and hybrid IT occupations. Executive leadership of Robert Half’s Creative Group, Burning Glass and WestEd have all presented on the series. Often, the reality of today’s job marketplace challenges outdated ideas about what to teach. For faculty, it is best to hear from the experts directly.
Faculty also appreciate sessions featuring best practices by their peers. “I have started conversations with other ICT educators outside of my domain and have shared the videos with members of my department team,” said a faculty participant. With an emphasis on actual success and replicability, these sessions present case studies by the community college project leaders. Some of the most popular sessions included:
- Henry Hua at Cypress College shared his cybersecurity dual enrollment program
- Pablo Romero described the College of the Desert industry hybrid Business Information Worker program in marketing, medical and legal
- Nancy Jones at Coastline College and Shawn Monsen at Sierra College explained their journey to obtain the coveted CAE designation for Cybersecurity
The largest attendance by far occurs for industry-recognized subject matter experts who typically keynote annual conferences. Michelle Pacansky-Brock drew record attendance with her timely webinar entitled “Humanizing Remote Instruction,” which was offered within a week of the COVID-19 shutdown. Peter Coffee, Futurist in Residence with Saleforce.com, normally keynotes and provided attendees with a view of technology over time that help us all gain perspective. Ariel Coro, known nationally on Spanish language television for his regular appearances on Despierta America, Telemundo, as well as his top ten Spanish language tech blog, joined us to share insights on Boosting Hispanic Student Success.
All presenters in the ICT Educator Webinar Series appear at no charge and are honored by the opportunity. However, several of the featured webinars are the result of investigative work funded by the CA Community College Strong Workforce Program that helps to identify new best practices for student success.
Shawn Monsen’s critical work identifying private colleges that would articulate our IT students into a 4-year degree (not currently available with the CSUs) was the first session to top 100 views as the Articulation Officers of the CCC and CSU systems joined in. Allison Marino’s investigation into the CCC’s with the highest transfer rates for Computer Science resulted in a great set of best practices for colleges based on her in-depth interviews with the successful colleges and metrics supplied by Karen Beltramo of WestEd. WestEd was also retained to compare ICT industry needs to student enrollments to identify new opportunities for student success by college. This study was necessary as ICT cuts across many industry job descriptions as well as curriculum classifications. Karen’s work and the detail by college is available on the ICT website along with all the webinars and materials.
The research to find relevant and insightful content, invite and nurture prospective speakers is obviously critical. Less obvious is the integrated communication and engagement before, during and after the webinar that improves the viewer experience and ultimate utilization of the content.
Engaging an Educator Online Community
An important part of the steadily increasing attendance at 300% annualized growth rate, from 30 attendees to over 120 per episode, has been to provide ‘excellent relevant content in the comfort of your office!’ And the user experience is critical. Rambling panel discussions are avoided in favor of pre-screened subject matter expert presenters, followed by faculty user or instructor feedback.
In addition to selecting the topics months in advance based upon industry and educational trends, Steve Wright hosts each session with an ear for the tempo and audience engagement. Guest speakers are often prodded to answer difficult questions. And there are a few laughs as well!
Nicole Sherman, ICT Community Manager and Producer of the series assures that the presenters are properly prepared, facilitates the technical aspects of the live webinars, and ensures that all material is curated to be shared on the sector website within days of the event. Those who missed the webinar or who want to review it have easy access to presenter slide decks, webinar transcripts, chat discussions, and other relevant links mentioned in the sessions. The video recording is also edited to remove awkward pauses or inadvertent rambling and includes timestamps to guide viewers to the sections they may find most relevant. Last year, 41% of the series viewership occurred with post–event viewers who utilize these curated materials at the ICT Educator Webinar Series website.
“Instructors often email to thank me for providing the webinar materials and to tell me how much they enjoyed the session they attended,” said Nicole. “It’s gratifying to know that our efforts are helping hard-working instructors improve their programs and bring the latest information to their classrooms, which directly benefits the students they care about.”
Marketing and Outreach
The 10 a.m. Friday formula was a key to the series’ success. Additionally, the series marketing plan has evolved over time. Each webinar is marketed two weeks in advance via Constant Contact to the ICT faculty list of over 5,000 as well as interested K-12 and collaboration partners but is open to anyone. In fact, representatives from many large organizations including Adobe, Amazon Web Services, Cisco, CompTIA and the National Lighting Contractors Association of America have attended live sessions.
The statewide team of Regional Directors are key contributors to identifying relevant content for the webinars and marketing the sessions to their regions. Very often attendance is driven by a personal note from a Regional Director to the most relevant individuals in their regions. Some presenters also include additional email lists that can greatly increase turnout as well as providing interesting viewpoints in the chat box!
The overall impact of the webinar is often extended with an article in the ICT Newsletter. The ICT Newsletter features industry notices and events as well as special project reports by the Regional Directors. Nicole Sherman publishes the newsletter at least monthly to the 5,000+ distribution list that has taken years to establish. Webinar information is also posted to the ICT sector’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
Online Community Retention and Value
The ICT sector website is the curated hub of the online community consisting of all the webinars, newsletter articles, industry announcements, guided pathways documentation and ICT Team contacts. The webinars are a component of an integrated communications strategy that builds an online community. The sector’s recent faculty survey showed that 94% of the faculty respondents felt more engaged with the overall CCC ICT community due to the webinars, and 97% plan to continue attending this fall.
Building on this success, the fall series will increase the number of industry engagement sessions, focus on new ‘work from home’ skills and continue the market research discovery of where the jobs ‘really’ are. Additionally, we hope to explore new webinar platform technologies that will enable the use of breakout rooms and other engagement techniques like surveys, contact sharing and collaboration, which promises a more relevant and effective online experience.
Most importantly, the goals to bring value through relevance and integrity will remain paramount to building trust with the online community.
The ICT Educator Series has been provided by the statewide ICT Sector Team which is grant funded by the Workforce and Economic Development Division of the CA Community College Chancellors Office. This 2019/2020 statewide ICT Sector grant was awarded to and is hosted by Rancho Santiago Community College District that contracts and funds the Director, Steve Wright and the Community Manager/Producer Nicole Sherman.
Steve’s role with the CA Community College system is to assess the skills required for the job market demands for IT/Computer Science/Cyber Security/ Digital Media/Entertainment and Business Office for both entry level and advanced jobs. Steve is also responsible to provide statewide leadership to a 12-person team and produce information (content, webinars, articles, white papers) for improvement in program delivery to the 115 CA community colleges to meet the workforce demand.
Leveraging his enterprise market research and product development skills, Steve has initiated the weekly ICT Educator Webinar Series, hosting ‘best practice’ experts for faculty benefit. With over 36 webinars and thousands of views faculty can view real-time or archived edited recordings with transcripts and related material. Steve also initiates and manages grant funded investigations to explore new hybrid instructional opportunities and best practices to be shared.
Programs that support students at risk and those with a fragile grasp on economic opportunity is a priority to Steve, and the CA Community Colleges provide an excellent opportunity to help. Bringing enterprise level expertise to the job of finding a job is the value Steve strives to achieve for the students.
With more than 20 years of experience providing support for California Community College Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, Nicole has developed a deep understanding of program and curriculum development and grant management processes. Working at a statewide level has enabled Nicole to develop strong relationships with community college instructors and administrators who are as passionate as she is about giving students the tools they need to succeed in their chosen career paths.