Creating, Supporting, and Scaling Quality Web Conference Teaching and Learning

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In the past ten years, Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education has scaled from 6 to over 500 courses taught via web conference annually.  Our students from around the world remain engaged while enrollments have increased. We’ll explain how through training and support, we maintain high satisfaction among faculty and students.


Susan Goldstein is the web conference consultant at the Division of Continuing Education (DCE) at Harvard University. She advises and trains faculty who are preparing to teach their first course entirely via web conference. Previously, as the Educational Technology Coordinator at DCE, she trained and provided technical support to all web conference instructors, teaching assistants and students. She is also a co-chair of Harvard's abcd computer users' group for Technology in Education. Susan has an MLA in Educational Technology from the Harvard University Extension School and a BA degree in English from the University of Massachusetts.
Michael Kilmurray is an academic technology consultant at the Division of Continuing Education (DCE) at Harvard University. He trains and supports faculty, students, and staff using web conference and associated technologies. Prior to this, he provided support for online technologies specializing in lecture video player support for students. In his first position, 5-years ago, he was responsible for classroom technology design, integration, support, and maintenance. Before working in education, Michael spent nearly a decade in public television production at WGBH in Boston. Outside of work, he produces educational entertainment (edutainment) media focusing on public health and social awareness for use in grades K-12 and beyond. Michael has a BA degree in Sociology from Williams College.

Extended Abstract

Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education has over 500 courses taught completely via web conference each year along with a couple of hundred sections led by teaching assistants conducted via web conference.  Live-interactive web conference courses can be an effective and relatively low-cost solution to engage online students and extend your global reach.  This course format has the potential to become an important component of the educational landscape of the future.  

We’ll explain how our methods of training and supporting students and faculty have been crucial to the success of our web conference courses.  Our goal for this session is for audience members to get ideas about how they can design and scale web conference courses at their institutions. Participants will take part in one of the following activities as a way to reach this goal:  

  • Individuals will compile a list of their current resources then work in groups to brainstorm ideas for creating or scaling web conference courses. All groups will then participate in a facilitated discussion to evaluate these ideas.
  • Audience members will work in groups to plan the first few minutes of a mock web conference class, basing the steps on sound pedagogy and best practices for technology. All groups will then participate in a facilitated discussion to evaluate these ideas.

During our session, we’ll address the fact that instructors who are preparing to teach their first web conference course start with varying levels of comfort with technology and opinions about online teaching, with some being worried about how they will engage with their students. Many of our adult, part-time, continuing education students who have never taken a web conference course are also concerned about having to rely on technology to learn and may think that they’ll have difficulty making connections with the teaching staff and other students.  But, by targeting the needs of each person, we win over even the most reluctant faculty and students in a short time.

Between 2015 and 2018 our student persistence rate for those who took web conference courses rose from 84% to 87%, and became our highest rated format. During this time frame, the number of web conference courses has more than doubled.

Students and faculty alike report that the diverse perspectives of students from around the globe who participate in real time add value to their classes.  Since the web conference format has been so successful, we are continuing to add more of these courses and will keep evolving our training and support methods to keep pace with new developments.  Live online interaction is a core component of our vision for online education and a way to reach more learners as we move towards a 60-year curriculum that works for students at all stages of life.