Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Wetland Wanderer: The Little Webinar that Could: A Story about Exceeding Expectations and Embracing Innovation

by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Let me take a moment to share with you a story about what I now call “The Little Webinar that Could…”

Over the last year, ASWM’s national Wetland Training Workgroup has been working to conduct needs assessment, determine training options, identify and promote existing training opportunities, evaluate different training models and develop plans for pilot online training.  Our goal is to better understand training needs and options and capitalize on this knowledge to improve access to what wetland professionals need most.

We have identified many challenges for wetland professionals, and state wetland program staff in particular, trying to access high quality, low-cost, accessible training.  We gathered this information through ASWM’s restoration projects, stream study, and status and trends study on state wetland programs, as well as many other sources over the last five years.  Wetland training budgets and travel approvals for training have been cut across the country.  Only a few states have experienced growth in wetland staffing numbers, with most coping with growing responsibilities and fewer staff to plan and implement these activities.  We have found that new staff members need training when they are hired which can occure any time during the year.  While high quality training may exist in many locations, the cost of these trainings is often prohibitive for state wetland program budgets.  And while research shows there are essential elements of training on wetland topics that must be taught in the field, there are other elements that can be taught remotely. Thus, ASWM is exploring the feasibility of providing remote training.

soil1072816For the last year, we have been working with ASWM’s national wetland training project workgroup (comprised of wetland program and other stakeholders).  One of the lead training needs from all the information gathered was found to be hydric soils.  Our data supported this conclusion, as did anecdotal feedback from numerous other sources.  Once the topic was identified, ASWM was able to connect with what I refer to as a “Dream Team” of soil scientist educators — Lenore Vasilas, National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Bruce Vasilas, University of Delaware; Lee Daniels, Virginia Tech; John Gailbreth, Virginia Tech; Annie Rossi, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Rich Webber, NRCS.  We were honored when they agreed to work with us to design a series of webinars that would later be adapted into online training modules.

And here’s where it all gets wild and worthy of tale-telling.  On the Friday before the Fourth of July Weekend, ASWM posted its first promotion of its first soils training webinar.  We, the planning group and the soils training presenters all had deep concerns about the timing of the course, because of summer field seasons, staff vacations etc.  HOWEVER, when our staff returned to the office on the Tuesday, following the holiday, we found that not only did we have a few participants signed up — we had 800 registrants!!

soils1nrcs72816When we think about the importance of conducting needs assessment, we think about trying to target resources wisely.  We try to identify critical gaps that need to be filled.  On that Tuesday  we realized that we had not only identified a gap – we had located a canyon!  Also,  we were approaching our GoToWebinar account capacity for day-of-event participation (1,000 real-time simultaneous participants). Over the following days, registrations kept rising.  By the day of the webinar, we had 1,154 registrants — the largest enrollment in a single training event (online or on the ground) in ASWM history.

The week prior to the webinar, ASWM learned and innovated over and over again — figuring out strategies for webinar wait lists, crafting emails about attendance, preparing multiple technical redundancies for the webinar itself to prepare for possible technical issues associated with nearing capacity with software and bandwidth issues.  In addition for the first time we were experimenting with developing the capacity to test webinar participants on knowledge acquired during the webinar. We had to create ways to share the quiz with a thousand people and document their participation in a timely manner.

The day came and thankfully despite one software system glitch, the webinar went according to plan with the superb content contributed by our Dream Team presenters and great questions from our participants.  From the extensive feedback we have received, the speakers did an amazing job of boiling down complex concepts into digestible elements, sharing high quality pictures, and offering participants a training many had been waiting years (or in one case a whole career) to receive.

A total of 697 “participants” took part in the webinar the day of the event.  In addition, there were many sites where 10-30 people had gathered in a room to view the webinar together (under one participant login).  We estimate that approximately 800 people received the training during the live webinar.  Of these, 419 took the associated quiz and 348 requested documentation of their participation (largely for use in obtaining professional CEUs).  We were able to pilot the quiz, both technically and in terms of question formulation and identify areas for improvement.  We will be utilizing new quiz development software for the second webinar and are working with a service provider to help us automate the creation and distribution of certificates of participation.


aswmquiz072816We recorded the webinar and, in accordance with our training development plan, will next be post-processing the recordings from each speaker into individual training modules with an associated quiz and ability for users to access anytime training with the option to obtain documentation of completion for use obtaining CEUs, a service we have only been able to provide for participation in live webinar presentations to date.  These modules will be posted on our website and piloted as part of our training initiative.  We have received a great number of emails and phone calls asking if people can view the webinar at a later date, as they were unavailable in July.  We hope that the online modules will meet an additional need – allowing people to access training at their time and location of need year-round.  The first three 30-minute modules are planned for release in the coming months.  Keep your eye out for their rollout here.

I want to share three big takeaways from this story of The Little Webinar that Could

idea0728161) Taking the time to conduct needs assessment and planning around a real need has been invaluable in helping ASWM put a finger on the pulse of training needs; needs assessment has always guide ASWM’s planning.

2) Working with a group of incredible experts who have experience teaching wetland professionals and are willing and eager to share their knowledge and training skills with the world through this pilot project has truly been a dream come true – they helped us build it and they sure did come.

3) We OURSELVES learned ten times as much our training participants.  Like participants we gained knowledge about hydric soils from watching the webinar. In addition, we have adapted, innovated and tested new online training tools and approaches in response to demand.

It is exciting to be able to provide a training service that state wetland staff and other wetland professionals are seeking.  We are learning with each new training webinar and will continue to as we produce each new webinar and online training module along with the systems required to support them.  We hope you will continue to join us for the ride. As always, we welcome your ideas and suggestions.

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