Thing 18: Webinars, Whatsapp and Video conferencing

Despite their prevalence in Hollywood images of academia, meetings in council chambers, lecture halls full of academics, and communication by owl-post are on the decline.

As collaborating online becomes cheaper and easier than the physical equivalent – and as the technology becomes more reliable and flexible – it’s important to know what your digital options are, for teaching, meeting and networking in real time.


“Competition for room bookings at the institute was becoming ever fiercer.”


Video conferencing

Video conferencing software is available in multiple sources. Most are free to use, with additional features for a fee. You’ll probably have experience of Skype, which is a simple to use Microsoft owned platform. It supports multiple callers at once, messaging and file sharing, though it doesn’t have the best reputation for reliability or functionality. Skype is available from Surrey Software.

Zoom is similar to Skype, but has the additional benefit that the person you are calling does not need to have the programme themselves – you just send them a link, inviting them to the meeting. You also have some useful features such as screen sharing. one downside is that the free version is limited to 40 minutes per call if you have more than three participants.

Google+ Hangouts is a further alternative. This platform can operate on mobile as well as desktop devices and is popularly used amongst academics for discussion, skills training or professional development opportunities from higher level bodies such as Vitae or the Guardian Higher Education Network. Video calls are limited to 10 people, but you can add hats and other decorations to the people on your screen.



An online seminar, or Webinar, can allow groups of people to interact with each other, or allow multiple individuals to interact with an existing group, as well as multimedia.

Check out this list of Webinar possibilities from Wikipedia:

  • Slideshow presentations – where images are presented to the audience and markup tools and a remote mouse pointer are used to engage the audience while the presenter discusses slide content.
  • Live or streaming video – where full motion webcam, digital video camera or multi-media files are pushed to the audience.
  • VoIP – Real time audio communication through the computer via use of headphones and speakers.
  • Web tours – where URLs, data from forms, cookies, scripts and session data can be pushed to other participants enabling them to be pushed through web-based logons, clicks, etc. This type of feature works well when demonstrating websites where users themselves can also participate.
  • Meeting Recording – where presentation activity is recorded on the client side or server side for later viewing and/or distribution.
  • Whiteboard with annotation (allowing the presenter and/or attendees to highlight or mark items on the slide presentation. Or, simply make notes on a blank whiteboard.)
  • Text chat – For live question and answer sessions, limited to the people connected to the meeting. Text chat may be public (echoed to all participants) or private (between 2 participants).
  • Polls and surveys (allows the presenter to conduct questions with multiple choice answers directed to the audience)
  • Screen/desktop/application sharing (where participants can view anything the presenter currently has shown on their screen. Some screen sharing applications allow for remote desktop control, allowing participants to manipulate the presenter’s screen, although this is not widely used).

One of the most common uses in research is to allow remote researchers to participate in a workshop or conference.

There are hundreds of providers for this service, however, one of the most popular platforms is Adobe Connect.


More informally, researchers are increasingly using the Whatsapp programme to set up academic communication groups. It is used a bit like the subject mailing lists that exist for many learned societies or discussion forums, but generally for quick and informal exchanges of information. Whatsapp is a mobile app, allowing you to send messages, video call, and file share. It’s easy to add people into a specific group (e.g. to organise meeting up at conferences), giving them access to everyone else in that group. However, as it’s a messenger service, it’s less suitable for longer posts or in depth discussion. The teaching and learning possibilities of apps like this are still being explored, but there seems to be positive benefits in aiding collaboration and group learning.


“😆😍😱 Can you believe Stephen just compared Laura Mulvey to Kate Bush? 🤔😭”
Photo by Rubén Bagüés on Unsplash




Author: rdpsurrey

Providing personal and professional development opportunities to researchers at the University of Surrey.

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