In a classic entrepreneurial move, MATEC NetWorks responded to declining attendance at its in-person professional development programs by trying webinars. These experiments with the emerging Internet-based seminars instructed faculty in—well—other new technologies.
That was 2010. Early webinar systems were awkward to operate and the software licenses were expensive. But as MATEC's team worked out the kinks in its manufacturing education-oriented programs with National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education support, it found audiences for its content and clients for its webinar services.
MATEC, officially the MATEC NetWorks National Resource Center, now serves as producer and host of about 50 webinars annually for various ATE centers and projects, the American Association of Community Colleges, Arizona State University, and the 10 colleges of the Maricopa Community College District. (See list of collaborators and links to their webinars at the end of the article.)
"It's been fun," says Michael Lesiecki, MATEC's executive director. He is the most frequent and consistently unflappable moderator of the live webinars that he calls "radio talk shows with pictures."
MATEC uses the interplay of voices from presenters, who are usually located thousands of miles from each other, along with well-constructed slides, an active online chat window, and live polling to engage audience members. "A webinar can be a very effective way of communicating with your stakeholders," Lesiecki said.
From its first webinars when attendees numbered in the single digits, MATEC's webinars have amassed a following. Here are MATEC's stats as of February 28:
- 199 webinars produced
- 18,223 registrants (people who signed up for particular webinars)
- 88% of webinar attendees note in surveys that they "Strongly Agree" or "Agree" that MATEC webinars contain content they will share with colleagues.
- 90% of webinar attendees stay connected until the end of the 60- to 90-minute webinars.
- 10% of registrants report they view MATEC webinars with one or more people.
- 553 registrants is the largest one-time audience for one of MATEC's webinars. This record was set by EvaluATE in 2017.
- 1/3 is the multiplier for the archived content. That means viewers of the archived webinars on YouTube equals about 30% of the number of registrants for the live broadcast.
Audio recordings of all MATEC-produced webinars and the slides displayed during the webinars are available for downloading to facilitate faculty reuse of the material.
Lesiecki said he and the MATEC staffers who provide administrative and technical support have learned a lot during the past seven years. Their chief discovery is "the critical element of a webinar's success is the rehearsal."
MATEC requires all presenters to participate in a full rehearsal of the webinar well in advance of their live performances. It compels people to prepare their presentations ahead of time and gives the moderator and presenters the opportunity to work out hand-offs of the microphone so there is little or no "dead air."
MATEC offers its clients, which Lesiecki calls collaborators, more than access to a software license.
Lesiecki explains it this way: "We are going to coach you on how to make an effective webinar, how to organize your panelists or your presenters, and how not to put too much crap on your slides.
"When you send us your slide deck, we actually look at to make sure that there isn't some terrible error hanging out there, that it fits the system, that it's ready to go.
"We run the registration process for you, and send you registration reports. We do a lot of additional value."
Part of Sustainability Plan
Webinar hosting and production has become a key sustainability activity for MATEC as it has transitioned from an ATE center focused on semiconductor manufacturing to a national resource center.
MATEC's webinar services are available for free to any faculty member in the Maricopa Community College District. Other webinar "collaborators" pay a flat fee per webinar to MATEC or include the center as a sub-awardee on grants. This "program income" has continued long after the expiration of the MATEC Networks project grant, of which the webinars were just one facet of faculty outreach activities.
As webinar technologies have improved during the past seven years, there are far fewer last-minute calls from registrants having difficulty connecting. However, there can be a "fair amount of stress" if a presenter has technical problems.
Even with the practice, Lesiecki says the last 15 minutes before a webinar goes "live" can be stressful. He prides himself on not becoming rattled. "I seem to have a little equanimity when it comes to these things," he said with a laugh, "I like doing it."