Building Experience Sampling Methods into Webcast Tools

It’s interesting to think about what experience sampling method tools would look like if they were built into synchronous webcast tools.

The value of this is that the social separation between instructors and learners is much farther in a webcast than in a live classroom. Instructors can’t see learners and have no idea whether they are even paying attention unless learners take the initiative to ask a question through the chat interface. There are certainly tools that allow instructors to initiate interactivity, such as polling, but it takes a pretty good instructional designer to design a webcast that provides a steady stream of useful information back to the instructor through these tools.

So what would it look like if a webcast tool had feedback mechanisms built in to try and replace as much as possible the classroom experience of being able to look out across the class and read body language?

Let’s assume one design goal is to do no harm. In other words, a pop up window flashing in front of learners at random intervals that asks ARE YOU LEARNING? is disruptive to learners experiencing flow, and therefore destructive. Let’s also assume we want to avoid any technologies that learners may find creepy or invasive, such as some kind of AI that watches you through your webcam and intervenes of it thinks you aren’t paying attention or if it senses you are confused or bored. Two way use of webcams is of course possible but not necessarily practical above certain class sizes.

Here’s one simple conception.


(This is just a quick mock-up off my whiteboard. The key box is labeled “Feedback” in the upper right. It has a “Pace” slider that goes from “go slower” to “just right” to “go faster.” It also has an “example please” button and a thumbs up button.)

The idea here is that learners who feel the course is going too fast or too slow have a slider they can nudge. Over time, the slider slowly comes back to the middle position, the presumption being that if you aren’t nudging the slider anymore, then you must be absorbed in the webcast and no longer feel it is going too slow or fast. The UI also had buttons to allow participants to ask for examples.

Current tools already have “raise hand” buttons and similar, but these aren’t prominently featured, and they aren’t geared toward learning and encouraging best practices such as generous sharing of examples.

This proposal doesn’t deal particularly well with participants who are not paying attention at all, which is a major weakness. In order to not be disruptive to learners who are paying attention, the system can’t actively solicit feedback. I could see a best practice emerging where at module breaks or other natural points, instructors include messaging suggesting that participants use the tools to give their feedback.

This system would in no way close the social separation gap so a webcast is just like a classroom, but at least it would give webcast instructors more real time feedback than they have today.


6 thoughts on “Building Experience Sampling Methods into Webcast Tools

      1. Ellen

        Minerva is an on-line instructional interface. I thought I sent you a link to the article in Atlantic Monthly a few days ago. Didn’t get it?


      2. robertmulcahy Post author

        Interesting article. Link:

        To your question, Ellen, the UI looks useful and practical (though not designed to scale to hundreds of participants, which is a common corporate use case).

        I think as an instructional designer, I can’t help but be sympathetic with the larger goals of the project. I endured some classes in colleges (particularly in math and science) that were brutal in terms of instructional design. This experience makes me wonder why Minerva is starting with liberal arts.

  1. Ellen

    Well, I just sat through a semester of “American Political Thought” that was taught by lecture-lecture-lecture, occasionally with ppt slides that consisted of multiple bullet-points that didn’t quite match what the prof was saying. There were two exceptions: a point about midway in the course when the prof got quite animated (his particular century/decade, perhaps?) and the days when a couple of students got into discussions, sometimes with prog, sometimes among themselves. By the end of the semester average attendance was probably about 1/3 of enrollment.

    As for why Minerva started with liberal arts, my guess is that they want to be seen as a “real” college. Starting with math or science could risk getting tarred with the brush of “vocational courses.” Or maybe it’s just a matter of what teaching talent they could recruit.


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