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The role of webinars in geosynthetics education

News | September 8, 2011 | By:

As many of you are aware, webinars are becoming quite popular educational vehicles for myriad topics because they are convenient, accessible, and low-cost in comparison to traditional educational modes. Considering travel costs, housing, meals, registration fees, and time away from the office to attend conferences, symposia, or meetings, many organizations are considering or are using webinars.

An individual webinar’s duration depends on the topic, but one to two hours, often during the lunch break, seems to be popular. Sitting in front of a computer screen with a brown-bag lunch (self-provided or company-provided) is a common situation. Of course, a projector can be used and when the slides are shown on a large screen, any number of individuals can attend and participate. This has the effect of significantly decreasing the cost per person as well as having some office “team building” for a short time.

A major organization offering a large number of webinars is the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Its model is a one-hour lecture from noon until 1 p.m., with questions and answers until 1:30. The lecturer controls the slides and speaks to them accordingly. The audience communicates by typing in questions that the lecturer views on a split-screen computer. If the question is immediately appropriate the answer is given accordingly. If it is not, it is added to a queue, which is addressed in the 30 minutes following the formal lecture.

ASCE has available hundreds of webinar topics. Registration is online and the lecturer’s slides are provided to the participants before the presentation. Importantly, ASCE provides 1.5 PDHs (professional development hours) for each webinar on the condition that a multiple-choice examination is passed. It should be mentioned that most states require a specific number of PDHs per year (usually 8–24) to maintain an individual’s professional engineering registration.

In this regard, I have been providing four such webinars on geosynthetics topics for the past few years. Currently, they are:

  1. “An overview of geosynthetics and their major applications”
  2. “Use of geosynthetics for waterproofing critical hydraulic structures”
  3. “Geosynthetic reinforced mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) wall failures and their remediation”
  4. “Analysis and design of veneer cover soils for landfills and related waste containment systems”

Typically 30–40 organizations register, with an unknown number of individuals involved. From my perspective, it is quite doable since I work from my office computer and logistics are completely handled by ASCE.

To summarize, it seems to me that geosynthetics companies might want to participate in these webinars on behalf of some of their employees. It is not too far-fetched for geosynthetics organizations to even develop capabilities for providing such webinars themselves. For example, the International Erosion Control Association (IECA) provides a webinar for its members. Whatever eventually develops, it appears that webinars are an effective distance-learning vehicle at least for providing a basic understanding of a particular subject matter.

Bob Koerner

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