[Message received from Mary Magnani]
“Testing, 1 – 2 – 3, testing. Check, check.” That’s me on a Wednesday morning, running through a sound check in our webinar studio in Wheaton, Illinois, 30 minutes before the start of Pablo Sender’s popular webinar series, “Walking the Theosophical Path.” I am the webinar coordinator for the Theosophical Society in America, and participants will be logging in soon. In a few moments I will be checking in with Pablo, an internationally-known Theosophical teacher, as he prepares for class from his office at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy in Ojai, California.
What is a webinar? At its simplest, a webinar is a seminar conducted on the web – on the Internet. Although you can view a YouTube video on the Internet, or even watch a live broadcast, a webinar goes a step further. You are no longer just a viewer; you are an active participant. You can connect with your teacher and fellow students, ask questions, and make comments. In many cases you can see and hear one another, even though you may physically be located hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Our webinar participants study a wide variety of topics, from Ashish to the Vedas, from esoteric astrology to Theosophical teachings on personal transformation. I’m guessing it’s unlikely you can find 10 people in your neighborhood who would like to discuss such topics with you! But, open up the discussion to the entire world, and you have the makings of many lively exchanges, as well as some meaningful friendships. Webinars bring like-minded people together, despite distance.
Watching this “magic” happen is one of the most fulfilling parts of my job. Participants sit in front of their computers or portable devices, seemingly alone in their kitchens, bedrooms, or dens. But as soon as they connect to our webinar software and enter a virtual meeting room, they are present with the other members of their class or study group. Participants in our weekly groups have known each other for years, and although they may have never met in person, they support each other. They joke around. They care about each other, and the energy of this spiritual companionship is real.
Presentation by Pablo Sender
Here at the National Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America, we offer a wide variety of in-person classes, study groups, lectures, workshops, and special events. Our campus is humming from morning to evening, seven days a week. However, unless you are within easy driving distance of Wheaton, Illinois, there isn’t a way to participate in this abundance of programming. If you live far from your local lodge or study group, if mobility or family responsibilities prevent you from leaving home as often as you’d like, if you are crunched for time, or if you simply prefer the convenience of participating in classes and study groups from the comfort of your own home, webinars may be for you.
Just as our webinar participants can sign on from remote areas and distant lands, so can our teachers and facilitators. In the past year, Dr. Ravi Ravindra has presented two webinar series from his home in Nova Scotia. Other presenters have signed on from Australia, the Netherlands, British Columbia, and throughout the United States. Convenience, cost, carbon footprint – in all these measures, webinars excel. We are able to connect teachers and students who would otherwise have no way to meet.
Ravi Ravindra presents ….
Our webinar program offers both ongoing groups and online courses. We currently host eight ongoing groups, reaching over 200 participants each week. We also offer a seasonal roster of online courses that run between four and 12 weeks. In the past 12 months, just under 500 people have participated in 19 of these courses. According to participant surveys of our last eight webinars, our average approval rating is 9 out of 10.
Elements of a Webinar Screen
I hope I have intrigued you enough to look into our webinar program further! If you decide to participate, let me tell you a bit more about the process you will go through. We recommend you have a fairly recent computer and a basic knowledge of your email package and your web browser. You also need a good Internet connection. Assuming these things are in place, your next step is to go to our website (www.theosophical.org/webinars) and look through our course listings. After finding an interesting course, register for it online. You will then receive an email confirming your registration.
About a week before your webinar begins, I will send you a welcome email and login instructions. This covers anything you might need to know about downloading software, entering the virtual classroom, and getting more training and help.
More Elements of a Webinar Screen
When the day and time of your class arrives, use your computer or portable device to sign into the webinar software. Your webinar host will be online to help you with any technical issues. You will see your teacher’s webcam image and, depending on the software, the webcam images of your fellow students. You can chat with them online or speak to them with your computer’s microphone. Teachers generally display a PowerPoint file and use images and bullet points to enhance their lecture. Time is set aside for questions and discussion.
If you miss a particular webinar, or if you cannot attend the live classes because you are located many time zones away, you can always take advantage of our recordings. We record our webinars, and make every effort to get the recordings to you within 24 hours after each class.
The members of our team, led by Public Programs Director John Cianciosi and including Pablo Sender and Vish Durga, work together to scout and train new presenters; plan schedules and budgets; advertise our offerings; communicate with participants; solve technical issues; and create, present, facilitate, and host our webinars.
We could not do what we do without the help of many others. Jim Bosco launched the webinar program seven years ago and developed it to its current level before retiring in late 2017, and Sy Ginsburg was an early and generous supporter. Our marketing director promotes our programs to social media; check out our Facebook page and twitter account Our IT/AV department keeps our webpages up to date, coordinates our registration system, assists with video productions for our YouTube channel), and maintains our computer equipment and high speed Internet connection. Others field questions and pay our bills; it is a remarkably supportive workplace.
Mary Magnani, MS, works in the Public Programs department at the National Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America in Wheaton, Illinois. She completed her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and did her graduate work in image processing. She has worked in academic, government, non-profit, and corporate settings to provide project analysis, computer applications support, and systems administration. She is married with two college-aged daughters.