Webinars at ETH-Bibliothek

“You can log into the online course conveniently on your home or office computer.” This was the slogan for the webinars introduced in 2013. Of course, it isn’t just convenience that prompts customers to attend online courses. Instead, the idea behind webinars is actually locational freedom: as the majority of ETH-Bibliothek’s courses are held in the main building, this should enable access to ETH-Bibliothek’s course programme for students at the offsite locations, e.g. on the Hönggerberg. However, it isn’t only students who can enjoy the programme, but scientists and doctoral students, as well.


Figure 1: webinar start window

Where it all began

The idea of also offering ETH-Bibliothek’s courses online already began to take shape some time ago. A pilot experiment conducted in May 2013 went so well that this form of class was adopted on the course programme and the first official webinar was held in December of the same year. The feedback was so positive that webinars became a permanent feature of ETH-Bibliothek’s programme. Three webinars are currently offered:

  • Efficient search – Web of Science and Scopus
  • Is Google enough? – finding scientific information
  • How to go open access

The idea

The webinars are designed so that the customers can pick them up wherever they are – in front of their computers. The idea is nothing new: there are many tutorials and films on the internet. And entire lectures are even broadcast live these days and can be followed from home (keyword MOOCs: Massive Open Online Course). What’s more, many companies use online meetings to connect employees in different locations quickly and simply or even conduct online courses for training purposes. For libraries, however, this type of course still isn’t all that common.

Realisation: technical requirements

A special software programme is needed for webinars. ETH-Bibliothek works with Adobe Connect, which is available to Swiss universities for free via SWITCH, a service that everyone with a SWITCHaai login can use. Adobe Connect offers several possibilities to interact with the participants. Firstly, the trainer is broadcast live via a camera and microphone; secondly, the participants can communicate with the trainer either verbally – if they own a microphone – or in writing via the chat function. Moreover, various symbols can be used to submit swift feedback.

2015-11-12_adobe-connectFigure 2: Symbols in Adobe Connect for quick feedback in the webinar

The software’s most important feature is unquestionably the fact that the trainer’s monitor can be shared with the participants. This means that a PowerPoint presentation be beamed onto the participants’ screens and other applications and programmes, including the control of the mouse, can be transferred to the trainer, which enables both the Knowledge Portal and various databases to be presented live.

For the webinar to run smoothly, however, not only is suitable software needed, but also the right hardware and spatial parameters. Although the first webinars were broadcast from a laptop, meanwhile a permanent webinar station has been set up in the training room. This has the advantage that the trainers can use the accustomed infrastructure and the necessary technology is always to hand.

Personal experience

Essentially, a webinar is no different to a course on site – with the difference that you deal more with technology than participants in a classroom: is the image working? What about the sound? Is a participant experiencing technical difficulties? Consequently, it is very helpful to have a second person keep an eye on the technology and chat function during the webinar. The unusual thing for the trainer, however, is that they talk to their own computer, instead of the participants, and has no idea what is happening at the other end.

The feedback from the participants on the webinars has always been so positive thus far that this kind of course is a win-win for everyone involved.


Even though webinars are no substitute for brick-and-mortar courses, they will remain a permanent feature on ETH-Bibliothek’s course programme, which is difficult to imagine without them now. It is perfectly conceivable that other topics and target groups will be explored in the future. In particular, more members of ETH Zurich should be made aware of this service. And who knows, perhaps one day the webinar will be broadcast in a lecture theatre.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.

DOI Link: 10.16911/ethz-ib-2190-en

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