How to use webcasts for continuing education

Engineers are busy people. How can they obtain new technical knowledge needed to do their jobs while minimizing time away from the job? Perhaps by attending live courses, offered over the Internet, which also can be archived for viewing at more convenient times? Texas Instruments (TI, Stafford, Tex.


Engineers are busy people. How can they obtain new technical knowledge needed to do their jobs while minimizing time away from the job? Perhaps by attending live courses, offered over the Internet, which also can be archived for viewing at more convenient times? Texas Instruments (TI, Stafford, Tex.) has developed an entire in-house university to deliver this kind of education. It consists of live web-based broadcasts—or webcasts—that include presentations and question-and-answer time with engineers who develop TI's solutions and products.

Webcasts are an outgrowth of the Internet's proliferation and its ability to give users direct access to resources worldwide. Though webcasts were initially used to introduce product features, customers are now demanding that suppliers provide specific information on how to make solutions work smoothly. TI reports its webcast viewers have shown a growing interest in issue-oriented technical reviews that are easily accessible and free.

By focusing on narrowly defined technical conversations, TI's webcasts provide drilled-down data and direct access to key technical staff. So far, 3,500 people have participated in TI's university program. Showing that the web is an unbounded medium, TI's average webcast audience is 67% North American and 33% international.

Also, by archiving webcasts on its web site, TI ensures they're always available for engineers to view at their convenience. In fact, webcast attendance typically doubles and/or triples in the six months that archived versions are available following the live presentation.

TI presents several types of webcasts: traditional product descriptions, technical webcasts to answer programming questions about devices, and service-oriented programs. The company's key distinction is its technical webcast series. Technical webcasts are challenge-and-solution-oriented and based on specific questions from TI's support centers. This format avoids marketing fluff and overly theoretical lessons. The focus is on technical steps and tips to help engineers use TI's devices, silicon and tools.

"TI views the technical webcasts as a live FAQ", says Julie Koelsch, TI's DSP Internet strategy manager. "The sessions bring technical staff together with customers to address the most timely questions, which will ultimately speed time to production."

TI's approach is possible because answers come from actual developers of its applications, tools and software, as well as from customer support technical staff. Organizers and attendees report the webcasts achieve a "one-on-one" feel, even though participants aren't sitting down face-to-face with a TI representative or submitting questions to the firm's Product Information Center (PIC).

Creating webcasts

A typical webcast begins with information drawn from TI's Customer Support venues; most-frequently searched topics in TI's DSP KnowledgeBase; questions submitted to its PIC; issues brought up on TI's Hotline; and e-mailed suggestions. Applicable technical personnel—often the technology's developers—are invited to talk about the how the design and solution works.

Since the web is at its best when storing information and offering easy links for surfers to find it, TI's webcasts and website also provide linked resources:

  • "Related Technical References" include links to additional technical documentation on webcast topics;

  • "Download presentation" gives attendees the presenters'slides; and

  • Speakers' notes are available in the downloadable PowerPoint presentation that accompanies archived webcasts.

For added convenience, TI provides two opportunities in one day for attendees to speak with presenters. Likewise, participants also listen and learn from questions asked by other attendees.

Given the semiconductor market's expansiveness—not to mention other technical fields—it's impossible to have one person answer questions for everyone designing and using a particular device. However, by bringing all interested parties to one web-based location, many questions can be answered immediately. Most importantly, this means queries don't have to be filtered through traditional channels, which speeds up answers, reduces wait time, and eventually accelerates developers' projects and time to market.

Gary A. Mintchell, senior editor

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