Staff Development Solutions Part Two–Skype and videoconferencing

After reading part 1–wikis and staff development, we move onto a brief look at other web 2.0 applications and how a nonprofit exec can take advantage of them for staff development (this is not comprehensive, but meant to get your feet wet).   

The Value of Networking Among Peers 

One of the frustrations we had when I ran the small association of family service agencies in PA was getting people to meetings.  We managed to get our executive directors together four times a year.  The favorite agenda item was brainstorming/roundtable, when they just reported to each other on new developments or issues at their agency.  Sometimes it was the challenges of recertification by a national entity.  Other times it was on a decision to self-insure. Yet other times it was how to comply with HIPAA.  Interesting stories were shared, and I was limited in planning ahead to know where the conversation would take us.  The face-to-face peer interaction was invaluable.

 The EDs thought their front-line supervisors from similar programs would benefit from the same sort of networking, but we could never get our act together (mostly due to time-out-of office issues for busy supervisors).  Behold, Skype as a solution.

Skype as One Solution

Skype allows you to make calls from computer to computer, computer to phone, phone to phone–in audio.  Computer to computer (works on Mac and Windows) in audio and video.  Obviously, it’s this last option that best serves staff development or networking. Skype’s software is downloadable for free, and Skype-to-Skype calls are free.   I don’t mean to sound like a Skype salesperson; there are other, developing services, such as Oovoo–that offers similar service, but my impression is they are still working out some bugs…but their website and interface sure are hip. (See Beth Kanter’s photo on flickr).

Equipment is minimal

For audio calls, you either need a headset or you can use your computer’s built in speaker (at our home, we use the built in speaker, which means everyone can chime in–my son loves to talk to his aunt and uncle). To add the bling of video (don’t you want to see your peers as you discuss the pain of managing your program? LOL), you need a webcam.  You don’t have to bust the budget.  There are webcams with headsets that sell for $29.99 (adequate) and up ($50 is going to get you clearer video).  Walmart has partnered with Skype to sell “Skype” certified web cams, but you can go elsewhere, as the software will work with any webcam.  E-how has some advice for those concerned with selecting a webcam for Skype.  As long as you have Windows 2000 or up, a USB port and a decent internet connection, you should be okay to go.

Price is minimal, if not free

The free Skype-to-Skype service includes the ability to put up to 9 additional people in a conference call.  This is great for those smaller groups of program specialists who can’t get out of the office but could benefit from talking to each other.  Here’s how it works.  There are other services you can upgrade to, but for most smaller to medium nonprofits, this would be enough.

Cool Enhancements

Hat tip to an old post by Megan Keane of TechSoup for pointing me to Yugma,  which allows you to share your desktop during your conference call for free. You can also share mouse and keyboard (free feature for 15 days, then requires an upgrade).  Good overview by Voip-News here.

Better news is that Skype is certifying third-party developers (Skype Extra collaboration examples), so there are a growing number of collaboration tools. (Haven’t used it yet, but I like the Whiteboard concept. 

No travel time and cost, networking meetings with a short lead time.  If you aren’t convinced yet, read about how Professor Scott McLeod at Iowa State University uses basic Skype services with graduate students.

Staff Development Part 3 up next: Webinars, etc.

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8 Responses

  1. skype and yugma are integrated to be used at the same time. don’t know if you saw that, but you can find it here: https://www.yugma.com/yugmaskype/index.php

  2. Thanks,. Since you seem to have used it, any comments on its benefits and ease of use (esp. since this post is for new adopters).

  3. I use the two together. Really easy. Very powerful since I can show people what I’m talking about. Plus it works regardless if you are using with other person on windows or mac. I just like the design. it’s easy to invite people to see you, it easy to show people your desktop. I like easy. And it’s free…

  4. one thing that i ran into originally is that i downloaded the yugma-skype edition without having my skype running. i guess it doesn’t recognize your skype contacts unless you actually have the skype running… who would’ve known?! ha.

    my team and i use the skype version all the time. but when we start getting to the 8 and 9 persons per skype call, it seems to be at about the max for bandwidth. i don’t necessarily have bandwidth issues with the regular yugma, so i’m thinking it’s because skype is a relatively large bandwidth hog.

    i recently noticed that the skype version of yugma has single app. sharing too, instead of just the entire desktop.

    i think this yugma company is on the right track for where collaboration services are going!

    hope that helped!

  5. […] Staff Development Solutions Part Two–Skype and videoconferencing […]

  6. I wish this blog was in other languages as well, like in German.

  7. Hi, I am Yurtdisi Egitim from Turkey. On this web site i have found answers to most of my questions. Thanks to everyone for your time.

  8. Video conferencing is indeed a great innovation of Information Technology and Communications. I guess the news media is the first user of video conferencing.

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