Webinars: Staff Development Solutions Part 3

As previously discussed, one easy way to promote learning and networking among staff is to use Skype with video (or other similar services).  This works best when someone knowledgeable among the attendees can take the lead–both in setting up the call, helping other “newbies” and perhaps in setting an agenda. 

headset.jpgSometimes, your staff development needs may call for more formal training and development.  How you do this, the cost and mechanism for delivery will vary depending upon your needs.  Among your options are webinars (wikipedia has a good overview of webinars and various capabilities here) and ecourses.  While the term webinar has replaced the term “web conferencing,” don’t think it’s the same thing as the early days, when it was based mostly on voice or one person “lecturing” to a bunch of attendees online.  The methods available offer a rich synchronous experience.  Ecourses generally are asynchronous but they can still be valuable if you choose the right instructor—who may use a variety of technologies to have a “dialog” with the participant(s)–discussion boards, email or even Skype. 

Broad or Basic Topics–Look for existing resources

 If your staff development needs are in line with some basic topics inherent to many industries or fields, you should do a search and see what is available.  For instance, Kivi Leroux Miller is a consultant on nonprofit communications who offers a range of ecourses and webinars related to communications.  Her explanation as to the difference between these modalities is here.  Her offerings include an ecourse on writing a nonprofit annual report and a one-hour webinar on the same subject.

 Many associations offer webinars, such as this recent one by the Foundation Center on nonprofit startups.  What would be great is if they had recorded the webinar for folks to view (even if for purchase), such as what is routinely done by NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) for their webinars.  Their current list of webinars is here and are generally reasonably priced for nonmembers at $50.   A regional chapter of the American Society of Training and Development professionals out in the Portland Oregon area has a recording of their first “live” webinar (topic: Social Learning) on this blog page which will give you a flavor of what they are like. (I could have linked directly to the recorded webinar, but it’s worth reading the host’s blog post first).

Customized Topics

Okay, so you need a customized topic, because you’re thinking about a statewide training on “Key Issues in Running a Hotline” or “Dealing with Children in Crisis.”  Or any number of other nonprofit relevant topics.  One source to use is GoToWebinar.com which has very easy, do-it-yourself tools. There are other companies offering this type of service, often through professional “resellers” who can use these platforms to create (and sometimes deliver) a customized webinar for you.  The services and plans differ, depending upon how long you subscribe, how many participants you anticipate, and whether the service puts a limit on the number of webinars you can do for the time period booked.  (GoToWebinar has a monthly options for $99 that includes unlimited webinars for that month, up to 1,000 participants).  Services usually include a registration page.

If you are going to use a webinar vendor, here are some types of questions to ask/things to let them know: 

  • Platforms–does if matter if participants have PC vs. Mac?  What browsers does it work with?  What do my particpants need (i.e. microphone, telephone, etc.)
  • Sharing–do we have the capability to share documents or desktops (if you need that)
  • Practice–will I have the capability to practice my webinar ahead of time?
  • Consultant or Tech Support–to what extent does the price include help setting up or tech support?
  • Participants–number of participants (any limit)
  • Timing–when’s the latest someone can sign up.
  • Methodology–let them know what you plan.  Are you sharing a PowerPoint? 
  • Saving/Recording–Can you record your webinar?

Other Options

 You might consider developing your material into a screencast–sort of a more media-rich version of a computer screen capture.     

Beth Kanter has a screencasting primer for nonprofits here.    Frankly, I should probably turn this series into a screencast as soon as I have a some spare time……..  LOL.   Beth also has some info about web conferencing on the cheap you might want to check out.

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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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