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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