Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Case Study One: eMentoring

Jennifer Leigh is the director of J.Leigh & Associates based in Brisbane, Queensland. Jenny spends much of her time working with non-government and non-profit organisations, both as a consultant and volunteer. One aspect of her work is done with community organisations taking a development approach to community-based transport in Queensland.

Sarah Stewart talked to Jenny in June 2010 about how she used online communication tools in her business as consultant, mentor and facilitator.

What online communication technology do you use?
I mostly use Skype for one-to-one mentoring sessions and group business meetings. I have been using Skype for a year and have found it to be so successful that I now offer it as a standard service. In the past I have travelled to an organisation for a week and delivered information in one massive lump, which has been overload for staff. Now I use Skype to provide incremental learning on a weekly basis initially which is then distanced out as the person feels needed. This provides a far more flexible service that meets the needs of staff and prevents information overload. It allows me to use my time more effectively and reduces costs to the organisation because they do not have to pay my travel and accommodation expenses.

In the future I want to look at how I can use 'Google Documents' for collaborative work, and YouTube for disseminating information and education videos.

How do you use Skype for mentoring?
Skype allows me to provide an individualised mentoring service that I just would not be able to do in a face-to-face context because of the geographical distances in Queensland. The eMentoring I do tends to be weekly at first, then monthly, then whenever I am needed. We address transport issues and do activities like talk and work our way through documents or the Queensland Government Transport website.

What other things do you use Skype for?
I use Skype for business meetings, especially in my unpaid role as chairwoman of the Transport Development and Solutions Alliance. The TDSA is a non-profit, self-funding organisation so we have very limited funding. Using online communication has enabled us to reduce costs, and it has also given us a greater representation on the TDSA committee. This is because people can join committee meetings online, whereas before, geographical distances meant they could not go to face-to-face meetings.

How do you get buy-in from staff and organisations?
What I have done is invited managers and IT administrators to our initial meetings so they can see what Skype is and how it works. I have found that once organisations see the value of web conferencing with Skype in terms of finance and networking, they have quickly taken it on board for their business. Seeing how it works encourages managers and IT administrators to address issues such as firewalls, which have previously prevented them from using online technology. So I have found there is a trickling effect to technology uptake.

How have you built up relationships with people using Skype?
I haven't had any problems building online relationships with the people I mentor or work with. I use webcam so we can see each other, which is a great help. Having said that, some people prefer to be anonymous and not to be seen on webcam.
What difficulties have you had and how have you overcome them?
When I started eMentoring I had problems with organisational firewalls and IT policies that prevented me using Skype with staff. But as I said before, once managers saw how it worked these issues were resolved. The main problem with the technology has been variability of Internet performance. When we first started using Skype it was a big drama when the connection dropped. But now we have become confident with the technology we cope much better and take it in our stride.

What tips would you pass on to facilitators who are new to using online communication?
Begin with the assumption there will be some technology glitches and this is perfectly normal.

Image: Image: 'The Great Indian Traveller - Richksaw'


Jane Scripps said...

This was an interesting conversation for me, mainly as I have been a skype user for years for family connection purposes. I am now in the planning stages to establish my own business some of which will take place on line. Other than Illuminate I have only used Flashmeeting with an adult community education network here in NZ, problems there included connectivity at morning tea and lunchtime as the members either were at schools or technical institutes, the various systems could not cope with overload due to checking trademe etc.
Skype appears to be the most accessible tool of its type, would you agree? and certainly becoming common parlance when discussing network enhancement.
The organisation I work for [for 2 more weeks] will not allow skype to be used on the IT system for general staff, although it is allowed for interviews for new staff. The organisation uses OCS Office Communicator System, and the software programme is apparently easily downloadable, is this something anyone has experience of?

Sarah Stewart said...

Sorry Jane...can't help you there at all.

Sarah Stewart said...

I sent out your comment to Twitterland and the suggestions from @academicobgyn and @joegormally were to try out GoToMeeting

Sun äitis said...

I received Sarah's request through Twitter, and here are my suggestions:

- in cases where the participants (or myself!) can't install Skype due to IT-regulations of the organization I use Tokbox for videocalls and chatting. They just changed their policy, but there is still an option for a free account. The paid versions also support videoconferencing.

- I have also used Dimdim and Adobe ConnectNow

Best wishes

Sarah Stewart said...

Irmeli, how experienced are you with DimDim? We have a DimDim session in September. If you're free, would you be able to hang out with us and give us tips about how to use it? Our meeting is Friday 10th September 11am (NZ)


Sun äitis said...

I haven't used Dimdim very much, since the "official" videoconferencing tool at my school is Adobe ConnectPro. I have made some experiments with Dimdim with my friends, though. I feel the user interface is quite intuitive, it wasn't difficult to figure out how to join the meeting, how to share the presentation and so on.

One of my friends is using Dimdim even with her contacts in Africa, where the connections aren't very good, and claims that every now and then they actually manage to carry out a conversation :)

It would be nice to test the use of Dimdim with you, but as it is, I haven't got any idea of my schedule for the weeks to come. Let's be in touch.

Sarah Stewart said...

Sounds like your DimDim experience is on par with mine :) But it goes without saying, you are very welcome to attend any of the sessions on FO2010.

How do you find AdobeConnect, Irmeli? Looks like we're going to move from Elluminate to AdobeConnect.

Sun äitis said...

Compared to Skype I find Adobe ConnectPro quite clumsy. It's ok when I am to give a presentation to a large group of people (which I seldom do!), but in situations of more interaction there are almost always some unexpected things to concider.

E.g. I have a group of six student teachers who meet every Monday night for two to three hours. Almost every time somebody has problems with his microphone or speakers, and it's difficult to try and troubleshoot through ACP.

There is one thing that really annoys me even if the sounds worked fine. I miss a role that would be between the present roles of participant and presenter. I believe the student should be able to talk, send video and show a presentation, BUT I don't think he should have full presenter rights and mess up the view for all participants! (my students never do this on purpose, it's always accidental, but nevertheless annoying).

The other thing I don't like is, that you can't uppload pdf-files, only ppt. Quite surprising, considering it's Adobe ConnectPro! I'm a Mac user and make my presentations with Keynote, and its pdf-converter works much better than its ppt-converter. That's why I'd like to be able to use pdfs in ACP.

But enough with the negative stuff, there are also things I like in ACP. E.g. sometimes a students needs help in setting up a blog, embedding a video, adding soundtrack to his slideshare etc. It's easy to get together with the student in ACP, share my screen and show the student, how the thing is done. Since somebody else will probably have similar problems, it's a good idea to always record these adhoc instruction sessions and share the link in the course blog (I wonder why they haven't introduced embedding option yet!).


Claire Thompson said...

I have only used Skype so that my kids (elementary age) can visit with their grandparents. I'm interested to see how Skype would work as a web conferencing tool where you are conversing with a larger group of people.

Chris Woodhouse said...

I've used Skype for some multiway conversations, but there are other services if you want to do more than just talk. DimDim and TokBox have been mentioned and I've signed up for free acounts for both of these, though I haven't used them yet.

I work with lots of IT groups as a facilitator for one of my clients, and IT membership organisation. The Information Security community definitely has concerns over Skype and other comunication platforms. From the stories I've heard, Jenny's approach of demonsrating the benefits to the people who want to use such tools seems to have the best chance of success.

MattyBee said...

I've used Skype predominantly as a one to one conferencing option and calls to family o/seas. I would be interested to see how it functions with multi-users. I know a lot of podcasters use Skype (with a plug-in) to record their shows. It would be interesting to see how they do it.

I've used DimDim and WizIQ and find them not bad for online collaboration. Though they are not as fully featured as Elluminate.

IT always have concerns with security, and you are right Chris, they definately need to get involved from an early stage to see the benefits.

Either that or you use a bit of guerilla warfare to get it happening as suggested by Stephen Downes in this video Guerilla Warfare in E-learning.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi MattyBee could I twist your arm and get you to give us a hand with facilitating the DimDim session later in September?

Rajettan said...

I have used Skype to help my students and student teachers develop an ear for various accents. As they need to interact with people from various parts of the globe, they need to follow various accents.

Hence, I arrange Skype conference with Chinese, Australian, UK and US friends and bring in my Indian student teachers as well. To lower the inhibition level, I also have school students in the conversation club.

Participants learn about each others' country and culture at the discussions. This way, they overcome their inhibitions to work in a multi-national environment.

Most flexible volunteers are participants of WikiEducator and Facilitating Online programs.

Sarah Stewart said...

What I would like to know Sebastian is...how much can we rely on volunteers for eLearning support?

Clarissa said...

Thanks for this case study! So valuable hearing practical experiences in context!

I use Skype for;
1:1 "meet n greet" with video, group call without video using mentoring / facilitation approach, and to chair meetings remotely.

After a bit of emailing it's great to "meet" someone and be able to see them. However more often than not, I don't use video.

When I faciliate a group session, or chair a meeting I'm writing notes, looking things up online to share a link etc so it's good to have voice only.

However there's the invariable awkwardness of not being able to see when someone's about to speak, or the subtle non verbals in a meeting that impact how you chair(change speed, check for discomfort, change level of info etc)

So I've had to prepare more, use a predictable structure, be more explicit with Q, and intentional pauses etc. A work in progress to be sure!

Thanks again for sharing your experience! Just think of the carbon footprint you're reducing ;)