Devon County Council improves efficiency with web conferencing

by | Aug 17, 2009 | Articles

We were interested to see how a restructuring earlier this year inspired Devon County Council to investigate how they can use learning technologies to quickly reach out to staff who had been impacted by budget cuts.

An article on-site at publictechnology.net outlined how the organisation used web conferencing technologies they were able to respond rapidly to the needs of staff and were able to save £5000 over a 6 week period in their first project working with live online sessions.

Given that many organisations are facing similar pressures of budget and time, Towards Maturity contacted Barry Wilding-Webb, the Senior Workforce Development advisor at Devon County Council to find out how a traditional stand up trainer got started in their first project with web conferencing.

Getting Started

Devon County Council with over 22,000 staff is one of the biggest employers in the South West.  As a result of Barry’s enthusiasm for being ‘up for doing things differently’, he also authors e-learning courses so the council were already users of traditional self paced e-learning programmes. Staff also had access to content through the Learning Pool network that shares content across local authorities. Earlier this year, he was approached by a large department who as a result of budget cuts were facing a significant restructuring which meant that all staff had to reapply for their jobs. Barry was asked to quickly provide help for the staff who needed to go through the process of application and interviews as they reapplied for their jobs.

Traditionally this need would have been addressed by a half day workshop but the need to respond quickly and the need to preserve quality in the midst of budget cuts meant that a different approach would be needed.It was important for the staff to be able to reflect on some of the things that they would be needed to do as well as feel supported in difficult times.  Barry designed a 3 pronged approach of simple interventions that would provide both self help for staff (through an online workbook and a self help process) and the opportunity to get together online in small groups. In sessions with a maximum size 16, staff were taken through a series of exercises including the opportunity to create a mind-map, take notes or reflect on the content either verbally or via a voting system.

The programme was advertised internally to staff via the existing restructure group and staff  were able to self select into the elements of the programme. Despite the fact that the online sessions were a complete unknown to the organisation , over a third of the delegates opted to try it out and were not disappointed.  In addition, when this approach is compared with a half day workshop, Barry estimates that the council are saving a minimum of £100 for every person who attends.
As a result of the successes of this first experience,  there are now plans to extend the use of online conferencing as part of the blend of other programmes. For example in programmes such as equality and diversity, staff will now be able to have access to online experts in the area without having to leave the office.

A first time user’s hints and tips

Given that Barry’s natural habitat is the classroom and this was his first foray into web conferencing, we asked him what hints and tips he would pass onto others in a similar situation. This is what he said:

 

 

  • If you are conducting a programme for over 16, you need to have 2 of you supporting learners, one leading the event and the other supporting individuals via the chat room.
  • He found that a half day workshop could be compressed into a 1 hour webinar.
  • If you are asking staff to interact with the content ( through note taking, mind maps etc) then an hour on the end of a telephone is quite a lot – it’s better to make a small investment in headphones that can be loaned to staff on the programme which leaves their hands free.
  • Make sure you have a quiet venue to conduct the session from – an open plan office isn’t the best. Barry conducted his from home – when the dog barked it proved it was live !
  • PC’s in the council are timed to shut down if inactive for a certain period – Barry had to be proactive in introducing time for ‘mouse wiggle’ into the programme – a bit of fun that kept both staff and their machines engaged!
  • Without the face to face contact, he found that he had to concentrate on varying style and content within the webinar to engage staff.

On a final note, Barry has found that this first experience has really opened his eyes to his ability to reach a lot more people a lot faster than traditional approaches.  He already has plans to continue innovating and experimenting bringing techniques proven to engage learners in the classroom to the desktop.We look forward to hearing more

For more case studies and article on how to get started with web conferencing and virtual classroom click here

You can read the story as it appeared in www.publictechnology.net by clicking here.

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