Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Save on Mileage, Hold a Virtual Meeting

"Can you please check your schedule and send me some times that you can be available and then I will contact the others?" I had just sent back a response to a second request for a planning meeting over a student, saying I had more scheduling conflicts. The team in this instance has about 8 members and we are having an awful time trying to find a slot when everyone can be at the school for a meeting. This is not an IEP - this is just a planning and strategy time. It involves driving upwards of 100 miles one way for at least one team member who is an OT and covers a wide territory. It would be 50 miles round trip for me - a cost of $25 in gas, multiplied by 8 team members is $400 just to be there for the milege expense - and that is a low figure since many drive more than my 50 miles.
One member emailed in response, "Why don't we just email and try and get what we can get done that way for awhile since we all can't be together at the same time." To which I replied, "I can set up a private, closed chat room online where we can all log in with a password and instant message a meeting. It means we all have to be at a computer at the same time, but we don't have to be in the same room."
"I think, based on our options at this point, the chat room might be the way to go," replied the sped specialist.

I got on Meebo.com, set up a chat room and marked it private - access with password only. I named the room, uploaded a graphic for it, set up a password and submitted it. I had a URL address for the room immediately and emailed it to the team. If they already have Google Talk, Yahoo or MSN Messenger, etc. they can access the new team chat room through their existing IM service, or they can set up a free new Meebo account.

I would like to have video conferencing from laptops set up but we don't have that option set up yet on our work force laptops. Google Talk has an actual voice/audio feature and there are services like Skype, but then we're into microphone land with our team and that can be complicated as well since some don't have them and the built in mic can be poor quality on the IM voice features.

All the things considered, for free, I was able to set up a closed, password protected chat room for team planning in about 5 minutes and send it out to the team. Once everyone becomes members we can see who is online and chat privately over student service issues and progress, etc. The chat room archives a log of the meetings and members times online, etc. so there is also a record of the meetings and who was there. If a parent wants to be involved, a simple email invite can allow access.

The logistics of setting up different chat rooms with different passwords for various schools or students might be something to entertain if you want to ensure that team members from other teams aren't logging in to see the discussion if you are using the samed chatroom across different districts and schools. If they do sign in and they aren't invited, you can see they are there and ask them to log off. I think most of the time I can use mine as a tool and invite folks in from our OT, PT, SLP and Autism staff without worry of someone being in on a meeting they aren't a part of. Since it is closed and we will be inviting team members via email to participate on a certain date and time, I highly doubt we will have any staff there that aren't supposed to be. Still, if it is a concern you might just set it up for that one student and get the whole team, parents and administrators in on it. It will be one way we can not only get around the logistics of meeting dates, but also save on miileage costs. With fuel the way it is, a big piece of our budget goes to mileage and anywhere we can cut will be great. This also demonstrates to schools and the community that we are trying to use alternative means through technology to save expenses and to be efficient where it is at all possible.

I plan to implement more of this as the year progresses.
All the best to you!

Lon

2 comments:

Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D said...

HI Lon:

Interesting post-I to have been trying to do more consulting and training virtually and have been using a multitude of services and applications. Check my blog for some of the details.

All the best
Brian

Lon said...

Thanks Brian - I'll do that!