Collaboration: Reaching across various territories

27 01 2014

As a 26-year veteran of a property and casualty insurance company, I saw change rapidly evolve year after year in my organization. I remember the days of learning how to work the IBM typewriter and then having to learn the computer with the DOS prompt. Yes, I had plenty of learning opportunities presented to me! All of this change wasn’t just happening to me, but it was happening to my colleagues as well. As with many corporations, our small organization was changing in terms of technology and structure. Over the years, my organization became part of a much larger structure. The organizational chart begun to grow into this multi-level diagram with people’s names and titles that my colleagues did not recognize, nor did we have the privilege of meeting these new team members face-to-face. We soon grew into an organization that became divided by multi territories. As a small organization, the headquarters training staff could afford to fly to a few offices and conduct face-to-face trainings. However, when our large organization started acquiring offices all over the country and overseas, training needs quickly had to be re-aligned in order to offer the least cost effective way of training.

This week in my graduate course, Teaching and Learning at a Distance, when we were asked to think about a scenario as an instructional designer implementing a training workshop for six regional offices where ongoing collaboration needed to take place, I quickly remembered the changes I experienced at my previous organization. It is where I was introduced to web conferencing and SharePoint software. I remember the first time I heard the word webinar! I said web who! Is it possible to be effectively trained sitting through a webinar? Wang & Hsu (2008) explains that:

Among many CMC systems, the webinar tool is one of the latest developments. Able to transmit video, audio, and images, webinar also enable users to share applications and to use whiteboard, the objective being to exchange information in a real-time and two-way format. Webinar creates opportunities for both educators and learners to experience different levels of interaction online, and these opportunities are essentially different from other communication approaches such as discussion-board postings and e-mails, as we mentioned earlier. There are three formats for webinar-session delivery: (a) presenter vs. multiple participants from one site; (b) presenter vs. multiple participants from multiple sites; and (c) multiple participants from one site vs. multiple participants from one or multiple sites. (p. 176)

This new phenomenon called “Webinar” quickly became second nature in our office. Instead of having personnel travel miles to other offices to conduct training or be trained on new procedures and new software, we made use of our phone and computer. Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek (2012) states that one of the advantages with online based learning is “Corporate training programs conducted via the internet can yield significant savings in employee time and travel costs, and training can be conducted on a ‘just in time’ basis (p. 126). I remember the first time many of my colleagues being in awe as they heard people on the phone introduce themselves from all of the country. In addition to hearing the main presenter and hearing from our other colleagues, we were able to see a visual of the presentation, hear audio, raise our hands on screen, and use the chat feature to ask questions and offer comments. I would recommend using webinar in the collaborative training environment.

SharePoint software is another collaboration tool we used in our organization to share screen captures and documents. SharePoint is a Microsoft based tool developed by the organization in 2001. The software allows organizations to be able to go to a central place for document retrieval and updates. The software uses the web, windows, and Microsoft Office as its operational foundation. Users familiar with the basics of these components will find the learning curve for SharePoint pretty easy. Training groups can be created within SharePoint and each member granted team access to go in and work on documents specific to their training purposes. A learning community is established in SharePoint by allowing for Wikis and discussion boards (www.bnl.gov). Moller, Foshay, & Huett (2008) argues that:

Web-based instruction thus holds the promise of increasing communication among learners, reconceptualizing learning from a one-shot fixed term to an ongoing event that is intermingled with the actual work processes. As part of the process of mastering content, significant learning, often occurs as the result of learner-to-learner communication. Logically, meaningful learning is more likely to occur when learners have access to a supportive community that encourages knowledge building and social reinforcement. (p. 74).

I found SharePoint to be a great quick go to resource on many occasions as I had to learn multiple systems after each company merger my colleagues and I endured.

At work in the presented scenario is the social constructivism theory, which is based on the learner being an active participant in constructing their learning as they socialize with other learners in a particular community doing social based activities. According to Bronack, Riedl, & Tashner (2006):

Social constructivists view learning as neither solely intrinsic nor purely extrinsic, but,rather, as a contiguous process that exist each time people willfully interact with each other in the world around them. Learning is manifest in the intellectual aptitude, cognitive strategies, motor skills, and dispositions people develop while working toward a goal within a community of others. Effective learning environments of all kinds must support participants as each becomes part of a community of practice through communication and co-construction. (p. 221)

Of course with all forms of technologies and learning theories, there are advantages and disadvantages, but Webinar and SharePoint are two great tools that are definitely worth exploring for encouraging collaboration and engagement across regions.

References

Bronack, S., Riedl, R., & Tashner, J. (2006). Learning in the zone: A social constructivist framework for distance education in a 3-dimensional virtual world. Interactive Learning Environments, 14(3), 219-232

Brookhaven National Laboratory. (2009, November 16-19). What is SharePoint? Retrieved from http://www.bnl.gov/interlab09/Presentations/What_is_SharePoint.pdf

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (part 1: training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70-75

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson

Wang, S., & Hsu, H. (2008). Use of the webinar tool (elluminate) to support training:The effects of webinar-learning implementation from student-trainers’ perspective. Journal of Interactive Learning 7(3), 175-194. Retrieved from http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/issues/pdf/7.3.2.pdf


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