Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Start the New Year With a New Tech Tool!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

If you have been a consistent reader of my blog, you may remember that I took a new position this year as a Virtual Learning Support Specialist (VLSS) for our county's online school.  What does that mean?  Basically, it is several roles wrapped into one job title (school counselor, testing coordinator [yes, I know], teacher, trainer, 504 coordinator, technical support staff, advisor, and personnel support). Unfortunately our county could not justify hiring a virtual school counselor, so it created this position to meet a variety of student needs in the virtual world.  One of the roles that I am enjoying the most is my role as peer helper trainer and teacher.  Way back in the 90s, I was a social studies teacher and I loved teaching the kids.  So now that I am in a dual role of support staff and teacher, I get to really interact with students again!

Working With Students in the Virtual World

Currently, I am teaching an online peer helping course (yes, I designed my own online peer helper course!) and running peer mediation simulations with students in several schools. Because of my full time position as VLSS,  it is often difficult to find time to see the
Online peer mediation simulation via Zoom
students in person.  In fact, I was driving myself crazy trying to find a time that we could all see each other in a face to face setting with all our busy schedules.  Being in a virtual setting, my administrator really inspired me to use the virtual tools available to me to meet with the students on their time (typically the evenings).  Now finding the right tool was going to be important.

After some playing around with video conferencing tools, I found one that really meets my requirements for conducting trainings and conferencing.  My new favorite tool is called Zoom!

Zoom Basics

If you are like me and do not have a large budget, Zoom has a free option for conferencing. The free option includes:
  • Meeting with up to 50 participants.
  • Unlimited meetings
  • 40 minutes of conferencing.
  • Video recording and sharable links.
  • Ability to download and share documents and desktop.
  • Options to mute and hide participants.
  • Ability for participants to observe without participating in video conferencing.
  • Option to call in if participant cannot access the internet or a computer.
Although there are lots of other VOIP sites available for free, Zoom seems to offer the most bang for your buck (or lack of buck).  Here are some other services that have free options so check it out for
yourself...

Other Types of Video Conferencing With Students

To be fair, I wanted to include other free services so you can make your own decision about which video conferencing service is best for you.  Here are four I like to share with you.

Skype - Downloadable video chat that allows participants to communicate individually or in large groups.  Check out the guidebook for educator and student led video conferencing.



Google Hangout - Unfortunately my school forbids the use of many Google products (sigh).  However, if your school is Google friendly, Google Hangout is an awesome tool for videoconferencing if you have up to 10 people.  Google Hangout allows document sharing from Google Docs, screen sharing, sharing links for public viewing, and the creation of circles for requesting meetings.  Check out this how to guide by Dr. Erin Mason.

Google Hangout Video Instructions

MeetingBurner - Cloud based meeting forum which allows up to 10 people to share their screens and audio conference.  The downside of the free service is that it does not record your sessions.



Pligus - Free program that allows up to 10 people to share screens, text, upload documents, and even draw at the same time.


Source:  5 Video Conference Tools for Student Group Projects

How Can Zoom Be Used by School Counselors?

My administrator and I have spoken extensively about how we can expand school counseling services to our online and regular school students.  Here are some ideas that we brainstormed for online services:

1. The school counselor can use it for training students to fill out an application for college, completing scholarship applications, helping parents complete the FASFA, assisting students in calculating their grade point averages, and more.

2. The school counselor can set up small groups when face to face sessions are not available during the day.

3.  Pre recorded sessions can be created when counselors need to share information with teachers, parents or students.

4.  Pre recorded classroom guidance lessons can be created on specific topics (study skills, cyberbullying, etc.).

5.  The school counselor can organize and share advisement lessons using students from a remote location.

6.  Zoom is great for after hour conferences with parents and students.  This is a lifesaver for those parents who work late or have transportation issues.

7.  The school counselor can hold parent conferences remotely when attendees are unable to be at one location.

8.  The school counselor can collaborate and share ideas with other colleagues!

If you conduct video conferencing meetings with your parents and students, I would love to hear from you.  Feel free to reach out to me!!