Pennsylvania distance learning brings flexibility to state-wide training

Conducting disaster preparedness meetings among 14 Pennsylvania universities no longer requires hours or even days of travel time for university administrators. Instead, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is using interactive collaboration software from Wimba to conduct some of its state-wide staff meetings and training sessions.

The Wimba Collaboration Suite that PASSHE is using offers an array of interactive software tools that allow users to meet online outside traditional meeting room settings and classrooms. Using Collaboration Suite tools, staff can interact online while viewing meeting content in a variety of formats, including slides and video, and can chat, send instant message exchanges, listen to audio comments added to content, use an online 'white board', share applications online, conduct polls, listen to podcasts, and more.

Wimba was recently adopted by all 14 universities in PASSHE, the largest education provider in Pennsylvania. The software has been used in classrooms throughout some of the organisation's member universities for some time, but its online collaborative abilities are now offering administrators a handy tool for reducing meeting travel time across the state.

Wimba is also used academically throughout PASSHE's member schools. The organisation first implemented Wimba Classroom in 2004, where it was adopted by a handful of professors. The software can work seamlessly within existing online courses, making it easy for instructors to add Wimba to their instruction materials. And Wimba can convert Microsoft Word documents into course content or can be used to create and administer tests, quizzes, and exams. 'Today, Wimba is used in hundreds of courses, by thousands of students,' Hails said.

Hails said he has also recently used Wimba for basic staff training of various groups and task forces who will be using a newly installed Microsoft SharePoint server. 'There's no way we were going to have staff come to Harrisburg just for a 45-minutes training session.'
One feature Hails said he hasn't seen in any comparable product is Wimba's integrated ability to handle traditional land-line phone calls, not just voice over IP connections. Lots of [users]… needed the [conventional] phone bridge” for PASSHE meetings, Hails said. 'That made a real difference for us.' Also, Wimba 'seems to really understand higher education,' Hails added.

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