Keeping Organized

Organizational skills are probably the most essential skills needed for a distance learning coordinator at any level. Do you agree?

There are so many details to keep track of! Program requests from the teachers, scheduling procedures for each place you want to connect with, IP addresses or ISDN numbers, trouble numbers, dates & times, etc.

I’d like to share some of my tips & tricks for keeping organized. How do you keep track of your distance learning connections? Please comment and share!

Scheduling & Program Requests
The first area to organize is the requests from teachers. I started using FileMaker Pro very early on in our distance learning program to take teacher requests. Every request is a record in our database. Mostly I require the teachers to fill it out, but sometimes under special circumstances I do it for them. There are two forms that enter requests into the same database: Scheduling Request and Mini-Grant Request. I’m linking so you can see how they work.

This way, when a request comes in, I get all the information up front needed to schedule with a content provider or for a project or special event.

Then we have a back end entry (which I won’t give you access to! :>) where my scheduler and I keep track of our communications in scheduling the event. We record when we fill out the online form, summaries of emails/calls between us and the provider and/or the teacher, etc. This way we can quickly see the status of any request.
When the program is all scheduled, then a confirmation email goes to the teacher, the distance learning contacts in the building/district, and the principal.
Right now we are doing scheduling for all our districts. Originally with our V.35 network, they couldn’t connect on their own so they had to schedule through me. Now there is the possibility of them scheduling on their own, but usually I am funding part or all of the program, so I still need the records. So at this point, scheduling still all goes through me. As we expand, we may need to rethink this procedure. We have been doing about 200 or so programs a year. I’m already over that number this year, and next year we’re installing 35 new units (above the 24 we support right now).

Projects & Special Events
Another area that really takes organizational skills is running projects and special events such as ASK, MysteryQuest, Lest We Forget, and Read Across America. I use a trick I learned from Arnie Comer at Macomb ISD: Word tables. For example, the picture shows my Word file for my 38 Read Across America connections. Orange boxes are ISDN; light green are test calls scheduled; and darker green are completed test calls. Each row is a connection; each box is the contact information from the match email for both partners.

I keep Word files like this for the other events we run as well. That way I can easily pull up whatever contact information I need. Thanks Arnie for teaching me this trick!

RSS Calendar
I keep all the events on my own calendar (Palm Desktop), but this year I’ve tried, with imperfect success, to keep the events listed on our website as well using RSS Calendar. I learned about this tool from Dan Gross, SWING, Wisconsin. I haven’t done too well with keeping it current & accurate, but it has been better than how I used to manually enter our events on our website! I would like to do this better, because as we increase use in districts, my local distance learning coordinators will also need to make sure we don’t double book events within a district.

As some of you razz me about, I tend to generate a lot of email. And of course, the more you send, the more you get! So I have lots of folders, organized within folders. I have a main level folder for content providers, with a folder for each provider within. I have a main level folder for state, province, and country folders of people I know doing VC in different areas. Very handy when planning a project! I also have a folder for each ASK program within an ASK folder, and a folder for projects with a separate folder. This way I can quickly find whatever contact/history I need.

Finally, there are some great checklists out there for making a videoconference happen. This one, from Athena, UK, is detailed and easy to understand. See especially the checklist on the last page. Participants in my Kid2Kid online class love this list. Do you know of any other good checklists? Please share!

Please share
These are just a few of my strategies. I’m sure there are many other good ones. Please leave a comment so we can learn from your strategies!

January 19, 2007 Update. I’m no longer using the RSS Calendar. Now I have a way for my districts to enter programs they’ve scheduled onto the calendar, and a way for them to look up what’s scheduled on the calendar. These are all different entry points to the same Filemaker Pro database mentioned above.

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