Article

Looking the picture of health

Chris Parsons has an eye-catching red sofa in his office – and it’s there for a very good reason (besides sitting on).

Relaxed, smiling, comfortable, and happy. You can see the principal of the Southern Regional Health School is a convert to videoconferencing (VC) – and that’s the whole point.

Fourteen months ago, the school installed VC equipment at its four locations. It’s given Chris Parsons and his team a whole new outlook on life … and a re-design of his office to provide the perfect back-drop.

“You have to be careful with light and what you wear,” he explained. “We had a consultant in and the office has been set up to give callers the sense that they’re really here – even down to the people moving around in the background.”

If there’s no looking back now, Parsons didn’t have to be convinced to invest the best part of $50,000 in VC equipment in the first place (albeit with help from the school’s then sponsors Telecom).

“We knew we wanted it – and went out and got it,” he said. “I guess that was a function of the multi-sited nature of a school such as ours. You need to be able to communicate clearly and frequently, and the more personally the better. Videoconferencing is perfect.

“Previously we’d all meet up four times a year, over two days. You can imagine the costs involved. Now staff can ‘beam’ into my office from Nelson, Dunedin and Invercargill – or from down the other end of the building here in Christchurch. We even had our end of term nibbles ‘together’ via VC.”

Staff can all attend board meetings and training sessions more easily and conveniently. Parsons is also in regular contact with his counterpart in Auckland for PD and to “discuss ideas”.

“One staff member in Invercargill thought it was great that she didn’t have to get up at 5am to go to the airport!”

Health schools were set up about seven years ago to help children continue learning if they’re sick and away from school for extended periods. There are three in New Zealand – Northern (in Auckland), Central Regional (Wellington) and Southern Regional (Christchurch).

The equipment isn’t simply for staff. It also plays a significant part in teaching. The school already has an extensive Web platform that complements the VC capability. Each centre has learning support centres that offer specialist subjects.

“We have biology and secondary maths here in Christchurch,” said Parsons. “If any of the other offices need it, they can call in and attend. We’re also very keen on growing and adding the ability to reach into wards at the hospital via videoconferencing.”

As for the quality of the service, Parsons doesn’t hold back.

“It’s great. You might as well be in the same room – really, you are!” he said. “The picture quality is stunning, the sound brilliant, and the equipment is very reliable.

“And it doesn’t take long to get used to it, either. By the time the first session finishes you’re there,” he added.

When deciding on the solution and service provider, the Christchurch-based school “sought advice from other users”.

“We asked as many people as we could and went with asnet Technologies, largely because of the training and the service.”

The system is connected through SchoolZone – in fact, the link is able to operate two calls simultaneously. As well as staff and students, Parsons also invites others to use the service … and spread the word about videoconferencing.

“We see it as good will,” he said. “We recently helped LEARNZ hold a three-way call between Scott Base in Antarctica, Prime Minister Helen Clark at a school in Malaysia, and Beckenham School here in Christchurch.”

One piece of advice Parsons has for others considering VC is the ongoing costs.

“Each connection costs $4,500 a year and we have four – people need to aware of that.

“However, VC does have such a lot going for it. Take ERO, for example. The system can be programmed to record sessions. Instead of giving them papers, we can offer a Web link, where they can watch meetings, PD, etc.

“We really wouldn’t be without it now”.

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Categories: Article, Issue 1