'13 National School Used Skype Technology
Evanne Schmarder is the principal at Roadabode Productions, a firm specializing in digital marketing strategy, consulting, and education for the outdoor recreation industry and is the co-author of "Unconventional Wisdom Works." She’s also the host and producer of the RV Cooking Show. She provided this column which appears in the April issue of Woodall's Campground Management. Evanne gets great satisfaction out of helping business owners maximize their marketing potential and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 460-9863.
As year-one, section 1A students at the 2013 National School of RV Park and Campground Management, held at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, W. Va., filed into their first class of the year in late February, they had no idea that they would be making history. They settled in around the tables with new friends and high expectations, ready to learn.
Karen Brucoli-Anesi, the school’s incoming chairwoman, greeted the students and began the session’s introduction. The Advertising in the Electronic Age class would have the benefit of two instructors she said, Chairwoman-Elect Tracie Fisher and industry digital marketing consultant Evanne Schmarder – me. But only Tracie was standing in front of the students. I was live on-screen, coming to the students from the California Polytechnic State University’s SLO HotHouse in San Luis Obispo, Calif., via Skype.
A String of School Firsts
The Skype Instructor
The National School’s Board of Regents experienced the advantages of Skype technology when Tracie virtually attended a Michigan ARVC board meeting while physically in West Virginia, the location of the school’s mid-year board meeting, with much success. From that point on it was a natural progression. Stemming from a need for fiscal reserve and a desire to introduce practical technology into the school’s agenda, Tracie brought the idea of co-teaching via Skype to the board and was encouraged by overwhelming interest.
She next brought it to me and together we talked about the possibilities and pitfalls. It was an especially good fit for our session topic and held limitless opportunities. However, video Skype uses a lot of bandwidth and without a strong Internet connection the class had the potential to be more of a distraction than a benefit. We agreed that we could find a way to make it work and moved ahead with planning the course, including a contingency plan if technology failed.
In addition to bringing in a virtual instructor, and since we were already on the tech-edge, we wanted to share practical “in the field” experience on the many topics that made up our class curriculum. What better way to do that than introduce video interviews with successful park owners and operators?
With the gracious help of Joe Moore, general manager at The Vineyards Campground and Cabins on Grapevine Lake in Grapevine, Texas – a public park; Dave Lovell, marketing director and Dave’s assistant Laura Barker, PR/web coordinator at Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort in Santa Clause, Ind. – a destination park; and Gary Quigley, co-owner at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest in Harrisville, Pa., – a franchise park; students essentially had four more virtual instructors.
“The video interviews brought these park operators into the classroom. The lessons taught weren’t theory but directly from the campgrounds and added a different level of personalization,” noted Mark Maciha, the school’s past chairman.
Tracie and I sprinkled snippets of each interview throughout the 2-hour classes. After the sessions, the videos were made available for students to view in entirety, on-demand.
To build community and get students involved, Tracie developed another first for the National School, a private Facebook group where students and instructors could interact, ask one another questions, post information and simply connect. According to Tracie, approximately 50% of enrolled students are participating in the group and it’s been and continues to be a great success.
Technology and Hardware
When it came time to facilitate the Skype connection, an expected hurdle to overcome was the hardware. When I asked Mark about the set-up on the school’s end, he told me it was “remarkably easy. An unintended consequence was seeing how easily this could be done. That was a surprise to all of us.” A laptop, the room’s sound system, a desktop microphone and a desktop camera were the only pieces of hardware required. Karl Littman, ARVC Foundation chairman, observed that the only thing he would add to the hardware mix would be a swivel and joystick for the desktop camera so the Skype instructor could pan the entire room.
The venue, Oglebay Resort & Conference
Center’s National Training Center, provided Internet connectivity for the classroom.
In California, I scheduled time at the Cal Poly SLO HotHouse – a small business incubator offering a high tech space to budding entrepreneurs. This space offers strong Internet connectivity and an ideal classroom setting. With only my iMac, a headset and a Skype account, I was at the school, on-screen, physically co-teaching with Tracie, able to see, hear and talk with students as they asked questions and interacted with me, and was able to participate at a classroom level from across the continent.
Beautiful Buzz, Effective Tactic
As a school graduate, Karl was excited to see the topic of digital marketing being taught. “It’s new, current, and what students need to be doing right now. Using Skype was hip, high-tech, and added a “wow” factor to the class,” said Karl.
Tracie, Mark and Karl all mentioned that at one point or another every instructor drifted into the room, interested in seeing this practical application of technology in action. The students, they observed, were engaged with both instructors – in-person and on-screen –and adapted to the process without skipping a beat.
“Integrating new ways to educate students from Skype to video interviews to Facebook – using new technology – is scary. It was a risk, as technology can often be, but the reward was high,” continued Tracie. While not every single moment went off without a hitch, they all agreed that this class will serve as a model for what can be done at the school moving forward, offering students more expertise and perspectives in a cost-effective and engaging manner.
As for me, I could feel the enthusiasm from Oglebay across the screen during the pre-class testing phase, throughout classes for both sections 1A and 1B, and in the Facebook group. I was honored to play a small part in these historic firsts and was delighted with the results. While feedback is still being collected, I suspect students will give the session high marks. With this knowledge and experience under their belts – and a little help from today’s technology – I foresee the school and our students continuing to make history in our sector of the industry for years to come.
For more information about the National School of RV Park and Campground Management please visit www.campgroundschool.org. You may also contact the school’s 2014/15 Chairman, Karen Brucoli-Anesi, at email@example.com.