A Fresh Approach on Chapter Networking

Amy E. McCartyAmy E. McCarty of law firm Monahan & Cohen spoke at the Illinois ethics symposium.

Mistey Kosek spared herself a 90-minute commute to Chicago when she signed up to participate in the NASW Illinois Chapter’s first Virtual Symposium on Ethics this fall.

Kosek said despite not being in the same room with the conference presenters, she was still able to communicate with them and other attendees in a virtual format using an Internet connection.

“I was able to stay at my house, sit anywhere I wanted to and I could still interact, ask questions and post comments,” she said. “I loved it.”

Illinois is one of many NASW chapters that are embracing technology’s ability to pull together people in faraway places.

Illinois Chapter Executive Director Joel Rubin said the symposium was a success with 200 participants. He said the chapter decided to host its biannual conference on ethics in virtual format to increase the participation rate and save money. “One person logged in from Vietnam,” he said.

Rubin noted that while there were a few glitches, the overall experience received positive reviews from attendees.

One of them was Susan Razbadouski, a former Illinois Chapter president.

She said the virtual symposium also spared her the 90-mile trip she would have made if the meeting had been conducted face-to-face.

“I thought it was really good,” she said. “The speakers were good and the staff did a great job putting it together.”

Razbadouski noted that she appreciates the chapter’s ambition to use technology to conduct business in a more efficient manner. “They have done a great job,” she said.

NASW’s national office in Washington also has taken the lead in using technology to promote distance learning.

The National Office worked with CommPartners to host NASW’s first Virtual Delegate Assembly in 2008. CommPartners also provides the online platform for NASW’s popular Lunchtime and Specialty Practice Sections webinars, as well as the webinar licenses that 36 NASW chapters use to host their virtual meetings and events.

CommPartners also provides the virtual environment for NASW’s national Board of Directors meetings. The Board’s January 2011 session will be its first online meeting using the new Virtual Board Room platform. The website is specifically designed for participants to conduct business using Robert’s Rules of Order and download meeting materials.

Nou Vang, special projects assistant to NASW’s chief operating officer, said NASW’s Continuing Education section provides a catalog of NASW-approved continuing education providers and their programs. NASW online education courses include webinars and teleconferences from the Lunchtime series and Specialty Practice Sections series.

Sue Jashinsky, manager of Chapter Services at NASW, said 37 chapters use the company Manexa to showcase and process registration for online CE courses and materials.

“This helps our chapters that have members who may find it time- or cost-prohibitive to travel long distances to attend meetings,” Jashinsky said. “It also helps chapter staff save time with the automated registration process for their continuing education programs.”

Hoyt Suppes, executive director of the Washington State NASW Chapter, said the ability to pool CE resources lets participants select from a variety of educational topics.

Carol Stambaugh, executive director of the Arizona Chapter, said technology is a new way to communicate and she welcomes any opportunities to expand the social work message. She is an avid fan of using social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter to announce the chapter’s latest efforts.

She also has used YouTube to attract people into leadership roles. “I link people to my videos and they can see me talking,” Stambaugh said. “Our video for recruitment and orientation of board members received a ‘Cutting Edge’ award from the Arizona Society of Association Executives.”

Chapters in rural states also have seen the benefit of technology.

Marlene Schulz, executive director of the NASW South Dakota, said the chapter has partnered with the University of South Dakota’s MSW program to offer CE sessions through a network that connects virtually every town that has a high school or state office.

“We are now using (virtual) CE sessions about nine times a year for members throughout the state rather than only for members who are in or who want to travel to Sioux Falls,” Schulz said.