Using Technology for Roundtables

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In the Winter 2014 edition of The Commissioner, we featured a district that creates YouTube videos of roundtable breakout sessions for viewing by unit leaders who are unable to attend roundtable in person. Some people in predominantly rural districts have commented that, except in the biggest towns and cities in their districts, their volunteers do not have access to the high-speed broadband Internet service necessary to view YouTube videos. Roundtable commissioners in such districts will need a different way to attract unit leaders to their roundtables. Todd Tingblad of Northern Star Council shared a creative alternative with us.

Todd’s district covers four western counties of Wisconsin plus one school district in Minnesota. While some communities in the district have high-speed Internet service, only about 15 percent of the district’s leaders live in those communities. The roundtable is held in a school in which most cell phones have poor reception and which blocks most social media sites (so students can’t access them during the school day). All those factors severely limit the usefulness of online video support for his roundtables.

Despite these limitations, Todd does use technology to help run the roundtable. Just not online. When he needs something from the Internet for use at the roundtable, he downloads it to a laptop computer beforehand and uses it in offline mode during roundtable.

Todd also creates a “roundtable movie” (a looping video containing announcement information, Scouting-related videos, inspirational music, and a standard Eagle River Roundtable introduction). Todd displays the roundtable movie using his laptop and the “smart board” projector system at the school where the roundtable is held.

Todd creates the roundtable movie by converting any PowerPoint components into movies in .wav format and assembling them plus videos, music, and more into a single .wav file. The software products Todd uses to create the movie are Microsoft PowerPoint, Leawo PowerPoint to Video Free, and VSDC Free Video Editor. The movie begins running at 6:30 p.m. and runs about 50 minutes until it is time to start the programspecific breakouts. The roundtable opening ceremony starts at 7 p.m. (about 30 minutes into the movie).

Todd uses the 90-minute roundtable structure and includes many of the recommended practices from the Roundtable Mechanics section of the roundtable planning guides, including specifically welcoming first-timers and giving them a special patch, having displays, and presenting door prizes. He also adds special activities to certain roundtables throughout the year, such as a chili cook-off competition, a BSA birthday party with pies in February, and a Dutch oven cook-off competition.

In addition, Todd structures his roundtable so it is a monthly district “event.” Several other district unit support service activities are scheduled in conjunction with the roundtable at the same facility. They include Order of the Arrow chapter meetings, Eagle Scout boards of review, Eagle Scout project approvals, Life-to-Eagle process training for parents, Scout and Eagle Scout service project coach meetings, and BSA training courses.

Add the concept of car-pooling to save gas money, and you have the potential for several leaders from the same unit going to roundtable but for many different reasons. With proper timing, everyone can attend the joint session of the roundtable before heading off to their Eagle Scout board of review, training, program breakouts, or other sessions for the rest of the night. And if a parent and Scout finish the Eagle Scout project approval early enough, they can attend the Boy Scout breakout or OA chapter meeting. They can all come back together for a while at the end for refreshments before going home.

Using these techniques has been very successful. During 2013, the Eagle River District had among the council’s highest percentage of units attending roundtable (69.7 percent) and was also among the highest number of leaders attending roundtable in the council (averaging 128, with a high of 148).

Share your successful roundtable delivery experiences (and tips) with Dan Maxfield at dbmaxi05@gmail.com.

Good roundtables promote great Scouting. Our youth deserve the best! So let’s provide good roundtables.