SSA reaps benefits of video training for employees

SSA reaps benefits of video training for employees

Interactive teletraining is remarkable close to in-person teacher-student experience, participants say

By Frank Tiboni

GCN Staff

Watching a training video on IVT at an SSA district office are claims representative Mark Webber, administrative aide Elizabeth Johnson, center, and claims representitive Marni-Jo Calma.

The Social Security Administration's interactive video teletraining system, which is lowering operating costs and boosting interactivity, is proving to be a vast improvement over the agency's former training system, the National Satellite Television Network.

SSA has implemented IVT at 830 field sites, said Ward Bechtel, SSA's IVT program manager. The one-way video, two-way audio system delivered over a point-to-multipoint satellite network uses a Telstar 4 satellite from Hughes Data Systems of Irvine, Calif.

SSA officials are so enthused about the new capability that they want to roll out the system at 700 locations in the next two years. The agency will prepare a cost-benefit analysis to make a case for the expansion and additional funding, Bechtel said.

Pleases everyone

Since SSA began fielding IVT in 1996, managers and employees have raved about the interactive capabilities of the system.

The system's keypads, from One Touch Corp. of San Jose, Calif., have been especially popular because they let trainees and instructors relate to each other much as they would in a classroom, Bechtel said.

'IVT is making a phenomenal difference in our training program,' said Felicita Sola-Carter, director of SSA's Office of Training. 'The system delivers a more timely and consistent message in training for employees.'

Training via IVT originates in five studios, two in Baltimore and one each in Atlanta, Dallas and Kansas City, Mo., Bechtel said.

Instructors use a variety of video devices and computers to create and deliver lessons. The two-way-audio and viewer response keypads, which operate over telephone lines, provide real-time voice and data communications between students and teachers.

In the 1980s, SSA used the National Satellite Television Network to conduct training for employees across the country. But the system fell into disuse because of high costs and a lack of interactivity, Bechtel said.

SSA decided in the early 1990s to improve on the satellite network and bring IVT capability to more than 1,500 field offices, he said.

The agency began a three-phase plan to roll out IVT. Each field site hooked up to the system receives $15,000 worth of equipment, including:

• One-Touch keypads

• 48-, 52- and 60-inch projection televisions, which provide images of the instructors

• A VCR for students to tape lessons

• A satellite dish

• An integrated receiver and decoder from Scientifica Atlanta of Atlanta, which converts the digitally encrypted broadcast signal into a TV picture and sound

• A One Touch site controller, which controls the voice and data traffic between the keypads at the sites and the One Touch presentation system in the studios.

Before starting IVT, SSA conducted a pilot at 30 sites. That was successful, so the agency followed through from 1996 to 1998 with the first phase, implementation at 190 more sites and the two Baltimore studios.

During Phase 2, which began last year, SSA implemented IVT at 610 additional sites and the three other regional studios. Phase 3 calls for the agency to field IVT at 700 more locations, provided it receives funding.

By going from the analog National Satellite Television Network to digital IVT, the agency lowered the cost of producing sessions from $1,000 per hour to $118 per hour. In the first six months of this fiscal year, SSA delivered 600 broadcasts of one to four hours each, Bechtel said.

Second, the keypads eliminated push-to-talk microphones, which used an audio bridge that forwarded questions to a producer, who then sent the questions to the instructor.

SSA wants eventually to deliver IVT via PCs, and a pilot using PCs is taking place in five offices, Bechtel said.

Trainees log on to the system using their Social Security numbers, which tell the instructor the name and location of each student.

When students want to talk, they press a 'call' button on the keypad. A red 'wait' light comes on as a message is sent to the instructor's PC, and the student's name and location are displayed on a touch-screen monitor. The instructor touches an icon that turns on a green 'speak' light on the student's keypad, indicating that the student can begin to talk.

'The conversation is like walkie-talkie, making for polite conversation,' Bechtel said.

Interactivity has been improved in two ways. First, an instructor-friendly studio was designed that includes the One Touch presentation system, a TelePrompTer, an overhead document camera, a drawing pen and a PC for graphics ability. An automated presentation podium that includes robotic cameras lets the instructor control all elements of the broadcast and select various video sources.


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