Those of you who regularly read my blogs know I often wax poetic about technology or collaboration or remote working, and otherwise generally geeky stuff.  But the stay at home orders around the COVID-19 pandemic have thrown everyone for a loop, and I’m no exception.  This blog is shamelessly about my wife, Helen and all she is doing to support developmentally delayed toddlers.

When Helen and I went out to social events she was never able to explain to anyone what I do for a living.  I’m the engineer / nerd / geek.  She’s the MSW / Social Worker.  Our joke was I could tell you why something was broken and how to fix it, she could ask you how you felt about all that.  We’ve been married for almost 30 years, and there was never any doubt about which one of us gets to sit in the Captain’s chair.

David Danto_Poly Studio_Poly Blog

When the Coronavirus pandemic forced everyone to stay home to slow the spread of the infection, I had no issues transitioning to remote working – it is my normal mode anyway.  Helen, however, didn’t have the same easy transition.

Helen works for an Early Intervention agency here in New Jersey.  Her job is to visit the homes of young toddlers that are experiencing developmental delays, and work with the child and his or her parents to break-down the learning process and jumpstart education.  This often involves working with the child “hand over hand” to demonstrate how to perform a task, and then celebrating each small achievement so that the toddler will want to incorporate the skills into their normal routine.  Each visit not only helps the child learn, but also teaches the parents how to engage with him or her to gain the most traction and effectiveness.

So how do you take a child’s hand and help them stack a block when you’re not allowed to go to their home?  That wasn’t an easy problem to solve.

For people like me – who have used collaboration technology all of our lives – it is relatively easy to manipulate the technology and tools to share content and instruct over video.  But for Helen – a technical novice – and one that has to teach someone under three years old – how could she adapt to a distance education model that would keep the attention of the child, maintain effective education, and do all of that without getting bogged down in needing to learn or adjust a lot of technical controls.

Well, it turns out (because she was sheltering-in-place with a spouse in the industry) that it didn’t have to be that hard at all.  Instead of using a cheap or device-built-in webcam, she was able to borrow and use my Poly Studio on calls with her little students and their parents.

In her words, it was “a game changer.”  The device’s wide field of view enabled her to demonstrate the proper ways to manipulate toys and educational materials to properly teach the child.  In addition, The Studio’s ability to automatically track her as she moved around the room meant she could concentrate 100% on the therapeutic interaction without worrying if her activities took her out of frame or required an adjustment – they never would.  No matter where she moved, what she grabbed, or how she manipulated it, the Studio would never let her get out of shot, never let her speech be muffled and never fail to let her hear every response from her little students and their parents.  For anyone of us who have been on videoconference calls with a cheap or embedded camera, we know that quality and clarity is often not the case.

Interestingly, after using the Poly Studio for a few weeks, she reported that many of her students were actually getting more out of the sessions than they would have from her in person.  Obviously, her remote interactions with the children were more limiting.  However, by not being there in person, it was forcing the parents to be more involved in the educational process – which is the ultimate goal of the Early Intervention visits anyway – to provide the knowledge to the parents so that they can effectively incorporate the educational methods into the family’s daily life.

So the big conclusions to take away from this real-life case-study are:

1) Not every videoconferencing camera / sound bar is made the same – and those differences matter.

2) I’m really, really proud of my wife – she can keep her seat in the captain’s chair – she deserves it.

Take a look at me interviewing my wife – and her demonstrating the use of the Poly Studio – in my “UC and Collaboration Supports The New Normal” webcast here.