Urban Teacher Residencies nationwide connect with cloud computing

26 January 2011

Urban Teacher Residency United (UTRU), a national not-for-profit network of urban teacher preparation programs, is using cloud computing to connect its 17 partners across the U.S. Using online collaboration platform Huddle, programs in 14 cities and 20 school districts can share best practice with colleagues, access training documents and case studies, and organize meetings. By providing and managing this support network, UTRU is giving school districts, not-for-profit organizations and universities the assistance and vital resources they need to launch an effective Urban Teacher Residency (UTR).

Based on the medical residency model, UTRs provide prospective teachers with masters-level education as well as a year-long apprenticeship in a classroom so that they can gain hands-on experience. Originally set up in 2004 as an informal partnership between the nation’s existing UTR programs in Boston, Chicago and Metro Denver, UTRU is now setting the standards for urban teacher preparation nationwide. Expanding at a rate of four or five additional partnerships a year, UTRU was faced with the challenge of effectively communicating and disseminating information with its countrywide network.

With just eight staff, dealing with an escalating amount of email traffic and inbound phone enquiries from current and potential partners was becoming increasingly time-consuming. Recognizing that traditional communication tools were no longer sufficient to provide the communities with the support and services required for ongoing professional development, UTRU turned to Huddle. Using Huddle, UTRU staff can upload training documents into each partner’s secure online workspace, programs can share information with each other, and a best practices library has been built.

“As the volume of partners grew, it became increasingly obvious that we needed to store our content in a central online environment and enable people to collaborate effectively,” said Diana Hagans, Finance and Operations Manager, UTRU. “With a limited workforce, we needed a platform that was easy for our partners to navigate and find information for themselves. We looked at Basecamp and a few other options, but chose Huddle due to its great usability and customer service. As our staff prepare to lead training, documents are uploaded into workspaces and meetings are scheduled. Gone are the days of 10 different document versions going back and forth via email. There has certainly been a significant reduction in the amount of time spent on the phone and sifting through inboxes!”

To help partners get used to the culture change of avoiding email and phone calls and encourage user adoption, one person at each of the UTRs is trained to use Huddle. These team members then provide orientation for their colleagues.

“UTRU is a great example of how organizations are turning to Web 2.0 tools to build communities, enable self service and increase efficiency,” said Andy McLoughlin, Co-founder and EVP strategy, Huddle. “Huddle has enabled UTRU’s partners based all over the U.S. to access resources, share knowledge in an interactive forum and collaborate with each other. By moving this support network online, it is far easier to scale and UTRU can continue to drive educational reform, expanding its services to more residencies across the country.”