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  • Gah! Focus on Training

    Posted on February 4th, 2011 admin 3 comments

    James Clay is annoying. He is annoying because he always manages to churn out blog posts on topics that I’m mulling over in my own head at around the same time that he is. The problem is that while I am still mulling and drafting and jotting down thoughts, James has already clicked the Publish button. I then read his stuff and usually go ‘Oh yeh, good point. Must rethink/rewrite that bit…’ – Gah!

    Take this post as an example. I’ve been stewing this one up for a few weeks. Why so long? Well, observation for one. And a lot of listening, watching, learning, thinking, pondering, reading on and around my ideas. My chosen topic: edtech and staff training. On Tuesday morning this week I had a brief conversation in the office about training approaches, and I was suddenly ready to compile all my wonderful observations and insights into a blog post. I started to draft a post in my head but didn’t get round to actually writing it. Wednesday morning I start up Twitter and …


    So let’s rewind to Tuesday’s office conversation. Subject: our different approaches to training. Training is one of the core activities in our department and with performance reviews and an Ofsted inspection looming larger than life, training is suddenly high on the list of priorities for many curriculum areas. Much training and tidy up work is still needed in order to get the VLE and its course owners up to speed and replace quantity with quality course content.

    There are three of us here who share the bulk of the eLearning training demands between us. None of us are qualified teachers, and we all bring different talents and tech interests to the table. We also have very unique ideas on how we deliver training. In a nutshell, our conversation boiled down to James’s question: focus on technology or on pedagogy?

    In another (very simplified) nutshell, here are rough illustrations of our different approaches:

    1. “This is a tool. Step 1: Do x. Step 2: Click y. Step 3: Enter z. Repeat. The functionality will allow you to bla bla bla. Questions? No? Next tool…”
    2. “I found this the other day. I think it’s great. It does this and that and when you press this button, it does that as well. Isn’t it brilliant? You can use it for A and for B. Oh and for C. Great, isn’t it? Sure, you need to do this first and then you need to click that option and make sure you press that button, but it’s such a great tool, you’ll find it all worthwhile…”
    3. “What is it you would like your students to gain from this activity? Let’s have a look at what materials you already have and see if we can find some tools that fit in nicely with that…”

    All in all, I think our various methods suit particular groups of staff rather well.

    There are always those members of staff who simply want to know the mechanical setup process of a tool in order to tick a box for review purposes and to show some level of engagement with eLearning. “I’m told I need to add XYZ to improve my course. I don’t really know what it does, I don’t really understand why I would use it and I haven’t really got time for this, I just need to know how to add it to my course. Now.”

    Then there are those who quite like technology and gadgets. This group is happy to explore the options and experiment even if there are a few drawbacks  or hurdles to overcome and even if there is a steep personal learning curve to climb. These people tend to make stuff happen with tech in the classroom with the most minimal input from the eLearning team. Top marks for enthusiasm, sense of adventure and creativity. “Look! Shiny! Want!” – Whether their choice is always the best tool for the job is a different matter, of course, but it’s new and impressive and the kids will enjoy it.

    There is a third group of people. Getting it right for this group is tricky: they simply cannot see the bigger picture when they are purely fed on step-by-step mechanics and functionality. They will learn a given tool, learn to use it well and become complete converts: “Success! Wow! I can use tech!” At the same time this group often needs quite a bit of guidance when it comes to uses of the tool they have so enthusiastically embraced, else the danger is that they will use their new found skill ad infinitum with the narrowest of scopes of application and  shoehorn anything at all into it, often at the expense of a more suitable technology for a particular task. At the other extreme is the glazed-over look. This tends to happen when this group of people is introduced to lots of tools or a tool with lots of features but without an immediately obvious link to a  specific learning scenario: “Why do I need to adopt another tool when what I am using already has served me so well up to now?”

    Balance is what’s needed for this group: exactly the right amount of technology matched to the technical skill and adventure level of the member of staff and as pedagogically appropriate for the learning activity as possible. See what I mean about  this group being tricky? Personally, I enjoy working with this group because these people tend to bring with them just the right amount of open-mindedness, but also enough skepticism to keep me grounded and questioning the usefulness of the technology I am advocating. In addition, I get valuable insights into the world of teaching and pick up tips that (hopefully) improve the training sessions that I run myself. This group is full of win.

    Good knowledge of your audience is crucial. And if you are very lucky, you have a team like ours to cater for every one of these audience types perfectly.

    My approach to training has changed quite a bit over the years. I started off with the mechanical step-by-step “wash-rinse-repeat” model of training. It’s what I had been taught as the correct way to train staff on the job in my previous life in the hospitality industry (Craft Trainer Award, 1998). It was a model that did not suit me personally, and I guess I have always rebelled against what I perceive as programming people to be soulless drones so they can run on autopilot with a minimum amount of thinking.

    I am a member of the oooh shiny! brigade whose brain constantly queries how the latest thing could be used to make courses more interesting. But at the same time I have learnt to sit back before I leap as well. Whenever I come across a new thing, I quietly play with it, sometimes for weeks. No tweets, or blog posts or tentative pilot projects. Why so long? Well, observation for one. And a lot of listening, watching, learning, thinking, pondering, reading on and around my ideas. I observe how other people use it, learn from their mistakes and absorb their good practice. I build my confidence and expertise that way.

    But enough about me. What about teachers? Teachers are experts, too. Us tech folk tend to forget that sometimes. Teachers know their subject better than I do, most important of all, they know their audience better than I do. They know what does and does not work in the classroom with a specific group of learners. The shiniest technology is useless when it’s too challenging or not challenging enough for the audience. Also, equipping staff with a great range of tools does not automatically make them experts at choosing the most appropriate technology for their task to challenge but not frustrate their audience. Balance is what’s needed, and a mutual trust that you, the teacher, know your subject and your crowd, and that I, the technologist, don’t sell you tech for tech’s sake, but that I will advise uses of technology that are engaging for your students, suitable for your task and just at the right level for your technical ability.

    In his post, James Clay talks specifically about learning technology events and conferences. I think the audience at such events always consists of the perfect blend of expert teacher and expert tech person. Both are highly skilled, motivated, enthusiastic and full of vision. That is why those conferences are magical. That is why we learn so much from each other at these events and gain so much from each other’s ideas. However, the audience at an edtech conference is definitely very different from the audience I face at a CPD day at BDC. I completely agree with James that context is vitally imortant. I am less certain that I agree entirely with this view:

    … it is vital that practitioners are aware of the potential and availability of technology. When they know what is available and importantly what it is capable of then they can apply technological solutions to their learning problems.

    This is absolutely fine for that second group, the “Oooh Shiny!s” of our campuses who jump right in without fear. To some degree this will also apply to my category of “Trickys”  because they are open to the idea of trying new things but not always confident or convinced enough that a technology we are trying to flog to them as a solution will work with their learners, in their classroom, with their subject. Too much potential can be overwhelming, too, and I think it’s important to recognise this.

    So, focus on technology or focus on pedagogy? Depending on the audience it will be one or the other, in my opinion, but for a whole lot of staff, my bunch of “Trickys”, I think we need to meet in a place of mutual trust in the middle and work together towards a suitable blend of “technogogy”.

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