All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.
Monday, April 12, 2010 at 09:12PM
I was tickled to read The 15 Essentials of Bad Professional Development in Technology by Jacob Gutnicki (via a
very good Miguel Guhlin post). Mostly, I suppose, since it reminded me of how little things have changed in
technology training over the past 15-20 years. Below is a section from my book The Indispensable Teacher's Guide
to Computer Skills (1st ed) that came out in 1997.
Seven qualities of highly effective technology trainers
Anything you say or do as a technology trainer when teaching specific technology skills will
fall on deaf ears unless the people being trained understand and believe what they are
learning will in some way be of personal benefit. It’s just that simple. Effective technology
trainers know that they need to preface any class with a very clear What’s In It For Me
message. If you can’t convince your teachers that the skill you are about to teach will in
someway make them more productive (or improve the learning experience of their
students), save your breath. The workshop participants will all just be checking their email
while you’re talking.
2. The problem is on the desk, not in the chair.
When a problem arises, the best trainers assume that it is a result of a
hardware or software flaw - whether an actual bug or a design in the user
interface that makes the technology confusing for normal people to use. It’s
tough to help people increase their knowledge without making them feel
stupid or incompetent, but good teachers do. Phrases like, “My third graders
can do that.” “You know it works better when you plug it in.” and “No, the
other right arrow.” are not recommended.
Teachers also need to be reassured that if something breaks, it can be fixed. Kids catch on
to technology with amazing rapidity for a very good reason. They aren’t afraid to push
buttons. They know if they mess something up, it’s an adult’s job to fix it. That’s one nice
thing about being a kid. However we need to instill in most of our adult learners the
courage to experiment. Rather than always answering direct questions about technology,
good trainers will often say, “Try it and see what happens. If you mess something up, I’ll
help you fix it.” We tell our new technology learners that we can repair or replace anything
but their original creations. The only real worry they should have is about backing up
3. No mouse touching.
Good trainers are patient. One sure sign of this saintly virtue in teachers is that they never
touch a learner’s mouse or keyboard. No matter how exasperating it becomes to watch that
ill-coordinated teacher find and click on the correct button, good instructors' hands stay
well behind their backs, no matter how white knuckled they become.
4. Great analogies.
There is a theory that the only way we can think about a new thing is if we have some way
to relate it to what we already know. Good trainers can do that by creating analogies. “Your
email account is like a post office box. Your password is like your combination to get into it.
Your email address is like your mailing address – it tells the electronic postmaster where to
send your email.” Now here’s the catch: truly great analogists know when the comparisons
break down, too. “Unlike a human postmaster, the electronic postmaster can’t make
intelligent guesses about an address. The extra dot, the L instead of a 1, or a single
juxtaposition of letters will keep your mail from being delivered.”
5. Clear support materials and advanced planning.
Few things are more comforting to teachers than being
able to take home a “cheat sheet” that covers much of the
same material that was taught in class. Until multi-step
tasks are repeated several times, most of us need
reminders that are more descriptive than just notes taken
in class. A short menu of task steps illustrated with screen
shots is a gift for most technology learners. (Learn to use
a screen capture program to create the graphics for these
Just as they take time to prepare good handouts, savvy
technology teachers check out the lab or teaching area well in advance (a week is best) for
potential problems with workstations, software version, need for browser plug-ins,
projection units, security systems, and network connections. Good instructors leave little to
chance. They even have backup plans if the network decides to die.
6. Knowing what is essential and what is only confusing.
A good trainer will have a list of the skills the learners should have mastered by the end of
the training. As instruction proceeds, that list will be the basis for frequent checks for
understanding. As an often-random thinker, I find such a list keeps me as an instructor on
track and provides a class roadmap for the learner. Now here’s the catch with this one:
truly great technology teachers know what things beginning learners really need to know
to make them productive and what things might be conveyed that only serve to impress a
captive audience with the technologist’s superior intellect. (“The email address is
comprised of the username, the domain name, the subdomain name, the computer name,
all referenced in a lookup table at the NIC.” Like that.) It’s an alpha wolf thing, especially
common with males. Be aware of it, and strive as an instructor to use charm and a caring
demeanor with the pack to achieve dominance instead.
Many of us who work with technology do so because we love it. We play with new software
on the weekends, surf the Internet deep into the evening, and show
off our new gadgets like other folks show off prize winning zinnias,
new powerboats, or successful children. I hesitate to use the term
“abnormal,” but we are in the minority. Most teachers see
technology as a sometimes helpful thing that should occupy about
1% of one’s conscious thinking time. It’s easy to lose the
perspective that teachers are teachers first and technology users
second – or third or fourth. Good trainers who can remember what
it was like before there were computers – the green grass, the
singing birds, the books to read, the parties to attend, the fishing
trips, the face-to-face human communication– tend to be more
empathetic. Think back, think back…