Tag Archives: staff development

It’s an extra, but does it need to be?

keyboardbw

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One challenge that is often faced when embedding learning technologies is that a lot of teaching staff see digital technology as something extra to do in their teaching. It’s a bolt-on, something extra to be done on top of the teaching and assessment workload.

Part of this has to be down to the way in which staff are introduced to or trained in the use of learning technologies. Staff attend a training session, or read an e-mail about some kind of new service or tool, or a new functionality and then are asked (usually politely and nicely) to start using as part of their work. The obvious reaction is that staff will see this as an extra.

Another part is down to the technocentric approach that is often used when talking about learning technologies, the training is focused on the technical approach to tools and services, this is how you use it and this is how it works.

At a simple level, even just uploading presentations to the VLE is an extra piece of work. Using a lecture capture system requires more effort than just the lecture. Using padlet to capture feedback requires more time than not capturing feedback.

This negative reaction to learning technologies, then extends to the use of other kinds of technolog, that can even save time, or isn’t recognised when the potential benefits are longer term.

So what can be done?

I don’t think there is an extra with the “this is an extra” model of staff development, it will certainly inspire and help those who want to engage with technology and those who can see the potential long term benefits. However in order to engage those staff for whom it is an “extra” this different approaches need to be considered and used.

There isn’t anything wrong about the technocentric approach, despite what the “pedagogy first” brigade may tell you, however the focus needs to be on the potential of the technology, what it can do, what is can provide and what the benefits are. The technical processes can be covered as well, but put the focus on what the benefits are for the member if the staff and importantly the learners.

Another method is to focus on the processes and workflows that staff have and see how technology can improve, enhance and smooth out those processes.

Finally what about the affordances that new technologies can bring, the potential not to just change what we do, but allow us to do things we had never considered.

So what strategies do you use to engage staff who see embedding technology as an extra?

Engaging the invisibles

Invisible Man
Image Credit: Invisible Man by James Edward Williams CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Back at the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event at the end of May we had a discussion on the need for IT training teams.

A casual question to a sector wide mailing list recently about what IT training teams are called resulted in a number of replies of Lynda.com! It seems that a number of universities have done away with their IT training teams altogether, or reduced them to one or two, presumably very busy, individuals. In this session the panel will discuss this shift in institutional provision, consider the risks, and consider how training teams may need to evolve.

Delegates to the event were invited to submit questions in advance and I want to take this opportunity to expand my views and thoughts on the discussion and the questions, including some questions we never had time for. See my previous post that discussed showing value and priorities.

One question that we didn’t get to answer was on how we identify and engage the digitally invisible? Those staff who avoid the digital, won’t engage with the training and are generally invisible.

Now we know that some would call this a generational issue, it’s to do with age, which we know not to be true.

The invisible are, and making some generalisations here, are not going to undertake surveys or diagnostic tools. They are unlikely to attend training sessions or visit training websites. Despite people assuming that everyone reads every e-mail, the invisible will ignore or delete e-mails about digital. These staff aren’t always ignoring digital, they may use some tools, but they aren’t looking to build their capabilities, they are happy where they are and their current level of skills. There will be a spectrum of skills across this group, some will have low capability in using digital, some will have what would be considered quite capable. The invisible are also silent, they are not the kind of people who will be heard complaining about digital.

It’s as though they don’t exist.

So how do we engage with the invisible? How do we ensure that these staff build on the skills they do have and continue to develop their digital skills and capabilities?

There are many ways to do this, apart from obviously not appointing them in the first place!

Kerry Pinny from Lincoln has written two very good blog post on these subjects. Her first post on the subject, Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? She says

Why are we employing people who don’t have the digital skills that are needed to cope in today’s ‘digital world’? It’s a question raised with increasing frequency and one that deserves some serious thought. I should start by saying that I fundamentally disagree with anyone who says that we shouldn’t employ people without the digital skills we ‘need’.

In her second post she reflects on the feedback in her post But what about staff that won’t or don’t want to engage in CPD? and provides some ideas on how to engage those staff, who are often invisible.

Employing people without digital skills is still an issue in that is often avoided by organisations for various reasons, usually historical and legacy reasons. Job descriptions rarely mention digital or technology, looking over lecturer job descriptions you rarely see any mention of digital. I have seen requirements for good office skills and a willingness to use the VLE. What does good office skills actually mean? At events we have asked staff if they are good with Word, most say yes, then ask them if they use styles consistently and effectively and for most staff groups the answer is no. As for willingness, if you are applying for a job you probably will no doubt be positive about being willing to use the VLE and other technologies, things may be different once you are employed. One potential solution for this is about been very clear about what is expected from staff and being explicit about what those expectations are. For new staff that willingness could then be transformed into mandatory training to meet those expectations.

Another solution is to focus on taking an institutional strategy and placing the responsibility on delivering on that strategy to departments. Those departments, as in the departmental managers, ensuring that all their staff are buying into the strategy and know what those staff need to do as individuals, to help deliver on the strategy, and what skills and development they will need.

There is also potentially a communication issue, ensuring that these staff get any key messages about the use of digital. If sending e-mail isn’t working, then think about doing things differently. I use to attend meetings in order to discuss issues face to face, another method was a physical paper newsletter on digital and learning technologies. I actually use to take the time to hand deliver this to offices and workrooms.

Finally, understanding the motivations and fears of these staff can be critical to helping them become not only visible, but also start to engaging with their own personal development and building their digital skills and capabilities. Most of these invisibles are actually happy where they are professionally, they like their jobs, they like the culture and don’t really want to be part of a changing culture. Showing them new shiny stuff generally won’t engage them, showing them solutions (that involve digital) that will solve real issues for them, probably have more chance of success.

So what strategies do you use to engage with the invisible?

Do we still need IT training teams?

The Stage at #udigcap

Back at the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event at the end of May we had a discussion on the need for IT training teams.

A casual question to a sector wide mailing list recently about what IT training teams are called resulted in a number of replies of Lynda.com! It seems that a number of universities have done away with their IT training teams altogether, or reduced them to one or two, presumably very busy, individuals. In this session the panel will discuss this shift in institutional provision, consider the risks, and consider how training teams may need to evolve.

Delegates to the event were invited to submit questions in advance and I want to take this opportunity to expand my views and thoughts on the discussion and the questions, including some questions we never had time for.

One of the questions was how IT training teams show their value beyond the “happy sheet”. Showing your value by showing positive feedback from participants is all well and good if the strategic need for an IT training team is to ensure delegates provide positive feedback. I found the easiest way to do this was to forget the training and provide lunch or cake!

A real challenge for measuring value is understanding both the impact and the value of that impact. This can be difficult to record, measure and assess, hence the often fallback on the happy sheets!

One way in which you can demonstrate value is clearly link the training sessions to the strategic objectives of the organisation or department and explain how the training will support or contribute to the success of that objective.

A further question we were asked was how do we create protected spaces in our workload to support innovation? The issue of time arose well the issue of lack of time; and as you know if you ask me why I don’t have a dog, the reason is I don’t have the time. When people say they don’t have the time, or they need time; what they are actually saying and meaning is: this is not a priority for me, I have other priorities that take up my time.

If people are concerned about the issue of time when it comes to creating protected spaces in their workloads to support innovation, then they are probably more likely concerned about how this will fit into their other priorities. So ask the question, who is responsible for setting the priorities of the staff in your institution? Priorities in theory are set by the line manager, who is operationalising the strategic direction and vision of the institution. If digital is not a strategic priority can we be surprised that staff within that institution don’t consider it a personal priority. How do you make innovation a strategic priority? That’s another question that would take more than one blog post to answer.

So how do you make children eat broccoli?

Do you eat broccoli?

Do you eat broccoli?

If you have young children you will know how challenging it can be to get them to eat new foods, or eat those that are healthy.

When asked why they won’t eat, let’s say broccoli, children (and to be honest some adults) will say they don’t like the taste, they don’t like the texture or they don’t like the colour. The end result is that they won’t eat the broccoli.

What they will not say, any may not realise, are the potential benefits of eating broccoli.

Broccoli is high in vitamin C and dietary fiber. It also contains multiple nutrients with potent anti-cancer properties, such as diindolylmethane and small amounts of selenium. A single serving provides more than 30 mg of vitamin C. Broccoli is also an excellent source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.

Or to put it more simply…

Eat your greens, they’re good for you.

But…

They won’t focus on the real health benefits of eating broccoli they will focus that they don’t like, they don’t like the taste, it gives them stomach ache. They will talk about how they prefer chips, that they have always eaten.

In many ways helping staff in using specific learning technologies for teaching, learning and assessment is like eating broccoli.

If you discuss the use of various technologies, you will hear from teachers and lecturers that they don’t like certain aspects of the tool or service, for example the look or the colour. They might say how it won’t allow them to do something in a particular way. Often you will hear them say, that though the tool does lots of things well, because it does one thing badly, or doesn’t have that feature, then they won’t be able to use it. They don’t like the taste, they don’t like the colour, they prefer doing what they have always done.

So how do you get children to eat broccoli?

Well shouting at them to eat their greens, generally doesn’t work with children.

If you try and explain the health benefits of broccoli, this generally fails too.

Sometimes you can try and mask the broccol, maybe with cheese or in extreme examples chocolate.

Though, personally, I find the best way to get children to eat new (and healthy) foods, is to create an environment in which they are not only willing to try new foods, they do so, and also seek out other new tastes on their own. This means they want to not only eat broccoli, but also, then want to try other things.

This isn’t easy or simple, but it does have the greatest impact.

So how do you make people eat broccoli?

Image via Steven Lilley on Flickr

Short and Sweet

Short and Sweet

So just how long should a training session be? 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour, all day, a week?

It is a challenge to both design training that covers what needs to be covered within a set timeframe, but also to ensure that it is sufficient, robust and effective. Also no one has all the time in the world for development activities, so compromises have to be made, yes a day’s training would be ideal, in reality you have an hour.

There is also no one model that fits all needs, so though this blog post is on “Short and Sweet” sessions lasting fifteen minutes, this is not the only model of development we deliver, there are also sessions lasting an hour, half a day and the odd whole day development.

One of the problems we have faced is that what we want is staff attend a training session, get all excited and inspired, hopefully then embedding the ideas and tool into their practice. However with any training session of an hour or more there is an assumption that the practitioner will find the session useful.
They might not know if it will be or not, and won’t until they attend. As a result they are likely to be cautious and probably won’t book in or attend, they don’t have the time! Of course providing information on the training in advance can help, but there is another assumption that they are aware of the training and read the information; that doesn’t always happen.

Sometimes practitioners don’t actually need training, did you ever get training in using iTunes for example, but need inspiration. They will then think about what they were shown and work on it in their own time.

Time, no one has any time anymore… I could argue for ages about how it isn’t “lack of time” that’s the problem, but “prioritisation” which is key, but you and I don’t have the time!

It was these concepts that made us think about revisiting training that was delivered to teams at a time and place to suit them (okay at team meetings), on demand, from a menu and to be quick and digestible.

I came up with the name, “Short and Sweet”, the idea was that there would be a selection of choices, and teams could pick and mix what they wanted. It also allowed me to theme the training with sweets. Well initially I was going to do just sweets, but I did think about healthy eating and all that, so I also used fruit too.

Each session was to be no longer than 15 minutes. The concept was to provide a taster, to tease and to inspire. Where possible there would be a follow up session available so that if so inspired they could then go to a more in-depth practical session.

I am also going to “digitise” some of the sessions and make them available to view on demand and on a mobile device.

I delivered my first few sessions of “Short and Sweet” and they worked well, and I did get some positive feedback. It will take as little longer to see if they have had any impact. It will also take longer to see if the concept lasts.