Tag Archives: training

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?

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.

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.

Missed Opportunities

Classroom

If there is one word that frustrates me on a regular basis when it comes to supporting the embedding of and utilisation of technologies into education it is the word “appropriate”.

People use it all the time to describe the usage of technology.

“Learning technologies will be embedded into lessons where appropriate”

“The use of technology to support learning will be used when it is appropriate to do so.”

Now I don’t have a problem per se about the use of the word appropriate in this context. I don’t believe technology should be used all the time and every time.

However what has happened is that the word appropriate has been appropriated as an excuse for not using technology.

So I hear practitioners saying, and these are all actual things I have heard people say:

“I won’t use mobile devices in my classroom as they are not appropriate”.

“Using the VLE with my learners is not appropriate.”

“The use of PSPs would not be appropriate with that group”

“Using the Interactive Whiteboard would not be appropriate for this subject.”

So rather than use the word appropriate to define a time or context when and where technology should be used, the word is more often used to describe an entire course or cohort.

Sometimes the appropriate excuse is used for a single technology or in extreme cases any kind of learning technology.

To say that technology is never appropriate for an entire course or an entire cohort, often misses the opportunities that technology can offer to enhance or enrich a session.

I remember talking to one curriculum manager who was adamant that using PSPs with her cohort of HNC students wasn’t appropriate. These were adult students who would not want to “play” with shiny things and didn’t play games in lessons. The thing is, across the corridor another teacher was using PSPs with a group of management students (a fair few who were managers in the college). They weren’t playing games on the PSP, they were using them to watch a video presentation at their own pace and allowing them to review and rewind where appropriate.

So why does it happen?

Sometimes it is more appropriate to use a traditional approach or a traditional technology. For example nothing wrong with using flip chart paper or post it notes. There is noting inappropriate about not using a forum on the VLE and having a live discussion in the classroom.

For me, what is inappropriate, is never using technology using the term appropriate as a blanket reason, more as an excuse rather than an actual reason. This is why it frustrates me.

Next question, is how do we move things forward?

Well one thing I do find working with practitioners, observing sessions is the number of missing opportunities for appropriate use of learning technologies. Why are they getting missed?

Talking with learners and practitioners it is usually down to confidence or not knowing the potential. It certainly is fair to say that not everyone knows everything! However when I say “not knowing the potential” this isn’t about practitioners knowing how everything works, this is about understanding the potential of various learning technologies. Understanding the potential means when an opportunity arises, it isn’t missed, appropriate use of technology is embedded into the learning.

Practitioners need to take a certain responsibility for professional updating at training and development events to understand how different learning technologies can be used to enhance and enrich learning. Staff with responsibility for embedding learning can support this process with case studies, guidance, exemplars and ideas. These could be paper based, e-mail, video, podcasts, or through any various online tools.

Confidence is more difficult to deal with. Experience of using multiple technologies will build confidence in using those technologies. So you have to start using technologies to gain confidence in using technology. That first step though can be very daunting. Often practitioners will talk about the fear of “looking stupid” or “it not working”. Again, staff with responsibility for embedding learning can support this process by motivating staff, but also where appropriate working with practitioners in a session, to ensure that the technology “works”. Likewise IT support teams need to help and ensure that the technology is robust and just “works”. That will help to build confidence.

It is probably not appropriate to use (the same) technology in every lesson, however it is equally inappropriate to miss the opportunities that learning technologies can bring to learning, by never using it.

How do you deal with the problem of missed opportunities?