When I deliver CPD for e-learning, digital or even edtech, I often get asked why aren’t we using digital tools as we get out the Sharpies, the flip chart paper and post-it notes.
For me the essence of digital CPD isn’t always about using the digital tools you are talking about. Effective use of digital is as much about deciding when to use digital tools and when not to use digital tools. Sometimes it’s one or the other and other times it is a blend.
As Darth Vader once said, never underestimate the power of a post-it note.
Though I didn’t post these posts each day in June (and to be honest I didn’t post it each day on the Twitter either) except the final day, I have decided to retrospectively post blog posts about each of the challenges and back date them accordingly. There is sometimes more I want to say on the challenge then you can fit into 140 characters (well 280 these days).
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.
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!
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’.
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?
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.
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?
Thursday was our College Development Day, one of two days of the year where we “close” the college and every member of staff takes part in staff development activities. For the first time in a few years we did a “pick and mix” in which staff are provided with a choice of sessions and can pick and mix to create their own personalised day of training and development. There are, as there was this year, a few compulsory sessions, but generally staff are free to pick what else they will do on that day. An example would be that all teaching staff had to attend a session related to our forthcoming inspection, but were free to pick what they wanted from the menu for the rest of the day.
The challenge for me however was that this process means is that staff generally choose what they want to do, rather than what they should or need to do.
So the sessions we planned on Turnitin, LanSchool and Accessibility were either cancelled or cut back, and the sessions on digital imaging and iMovie were oversubscribed. It also is apparent how you need to “sell” sessions to staff to get them to sign up.
I generally spend the day delivering training and this year was no exception, my first session was for my Learning Resources team and looked at the strategy, vision and focus for the next three years as part of a re-positioning of the strategic vision for learning resources which includes the library. It was also an opportunity for the teams from my three libraries to get together as a whole team. It was an interesting session and it was great to see that they could see the importance of a focus and a vision but also the need to revisit what we do and why we do it. I will probably cover this in more detail in a future blog post.
The second session I ran was an introduction to Mac OS X. I planned this session as we have recently recruited new staff into the libraries and as we have Macs in the libraries they asked for an introductory session. I kept it simple, first showing them this video from Apple, before going through Finder, Safari, iMovie, iPhoto and Garageband. I mentioned Keynote and Quicktime too. Overall feedback was positive and many of the session participants realising that OS X isn’t that different than Windows and if you can use Windows you can use OS X.
My afternoon session was much longer, and was a supportive VLE workshop. The session allows participants that time to reflect and build on their courses on the VLE. If they get stuck, need advice or want ideas, then I am around to provide that support. It worked very well with staff having a chance to “play” and try out new things that will enhance their learners’ experience.
As well as the ILT sessions I was delivering we had booked some excellent external trainers, many of whom will be familiar to readers of this blog for their appearances on the e-Learning Stuff podcast. Each of them delivered a range of sessions with a real focus on adding interactivity through ILT into teaching and learning.
These days reinforce the importance of training and development for practitioners, especially in regard to the use of learning technologies. Our focus for the day was less on the technologies themselves, but much more on the actual use, how they can support, enhance and enrich learning.
Over the next few months I will be following up staff who attended not just my sessions, but all the ILT sessions to assess the impact of the training. Experience has shown that not everyone takes on board what they learnt, but most do.