Improving your technology skills in 30 minutes (and a pot plant mission).

This is interesting. Following a research project by Lifelong Learning UK, interesting advice about developing the technical abilities of staff is described by Sue Dutton, Interim Chief Executive:

“The simplest thing you can do to help your staff use technology more effectively for learning is to give them the opportunity on a regular basis to talk for about 30 minutes with colleagues (particularly in the same curriculum area) about technologies they are using and what works and doesn’t work – peer to peer support is shown in our research to be far more effective than formal training.”

In my experience, this appears to be sound advice. And again today I’ve had another of those conversations that further proves this. I wrote earlier this week about a forthcoming staff development activity, and in preparation, a couple of those coffee table conversations have taken place. In each instance, the primary objective for us was to agree our schedule for the sessions in which we will be collaborating. However, for each of us, the benefits were much greater. For the most part, the real benefit came from having access to experts in different fields – in this case, two who deliver part of the curriculum, and another (myself) who is promoting and supporting the development of learning technologies.

Our discussion started quite predictably, but produced so many really great ideas. We began talking about our objectives for the facilitated session; quickly identifying the commonality between what initially appears to be seemingly separate agendas. It didn’t take long for us to realise the links common to all our needs. But we kept the conversation going. We talked about blogging – more specifically, blogging about pot plants – long term growth observation is the perfect subject for a photo blog, and perhaps some fancy animation afterward. Students studying communications and culture may have plenty to write about, but why shouldn’t environmental scientists too? We briefly considered the place of the mobile phone in the classroom; one great example being shared was a student to realised they could take some really great close-up images by pointing the lens of their camera phone down a microscope! We wrapped up by thinking about how printed workbooks can be linked to the VLE; publishing answers to written exercises online, and linking to further resources elsewhere on the web. How about some of the other exercises that could be transferred form paper to other medium? A role playing classroom session played out in a discussion forum, perhaps?

We spent a little longer than 30 minutes talking about technology, but this resulted in an immensely useful session for all of us. I learned a lot, even in this short space of time (and for once, not all of it related to technology). For one participant in particular, they took away a whole host of ideas and fresh inspiration that they can immediately apply to their courses. Fantastic! I should invest much more time in conversations like these.

I’m not very good with pot plants, but maybe I’ll try the photo blog idea… suggestions for easy care office flora, anyone?

Could our Learning and Development programme offer more?

Earlier this year, the third and final (for now) meeting of the ‘Exemplars’ from Becta’s Technology Exemplar Network took place. Among other subjects, we discussed the outcomes from our mini-network events and open days held earlier this year to kick-start engagement between Exemplars and the Participating Providers with whom we have been partnered.

We had an open discussion with no other agenda than discussing technology in relation to teaching and learning. The conversation began with a comment from South Devon College’s Becky Barrington who asked ‘how do you maintain staff attendance in your learning and development offerings?’. Becky elaborated by explaining that she has been involved in delivery of learning and development training for some time, and has recently come to the conclusion that teaching ‘the technology’ may not be the most effective approach. Instead, Becky has shifted her focus away from teaching application skills. You know the ones – Word, Excel, PowerPoint – the somewhat predictable staples of the classroom.

A shift in direction has been made, focusing now upon enabling staff to effectively apply available tools in the classroom with desired outcomes in mind. This is in distinct contrast with a “here’s how you perform with ” approach. The general assumption being that with the new approach, outcomes of greater benefit to the teacher and (more importantly) the learner become achievable. The same view was echoed by Sandra from City and Islington, who added ‘we’re not offering that IT stuff any more!’, instead focusing upon ILT needs.

A number of other simple and effective ideas emerged from the conversation, although the discussion did tend to focus upon technical aspects of the classroom, rather than teaching and learning. Full credit for all this to those who participated in that conversation:

  • use a ‘just one thing’ theme
  • post a ‘what’s coming next week’ reminder somewhere prominent
  • drop into classrooms regularly to kick start ILT usage, and find out what works (or doesn’t!)
  • adopt a flexible planning approach and listen to staff availability comments
  • ensure that the trainer enters the classroom to witness the impact of delivery!
  • focus less on training in technology and more on building learning practice with technology