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

Exemplar Network Open Day Numero Uno

Last week we held our first open day in support of the second phase of the Technology Exemplar Network. Open days like this are a new type of event for us. We regularly have visitors coming to see us all year round. We also regularly host events for our local RSC. This, however, was something altogether different.

In its conception, the day was intended to be largely free from agenda, but we couldn’t quite achieve this. Perhaps because we are so used to visitors having particular objectives when they come to see us. Perhaps because other events have always had an agenda. The ‘agenda’ we produced offered four slots of around one hour each during which a number of sessions were run by staff from Alton College and by our network partners, Thanet College. We covered all our bases – offering insight into all the areas which have long been of interest to visitors. We tried a few new ones too. Thanet brought with them their e-portfolio expertise with contributions from staff in a variety of differing roles. We also dedicated a session to explaining how our new Drupal web site is built upon open source technologies.

For all the limitations that may have come about by following an agenda, every visitor was extremely complimentary when they left. The sessions were tightly packed throughout the time available and gave everyone with plenty of continuous interest throughout the day. We had around 30 visitors at the start of the day, with a good number joining us after the event was under way.

Before the event finished we already began to receive some feedback; visitors unanimously commenting on how useful, informative and interesting the sessions had been. Some asked when another event would be taking place, and how they might find out more about the work we do. We gladly responded by indicating that another event would be taking place very soon!

What would I like to offer next time around? I would really like to go agenda-less, but remain unsure about how to best achieve this. The ‘un-conference’ format sounds great. From experience I know that you require particular types of participant in your ‘crowd’ in order to generate your content / topics / ‘agenda’. I can also recall standing in an empty breakout room with a great topic and no participants! Maybe the wrong subject for the participants. Maybe a subject that was too technical, or beyond the realisation of the participants at the time. Perhaps we should try the un-conference format with a smaller group first time around – or is a larger group of participants key to success?