Designing a new type of tech PD-feedback wanted
From experience, I can say one of the least useful professional development workshops out there is Learn to us software package X in your classroom. When I attend these sessions, I usually find myself bored within in minutes of hearing what it’s possible for application X to do, and really struggle to focus through the rest of the presentation and I get dragged, step by step, through the application.
But is this type of professional development useful for less technically savvy teachers? Teachers who really prefer to have things explained to them step by step and often keep a pad and pen next to them to write down the steps on how to do something with a particular application? I would argue no, particularly when that application is some rarely used program like Garage Band or iMovie. That faculty member is likely to leave the session feeling like they’ve really got the application down, and then they’ll slip back into normal life, not use it for a month, and then when they try to create a movie in a month later they will find themselves nearly as confused as they would have been if they had never attended the session.
So what is one to do? Here’s my thought, and it isn’t unique. Let’s stop teaching applications and instead start teaching teachers how to problem solve and explore (I think this lesson applies equally well to students, too). Here are the central lessons I want teachers to take away from the professional development I’m trying to design for my department:
- There is almost nothing you can do from the keyboard to harm or permanently damage your computer.
- You will be amazed by what you can learn if you simply begin to explore your machine. Take a look to at menus you don’t normally use. Dig around system preferences. Just click on that application you haven’t heard of in your applications folder and try it out.
- Your machine and the world around you are filled with useful help. Starting with the application help (which is often poorly designed), but most often with simply googling “how do I do X?” or simply googling the error message one receives from a program. And this says nothing of the incredible forums, twitter, and all the other avenues of help that are available.
My principal challenge right now is to figure out a way to teach these three ideas, keeping in mind that the PD sessions I am running aren’t really meant to be tech how-tos, and instead, they need to be focused on helping faculty use technology to implement our learning for life vision statement. Designed properly, I think a lesson on how to learn to use technology can be a big part of this goal.
Here’s one quasi-success from this week that I think may be a template for how to do this. In our Physics PLT, we’ve been exploring the program OmniGraphSketcher, which is a phenomenal tool for making graphs. A colleague in my department shared with me a kinematics test he had created, but in a number of places, he had resorted to printing the graph and modifying it by some way by hand—changing the axes numbers, rewriting a axes label so that it is more visible, etc. He told me he knew the program had to be able to do this, but he couldn’t figure it out, and so he thought it would be faster to do what he did.
At our next PLT, using that test as a starting point, we tried to figure out how to do all the things he had to do by hand using Omnigraphsketcher. A number of the things he wanted to do were thing I didn’t know how to do either, and so we walked through process of thinking aloud what menu might offer that option, how to select the axis, and how to make the change. In the end, we had solved all the problems, and along the way discovered a ton of new features, like being able to save a particular layout of the graph as a default. In the end, I hope that what stuck wasn’t how to make a particular axis bold, but instead that process of problem solving and discovery.
This has me thinking about how I might be able to replicate this experience for our next department professional development session (which is unfortunately coming up very fast this Tuesday). What if I created a number of scenarios of new things (like using the instant alpha tool in keynote to remove the background of an image, or setting up word wrap around an image in a word document) and simply challenged faculty to try to use the help tools at their disposal to figure out how to do this, and then share those lessons back in some way? What do you think? Might this be a useful approach to teaching how to explore and problem solve on the computer?