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Very smart, capable, aware people this week have been reduced to frustrated, desperate, luddites. It’s time to enter grades into the learning management system (LMS) and it has been painful….

People keep asking why can’t the academics just know what to do, after all grades happen twice a year and they do this all the time so why don’t they just know how it works? Well, because it changes. First of all, upgrades and bug fixes mean that the LMS operates slightly differently each time. Also, there are at least 15 different reasons why something may not work so just because you know why your site total didn’t add up last time, the reason it doesn’t add up this time is completely different.

Academics by their profession are creative, challenging thinkers. They are not intrinsically technology literate and logical problem solvers. Of course this is a massive generalisation (I don’t support the information technology academics at all with the LMS!). But on the whole, the academics I’ve supported are qualitative researchers and creative, innovative teachers. Stepping through technology that is counterintuitive is not really their thing.

So to those people who keep asking why can’t academics just get it right? I say, because they are trying very hard to get everything else right, the LMS just doesn’t rate. Perhaps the question we should be asking, is how do we better support academics and their relationship with the LMS so that they don’t finish grade weeks feeling stupid and useless? Just my two cents worth.

I was told today that I didn’t get a job that I had gone for as there was someone with more experience. I like that. I like that I got beaten because there were so many strong candidates that I wasn’t good enough. It’s much better than not getting a job because you weren’t good enough to get it in your own right.

I’m also glad that the person who got the job is so experienced. It was an education role and we need good educators. We need strong people in these roles because universities are not full of strong educators. They have good educators, but they aren’t full of them. Interestingly, I’m not sure they should be.

Surely universities should be ‘full’ of researchers. Isn’t that the point of universities? Or should they be full of administrators? After all universities are now a business and should be run like one. Or should they actually be full of educators as universities are the producing the future inputs to production for the economy? Wouldn’t we prefer graduates who have been trained by the best? Or would we prefer graduates who have had access to the best researcher in the field? Is it possible to have both?

Hmmmmm I need to think more about how I can improve the world for academics so they can be both. How can I use my experience (which is less than someone else’s!) to support academics who want to be educators become so, or who are okay educators to become better? Hmmmmm time to rethink the approach in my current – especially as I’m going to be there longer than expected!

The last few weeks have been fun filled with a range of start of year issues including the ongoing failing of ICT (seriously – it’s the key stone for our very existence can someone please get it to work?).

Of course part of the failing is that we don’t actually know how to use what we have and what we have we only use to a fraction of it’s capability and that little program that no one thought anyone would use is actually the most overworked application in the joint.

So, just like the academics I work with I’m now thinking about how to measure what I have taught/instructed/informed them about in relation to ICT. How do I know that they know that they know. It’s not like I can just set them a test (although there was a complete epic fail this week because I had assumed that an academic would know to log off one virtual classroom session before trying to enter it again at a different computer – but the question is did I fail the test because I didn’t tell her to log off, or did she fail because the test was to operate a product that she has been trained in?). Or can I test them? Is it appropriate to test? Should I have actually benchmarked the whole faculty before I began training? I do run skill sharing sessions but attendance is dropping off. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a focus anymore and so academics can’t target their skills the way they want – there is no measure of their success. They do not know when they have learnt because I’m not giving the environment in which it prove to themselves they are progressing.

Thinking about all this and doing some reading led me an interesting article on assessment. I know there are a lot out there, but this one took my fancy. Perhaps it’s time for me to stop whinging about ICT and just fix what I can fix!

PS Thanks to Katie for picking up the error of the missing word…..*sigh* I should know better

Okay – I know that the heading of this post shows my age, and that some people have never seen a typing pool, but I really think it needs to come back. Well, not it, we don’t have type writers anymore, but the principle.

On Friday my boss was asked to do some budget stuff. She’s an expert wordsmith. She’s a lawyer by training and she is brilliant and problem resolution and scenario analysis. She is not what you would call a numbers person. And yet, to complete the task she’s been given, there needs to be budget work. I offered to take it on because (as you can tell) words are not really my thing and I’m not great at scenario analysis. We complement each other that way. But the question is, why do we ask people to do things they aren’t trained, experienced in?

A more real application is in my role where I’m teaching academics how to use editing software to get their lectures organised for online presentation. I’m coming to the conclusion we need an ‘editing pool’. We are wasting in opportunity cost the time the academics are spending to edit.

But, on the other hand, by editing their lectures, they actually have to listen to what they have produced. They have to think about their style and approach. They are learning about what they do as a teacher. And this is valuable.

So maybe it is worth teaching everyone a little bit about every skill so that they can gain a fuller picture of the world they live and work in? Moving from having a typing pool to people doing their own document development meant they could better visualise what the final version would be. They could alter their language as they edited their own material and refine their work to produce a higher quality product. (Yes, okay, not always…..but stay with the vision). But having a typing pool meant that people didn’t have to learn skill of typing, they could do what they were best at. They could perform to their competitive advantage. I think I’m stepping into the conversation that we are becoming a population of generalists, which is starting to step into the PhD planning of mine. I love that my job is directly linked to my interests. It’s true, do what you love and you never work a day in your life.

This brings me back to the beginning. I like budgets. I think they are an interesting problem. More to the point, I’ve done them in the past and even have some training. It’s insane to expect my boss to do the budget. It’s sensible to ask me. I think the question I have, is it insane to ask academics to learn how to use editing software?

I did a quick re-read of this blog site this morning and realised that it is starting to become a real collection of brain stuff for me. Wait – that sounded better in my brain….

This site is building quite nicely into a collection of resources and analysis that I see value in for the future for me. (That’s better!)

Last night though, I was reminded that the best resource I have are the smart people in my life. Iain and Katie and I got together and had a brain storm about what we would like to do to address some of the disconnects in high schools in relation to technology. We have together developed a cunning plan. It is a plan that I would never have been able to think up by myself. I needed others.

I’ve talked a lot about this in relation to my current job. I need others to identify and develop solutions for the academics I’m trying to support. All cunning plans need conspirators.

Last night I spoke to Katie and Iain about choosing complementary conspirators. I think they thought I was being a little crazy. But I’ve been involved in a few plans (most of them not that cunning, but, they were plans) that have gone terribly south all because I chose crappy conspirators. I chose people (or people chose me on rare occasions where someone thought I would be useful!) who I thought would be great, but when it came to going over the top of the trench to meet the challenge, they had to suddenly be elsewhere. That left me alone at the top watching the gun fire reign down.

My husband says I try to help people too much. I think he’s right. I do try. I don’t always succeed and that annoys me. I don’t take to failure too well. The cunning plan in motion is ambitious and tries to help all high school students in the ACT. My husband is right – I try too much. This time there is no try, thanks to Yoda there is only do or do not. Iain, Katie – stuff it – let’s do it!

Today my boss outlined a concept that I thought was impossible. But he’s pretty, well, something. Maybe inspiring? Anyway, I just couldn’t bring myself to say he was crazy. So, I gave it a go. And it worked. I managed to get some content (not quality necessarily) into some documents that means heads greater than mine can now make it all work in the craziest time frame ever.

I then had the privilege of seeing an academic lecture. I was working with her on the flipping concept and she was saying that she needed the two hour lecture because her course is really content heavy. She’s right it is. And she was kind enough (brave enough?) to let me, a complete stranger come into her lecture with the prospect of receiving feedback. High school teachers have observations regularly* so we are used to people coming in with a view to feedback. Academics, not so much. Anyway, I digress.

She is incredible. Her content knowledge is amazing. We are asking her to lecture in a large theatre on technical, heavy, theoretical content to students who are incapable of manners. We ask too much. Her lecture style is seminar. She asks questions, she poses concepts and then explains them in detail. She uses multimedia and she would have loved it if just one student had said “Yeah – I can totally see where you’re going with this, how about this other thing though, how does that work?”. She is passionate.

Passion is palpable. We can teach that. What we can do is show academics options from the traditional style. I can suggest to this wonderful person that she use a flat room and intersperse group work into her lecture. That she ask students to stand up and point at her slides and ask questions. I can even see her be relaxed about a student taking the reigns. We can teach her to use PowerPoint and multimedia more effectively. We can teach her voice projection and pacing. We cannot, ever, teach her passion. Good thing she has it.

What does this all mean? It means that apparently my boss was right (again) and I can do more if he asks. It means that we need to ask less of our academics if we are not in a place to support/train/teach/inform them in how to teach with technology. It is not enough to ask academics to use technology without the support to do so. Quite frankly, we also need to ask more from the students. But I think that’s another post and relates heavily to horses and water…..

 

*Just before some of my teacher pals get carried away, in theory high school teachers are supposed to be observed regularly in line with the TQI process and standards. However, it is possible for it to never happen if the school culture doesn’t support that ideal. We learn best from one another. I know. It doesn’t happen……all the time……but it does happen. Promise!

At the end of last week I went to a presentation by Helen Lynch from CSU. There was some really great ideas relating to knowledge management and how to share the lesson content in support of teachers. But here I want to express how she clarified my thoughts about training. She talked about the training of staff in relation to ICT use. Not just the new products and processes that formed part of the knowledge management, but also basic ICT. The skills that most of us (who work with ICT) take for granted. This was simply something I hadn’t thought of. How can academics put their content online if they don’t know you can click and drag content in Word rather than cut and paste. They don’t know that Excel can sometimes be a better tool to use than Word for large data management. That they don’t know you can use cell referencing instead of just as a calculator. Basics.

What does this mean for me? It means that I think I need to do a little re-focussing of my priorities. Instead of focussing on making sure I get the right colour traffic light on my status list, I’m going to put together a training program. Helen runs her training every Wednesday afternoon. I like that idea. Not sure how she runs it, but I think I’ve got an idea.

Come, learn about whatever you want, but this week we’ll focus on “topic X”. Maybe the casual approach will help encourage everyone to learn some basics and then maybe they can teach me some advanced aspects! (I only know to do basics – perhaps that’s worth mentioning…..). Anyway, one more thing to think about!

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