Seven qualities of highly effective technology trainers
from The Indispensable Teacher’s Guide to Computer Skills: A Staff Development Guide. Linworth Publishing, 1998.
1. The problem is on the desk, not in the chair.
When a problem arises, the best trainers assume that it is a result of a hardware or software flaw - whether an actual bug or a design in the user interface that makes the technology confusing for normal people to use. It’s sometimes tough to help people increase their knowledge without making them feel stupid or incompetent, but good teachers do. Phrases like, “My third graders can do that.” “You know it works better when you plug it in.” and “No, the other right arrow.” are not recommended.
2. No mouse touching.
Good trainers are patient. One sure sign of this saintly virtue in teachers is that they never touch a student’s mouse or keyboard. No matter how exasperating it becomes to watch that ill-coordinated teacher find and click on the correct button, good instructors’ hands stay well behind their backs, no matter how white knuckled they become.
3. Great analogies.
There is a theory that the only way we can think about a new thing is if we have some way to relate it to what we already know. Good trainers can do that by creating analogies. “Your email account is like a post office box. Your password is like your combination to get into it. Your email address is like your mailing address – it tells the electronic postmaster where to send your email.” Now here’s the catch: truly great analogists know when the comparisons break down, too. “Unlike a human postmaster, the electronic postmaster can’t make intelligent guesses about an address. The extra dot, the L instead of a 1, or a single juxtaposition of letters will keep your mail from being delivered.”
4. Clear support materials and advanced planning.
Few things are more comforting to teachers than being able to take home a “cheat sheet” that covers much of the same material that was taught in class. Until multi-step tasks are repeated several times, most of us need reminders that are more descriptive than just notes taken in class. A short menu of task steps illustrated with screen shots is a gift for most technology learners.
Just as they take time to prepare good handouts, the savvy technology teachers check out the lab or teaching area well in advance (a week is best) for potential problems with workstations, software version, projection units, security systems, and network connections. Good instructors leave little to chance.
5. Knowing what is essential and what is only confusing.
A good trainer will have a list of the skills the learners should have mastered by the end of the training. As instruction proceeds, that list will be the basis for frequent checks for understanding. As an often-random thinker, I find such a list keeps me as an instructor on track and provides a class roadmap for the learner. Now here’s the catch with this one: truly great technology teachers know what things beginning learners really need to know to make them productive and what things might be conveyed that only serve to impress a captive audience with the technologist’s superior intellect. (“The email address is comprised of the username, the domain name, the subdomain name, the computer name, all referenced in a lookup table at the NIC.” Like that.) It’s an alpha wolf thing, especially common with males. Be aware of it, and strive as an instructor instead to use charm and a caring demeanor with the pack to achieve dominance.
6. If it breaks, we’ll fix it.
Kids catch on to technology with amazing rapidity for a very good reason. They aren’t afraid to push buttons. They know if they mess something up, it’s an adult’s job to fix it. That’s one nice thing about being a kid. However we need to instill in most of our adult learners the courage to experiment. Rather than always answering direct questions about technology, good trainers will often say, “Try it and see what happens. If you mess something up, I’ll help you fix it.” We tell our new technology learners that we can repair or replace anything but their original creations. The only real worry they should have is about backing up personal files.
Many of us who work with technology do so because we love it. We play with new software on the weekends, surf the Internet deep into the evening, and show off our new gadgets like other folks show off prize winning zinnias, new powerboats, or successful children. I hesitate to use the term “abnormal,” but we are in the minority. Most teachers see technology as a sometimes helpful thing that should occupy about 1% of one’s conscious thinking time. It’s easy to lose that perspective that teachers are teachers first and technology users second – or third or fourth. Good trainers who can remember what it was like before there were computers – the green grass, the singing birds, the books to read, the parties to attend, the fishing trips, the face-to-face human communication– tend to be more empathetic. Think back, think back…