Changing the Menu

For the last couple years, we’ve offered a technology class for teachers the first week after school is out in June. They come for for a week, spending the morning, afternoon, or both with us. We focus on interactive web tools and how they can be used in the classroom.

The classes are meant as a smorgasbord of tech tools. Here’s a little RSS. Try some blogging. Have you tasted Moodle yet? The idea is that the teachers will see the spectrum of available resources, select the ones that best fit with their classes and their goals, and then start working on ways to use them in their classes.

The sessions have been extraordinarily well-received by the teachers. The class evaluations have been very positive, and the teachers leave excited about their new skills, and anxious to use them in their classes.

The one criticism of the class is that, by sampling everything from the buffet, no one gets a full entree of anything. So when we’re trying to serve up little appetizers of wikis and Moodle and podcasting, the teachers are still over at the tray of blogging finger sandwiches, or they’re on the floor trying to recover from those three glasses of RSS they just sucked down.

My co-teachers (who, actually, do almost all of the real work) have been lobbying hard for a more limited menu. Show them RSS. Play with Protopage/Netvibes/Pageflakes. Then introduce blogging and stop there. Let them focus on those tools, and really get comfortable with them.

They have a point. One philosophy of education takes a mastery approach. Learn the first skill. Get really good at it. Then, move on to the second skill. Keep practicing the first one as you learn the second one. Once you have that mastered, move on to the third skill. We could take this approach. But by the time we get to Moodle, no one will be using it anymore.

Last night, I chatted briefly with Sharon Peters about the challenges she faces working with schools in Africa. She’s putting together a multinational team to work in Capetown next summer. They’ll go in to a township and conduct training for teachers in information and communication technology. Then, they’ll visit classes and help the teachers start some student projects. Working with EduNova, they’ll provide training for workers in the schools to address sustainability and keep everything going after they leave.

Now here’s the thing: they’re there for four days. They have to go from “here’s a computer” to “here’s how you use collaboative tools like blogs and wikis to allow your students to connect to the wider world” in four days. And then they’re gone. This is serious one-shot professional development.

How do they do that? First, they do a needs assessment. What’s most important? What is the most critical need for these people? We have to focus on that. Then, they have to quickly form deep relationships. Make a substantial impact quickly, and form relationships that can be continued over the span of time and space. Then, foster a community. They’re playing with tools like Ning to connect these teachers to one another, so they can build their own professional learning network.

I’m starting to think that it makes sense to take a similar approach with the summer class. First, figure out what’s most important. What’s the most useful thing we can teach them? Given their current resources, skills, and needs, how can we make the biggest difference? Focus on that. At the same time, we have to inject this idea of the learning network. There aren’t enough days to learn everything in a class. We can’t take a week long class on blogging, and then another one on podcasting, another on wikis, and social bookmarking, audio and video conferencing, Google Docs, … There aren’t enough weeks to do that.

So maybe an appetizer of RSS, Blogging as a main course, and perhaps audio and video embedding for dessert. Then, in another class, a little blogging appetizer, a main course of Moodle, and Mahara for dessert. Maybe we have the resources for a third class. Something fairly small and light (or well-known) to begin with. Then, a few days on the big topic. Finally, a little taste of the next level.

I’ll have to keep thinking about this, but it may be the way to go.