Friday, July 2, 2010

Meeting and Encouraging Teacher Learners Where They Are (Or, Hands off the Mouse!)

When you work with adult learners, especially adult learners who are teachers, it’s easy to forget that even though they are adults, they are also our students. And like any student, we have to meet them where they are and encourage them to move forward in their learning without frustrating them, judging them, making them feel guilty, or enabling them.

Having been comfortable with technology from the start of my career, I admit to having been frustrated at times when I observe teachers who have been around for a while but who have embraced technology on only the most basic, required level. These are the teachers who learn the online gradebook or learned how to use their email because the school required them to do it. Without those skills, they would not be able to function in their jobs. So they make an effort to become minimally functional, but they stop there.

I have realized in the past year or so, though, that I am partly to blame for the people who stagnate at a very basic technology skill level, because as their support person I have done things FOR them for so many years. There is often a time crunch when assistance is needed and it is usually faster to just do something for them instead of WITH them. But I have enabled them to stay at their basic levels by opting for the faster solution.

To become a better teacher of teachers, I'm learning (and it's HARD) to keep my hands behind my back and away from the keyboard and mouse even with the most basic (and sometimes slow) computer users.

This past year I helped several folks in a workshop copy a URL from their web browser into a spreadsheet so they could revisit good lesson plans they found online. (Yes, I know Delicious would have been a better solution, but these folks were not ready for that yet.) I talked the participants through the process instead of doing it for them. They thought it was the coolest thing in the world. For them it was, and that's ok, even though many of us in the edtech world would say that was just a basic skill. Hopefully those folks have acquired this basic skill and will be able to accomplish the task again on their own.

Recently, I was fortunate to receive first-hand testimony that my “no hands on the mouse if at all possible” rule is paying off. Within the last month during a workshop on digital storytelling using Microsoft PhotoStory, we had a couple of teachers who obviously were not super-comfortable with all of the computer skills it took to put a story together. My co-facilitator and I coached them through it. We coached A LOT! Toward the end of the day, one of them looked at me and said something to the effect of, “Thank you for all of your help today and your patience. And thank you for not taking the mouse from me. I learn so much more when I get to control the computer myself.” I wondered how many times impatient (but well intentioned) people had accomplished technology tasks for this teacher. And I felt myself grinning from ear-to-ear, because this teacher was excited about what he had learned, I was excited that my “hands-off” philosophy was working, and as an added bonus, the PhotoStory they turned out was well done and had all of us in stitches at the end of the day.

I'm also learning in more informal circumstances when calls for help come to make appointments with people if at all possible and teach them how to do the task they are struggling with. Talk them through it no matter how basic or complicated the skill. When they see they are capable, they often start to try more on their own. Or at least their questions change from "Can you do this for me?" to "Can you show me how to do this?"

And, yes, all of these folks are amazed when they learn what we more savvy users of tech think of as basic skills. But that’s where they are. Where I am, I’m amazed when I edit audio or video (and it works) or figure out what’s wrong with a web page that isn’t displaying properly. No matter what our baseline is, there is great power in amazement and wonder. Amazement and wonder are closely linked to curiosity, which is the doorway to learning. They create opportunities to for us to say, "You think this is amazing? You want to know what's even more amazing? You can learn to do this. Take the mouse. Let me show you how."

Image Source: (used with permission)