Have you ever tried to show someone how to do something easy? Of course you have, you do it all the time without even thinking about it especially if you have kids. But what happens if you have 1000 people you need to show, who all have a different starting point, who all demand something slightly different, and there’s just one of you and not many other resources available to help.

That’s one of the challenges I had at work last Summer. My employer changed their email system. After many many years of the company using Lotus Notes for email we moved to Microsoft Outlook.

Illustration - thking about outlook

I wasn’t involved in the upgrade project, I had plenty of other work commitments, and therefore didn’t know all the details and thought processes, but they did have someone advising on a training plan, though in the times and the business we are in (providing services to the oil and gas industry) resources are very tight and regrettably training is one of the areas that often takes the hit. They had to therefore provide something without much budget. The end result was a training resource, published on the company intranet, consisting of tips and links to selected Microsoft training videos on their website. For comparison previous similar projects (Microsoft Office upgrade for example) included external training presentations with all employees given the opportunity to attend but this wasn’t an option this time.

Roll out day arrived and we all got down to using our new system. Of course after years of people complaining “why don’t we have Outlook like everyone else” the voices suddenly turned to “it was fine before”… but that’s a given!

Very quickly more and more people started asking me for help. I have responsibility for learning and training in a particular business unit (over 3 locations) and particular business projects (that may span locations). Having 100’s of employees wasting time not using a system efficiently is not cost effective so I started looking at what I could offer to those I am responsible for. I also secretly relished the opportunity to brush off my long rested IT teacher skills to make a difference. I organise a lot of training at work, most of the topics and software is very complex Engineering software that I am not an expert in. I try and understand but I develop training and learning opportunities in conjunction with experts who really know their stuff. Outlook seemed like a doddle in comparison. I can use it, I can learn what I need to fast, I can run some nice training to help other people use it, it’ll be easy I thought.

Then as you say in US English, I started doing the math. There was no way I had time to hold classes for 1000 students and I couldn’t provide customised learning to help different people with varying degrees of competence. I turned to a couple of Linkedin groups for help. One group “Organization Development & Training Forum (Sponsored by Degreed) gave some really good feedback with 17 replies to my post. The replies both suggested solutions and questioned my assumption.

Inspired by the input I received from many experts around the world I went for a 4 part solution.

  1. Superuser training – I trained up a group of expert users who could support those working around them. I setup 1 hour classes for these volunteers, each class was split into groups and each group had to become an expert in a particular feature or area. They then had to share their learning with the rest of the group. The classes went pretty well and everyone learnt something new as well as where to find out more in future.
  2. Superuser e-mail group – I setup an email group for superusers to help each other out in cases where they didn’t know the answer.
  3. Drop in mini training – I offered 15 minute beginners classes in various basic topics, tips and tricks. These were not so well attended but it gave all who wanted more help the opportunity to attend.
  4. Dripping of information – We had some ready made nanolessons (short series of learning presentations) available for Outlook which were made available for anyone who wanted. I also sent out a few emails with tips and tricks, links to training videos (that had always been available) and reminders of who to contact for help.

Did I solve the problem?

Honestly the answer is yes and no. The complaints about “why doesn’t Outlook do this?” have stopped. This is partly because people now know how to do what they need to do to some extent due to the training that was offered. It’s also partly down to Outlook being pretty easy to use and people supporting themselves and their peers to learn. So knowledge has certainly improved and part of that is due to the initiatives taken. But I still regularly come across people who aren’t aware of certain productivity features, so although the urgent need might have been resolved the problem is not completely solved. Of the four solutions above the email group remains almost not used, partly because it took so long to get going and I guess it was an initiative too far. In my experience not everyone is happy asking questions to a group, while most are happy asking one to one. The drop in mini training was not popular but did a job in that people had the opportunity to attend. The nanolearning also offered some support but like the drop in training I think the result is also partly psychological, as long as people know support is available they feel a bit more secure! The dripping of the information I think was the icing on the cake, the original Microsoft help videos published by the rollout project were good, but having them published on the Intranet is not good enough, they needed pushing out better and giving people that push and the affirmation that it was okay to take 10-20 minutes of the day learning to use the software, made the difference.

Is the job done? Yes for now but of course I’d like to do it even better . It was a fun problem to look into now but unfortunately now my time is better used on the other hundred problems and issues that are calling.

Not convinced that sometime the easiest problems are the hardest to solve? Try and teach my parents to use their mobile phones and come back to me.

Below is our latest staff e-learning newsletter that was supposed to get sent out in the last week of term but got caught in the chaos of the snow! It’s been slightly edited for privacy reasons.

___________________________________________________________

Here’s what in this newsletter

1. Reminder of how to get on the VLE
2. It’s Google Time
3. VLE Teacher of the month
4. VLE teacher targets
5. Online tool of the month
6. Reminder about Nintendo DS Consoles
7. 10 Great online tools with tips on how to use them in class

1. Reminder of how to get on the VLE –
Just log in at www.rickypedia.org using your eportal username and password. A helpsheet is available for students but all KS3 students should know how to log on from their ICT lessons.

2. It’s Google Time
Regular Rickypedia users may have noticed the new google icons on the top right of the page when you log in. Click on them and have a try, all students and teachers have accounts for Google Apps and once you have logged into Rickypedia you don’t need to log in again just click on the shortcuts.
Here’s a few things you can do with Google Apps
Make on online survey with a few clicks – results go into a spreadsheet
Have upto 20 students working a single presentation simultaneously
Share a document with a student and put your feedback directly on it.
I’ve you want some tutorial videos just ask me, there are plenty around!

3. VLE Teacher of The Month
November saw great new courses from Geography, RE, History, Science and ICT but the winner this month is Mr. White and his PE Course.
Although Mr. White hasn’t used millions of fancy features his course is a great example of how to lay out a simple and attractive course that students can use to find resources and homework in lessons and at home.
I’ve attached a file with 2 pages of his course (I had to cut it at bit as it went to 7 pages!) Mr White A2 Exercise Physiology
This kind of course will be especially useful to students come revision time as it has all the work neatly organised for them!

4. VLE Teacher Targets
Not many people have been to see me to pick up their gold stars for meeting a target!
Beginner: Create a new course and add something to it.
Intermediate: Add a picture to your course
Advanced: Set up a glossary for students to add in their keywords.
If you finish a challenge come and see me and I’ll give you a ‘well done’ sticker, 3 stickers and you can have a certificate!

5. Online tool of the Month
If you like mindmapping, brainstorming or for the overly political correct thought showering try out these 2 website.
http://bubbl.us a great simple tool – click start brainstorming and you’re away – you don’t need to register but if you do it lets you save your diagrams online – if not then you can save your diagrams as pictures on your PC
www.mindmeister.com – a more complex and sophisticated tool. You need to register – this lets you attach files or links to websites in your brainstorms, it also lets you invite other people (or students to collaborate with you)

6. Nintendo DS Consoles
Another reminder about them! They are great for lessons but also really great for filling long form periods. They are a great reward for students that get planners signed – you’ll never get an unsigned planner again!

7.Nic Peachy is a language teacher into his online stuff. He shares many great resources including this one with 10 web tools and 10 ways you can use them in your classroom
http://nikpeachey.blogspot.com/2009/11/10-teacher-development-task-for-web-20.html

Wishing You a great Christmas Holiday

VLE Staff Training

Posted on January 22nd, 2009 in VLE | 6 Comments »

In the world of Educational ICT money is often spent at hardware and software without thinking about training and time. It doesn’t matter how amazing technology is or what change it can facilitate, if teachers don’t understand how to use it or don’t have time to use it it won’t get used! There are many reports and articles that back up this argument but I think to most of us in the edtech world who aren’t salespeople (and to the honest and good salespeople of which I’m sure there are many) this is a given.

So the challenges of implementing our VLE are pretty much what I’ve expected. The jobs that are being done or need doing are: Finding time to create examplar resources, setting up a sensible look and feel for the system, setting up sensible navigation for the system, the admin part of uploading users, training pupils and training staff.

I’m going to have to just get stuck in and tackle as many of these things as possible simultaneously but right now my priority is to get the training off the ground.

We started with our inset in the first week of term where I spent an hour with the whole staff introducing the concept of a VLE and did a tutorial on how to login, change profiles, add a course and add items to a course. There’s only so much you can do with 80 people or so in an hour with only a handful of laptops. Nevertheless it was a good start and taster for everyone and at least gave people an idea of what was now available for them to use. A friend at a North London school who uses their VLE extensively across the school told me that every one of their whole school insets has to have a VLE related part, maybe that’s something to aspire to.

The next step is organising extra training sessions. I’m going to aim for sessions to have a maximum of 10 people in each and try to schedule them either during the day (taking staff off timetable for an hour) or after school. My plan is to offer staff the option of beginners, intermediate and advanced sessions at either time. I am also offering departments the option to take their training in departments.

We’ll see how it goes this term. I’d be quite happy to get a few groups of enthusiasts wanting to come back for more training rather than a large number of people with knowledge but less desire. I’m also wary of overstretching myself in terms of giving the training, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.

A quick question to you all to finish? How do you train the staff in your school or institution and what model works best?

Teachmeet 09 at BETT

Posted on January 17th, 2009 in conferences | 1 Comment »

Another year another BETT another Teachmeet

As Lisa Stevens said in her teachmeet talk it’s amazing how much you can learn in a year. Last year at Teachmeet the only person I vaguely knew was Drew Buddie. He introduced me to a couple of people and a few weeks later when we met again he told me to join twitter and start a blog. This year at Teachmeet I was down on the list to present, had been volunteered to run the flashmeeting and be cameraman and finally met 10-20 people that I had met online via twitter but never in person. It really is amazing how much of a network you can build up and how much you can learn in a year!

My talk didn’t get picked by the random name picker at teachmeet this year so I thought I’d write up here what I might have done.

First of all I wasn’t sure what to offer to present so I created a twitter poll on polldaddy and asked my twitter network to choose, you can see the results here

I won’t explain them all so here’s a selection that I’ll try and sum up in a few sentences each.

1. Using google sites: This is already written up on a previous post which you can read about here

2. Using audacity to make revision songs:  GCSE ICT class coming up to exams. I had a lot of musical students in the class so we wrote a couple of revision songs, got a guitar and recorded using audacity. One song was made up, the other we re-wrote the words of “fields of gold” to talk about databases! For advice on using audacity check out Jose Picardo’s blog. Nb. Audacity is a free open source audio recording and editing application.

3. Running a teachmeet style inset at school: In our January inset I organised a one hour long teachmeet style inset (Rickrolling Reflections). 10 staff members volunteered to speak and gave presentations on all kinds of things such as using drama games in class and techniques for questioning with students. We had prizes for the top 3 presentations. Despite the hall being an icy 14C it was a great hour or so.

4. China Masterclass using digital video and VLE for communication and collaboration: This is written up at length in a previous blog post here.

5. Creating cartoon strips with digital cameras: Get a class to draw a storyboard for a cartoon. Take them outside with digital cameras and get them to photograph each other acting out the scenes from the storyboard. Back in classroom take photos, put in powerpoint or other software, add speech bubbles, modify or edit photos where necessary. For extension work record audio to go with cartoon!

6. Teaching kids to fill out forms for nectar cards: I had a lesson on ICT in supermarkets and loyalty cards with a tricky year 8 class (aged 12/13). Two boys just weren’t interested and I couldn’t get them to complete any of the work. Instead I took them to the Nectar card website and got them to find out about Nectar cards. They both applied for one and in the process learnt to fill in an online form. I just assumed this would be easy but it took a while with questions like “Sir what do we put in the title box?” We also discussed who it was safe to share this information with and whether to tick the boxes allowing them to send you further mail. Both boys learn a very useful life skill. Once they had applied they learnt how the card worked, how to collect points and how much shopping they’d need to buy to get a free computer game. Great numeracy skills! I’m not sure I’d get a whole class to do this especially as you’re supposed to be 18 to get a Nectar card, but I guess that’s another life skill.

One of the major tasks I will have this year implementing our new VLE is to train staff.

To get staff on board I will need as many staff  on my side as possible and one idea I had was to run a separate group of teachers not just learning to use the VLE but learning, playing and sharing other web tools. So I advertised for enthusiasts – didn’t push anyone to come (except offering cake) and we got a very nice turnout. (About 8 staff of 7 specialisms)

We started off playing with voki, next I got staff to have a play setting up blogs on posterous and we finished off with a flurry looking at voicethread, delicious and classtools. Okay this was a lot to fit in a 45 minute session – ideally we would look at a tool, examples of how it has been used in a subject and then work out how to do it. But I think I and the staff enjoyed a fast place and having fun after school rather than planning. I finished off by setting a little homework – to find a blogger of their subject and to report back on what they found. To help them get started I pointed staff towards Doug Belshaw’s list of edubloggers as well as the edubloggers directory

Overall it was a fun evening and we shall certainly have more. I hope by the time we have our next big ICT Inset we will have lots of examples that our staff can demonstrate of their ICT use in the classroom.

I will write a separate post on our plans for VLE training which I’m still working on – I would love to hear feedback and ideas on how to train 100 staff of different subjects with different specialisms and IT skills. I also wonder how my budget of £30 per staff member (which is probably quite generous for a school) compares to the amount that would be spent in industry?

Student e-council meeting part 2

Posted on October 31st, 2008 in VLE | 1 Comment »

I previously wrote about our student e-council meeting held last term. The aim of this was to get students opinions and ideas on how technology should be used in school and what features they would like. This year I want to evolve the role of this group to actually taking on a hands on role with our VLE.

These are some ideas of what I’d like the group of students to be doing in my utopia.

1.  Helping create the structure, layout and look and feel of the VLE.
2. Running and creating their own areas of the VLE.
3. Contributing content to their own areas and to subject areas of the VLE (specifically links, audio and video)
4. Self moderating their own areas.
5. Helping to train staff use the VLE and acting as technical support for staff and fellow students.
6. Helping to formulate a student led acceptable use policy.

Obviously this is a potentially large project and I plan to start small. The first thing I have already done was to convene the group – we had our first meeting before half term and those students that came were enthusiastic about the project. I’m still not sure which students I want to make up the group and it’s hard to get a mixture of quality and quantity. So far I’ve picked up students who I think are both responsible and have a talent for ICT but I’m sure there are other students who I’ve missed out who would be valuable assets. I’m also not sure what age students I want – originally I had a spread from all the year groups but with a diverse group the younger students can be intimidated to talk infront of the older students. In future meetings I will probably separate KS3 students fromKS4 and 5 students (to non UK readers KS3 is age 11-14 KS4 14-16 KS5 16-18). We will also meet in the morning during form periods and assemblies as students are never quite as good at coming during lunchtimes!

I’m fairly optimistic that once I find the right students and have accounts for them all to use and play with the facilities on offer, as well as a little bit of equipment for them to use (think video cameras and bluetooth for connectivity with mobiles) this will go fast. Right now though I’m stuck on the basics and we’re going to start with working on our student led AUP and see where it takes us.

Wish us luck and I’d love to hear any comments or news of people doing similar projects.