Seven qualities of highly effective technology trainers
from Johnson, Doug. The Classroom Teacher's Technology Survival Guide. Jossey-Bass, 2012.
Here are some attributes of people who can effectively teach others to use technology. Find others in your building or district who do these things and make them your tech teacher.
- 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 can. 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.
- No mouse touching. Good trainers are patient. One sure sign of this saintly virtue in teachers is that they never touch a learner’s mouse or keyboard. No matter how exasperating it becomes to watch that ill-coordinated person find and click on the correct button, good instructors’ hands stay well behind their backs, no matter how white knuckled they become.
- 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. A mising dot, the L instead of a 1, or a single juxtaposition of letters will keep your mail from being delivered.”
- Clear support materials. Few things are more comforting to technology learners than being able to access a “cheat sheet” about using a new technology. Until multi-step tasks are repeated several times, most of us need reminders that are more descriptive than just our notes (and more permanent than our memories.) A short menu of task steps illustrated with screen shots is a gift for most technology learners.
- 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 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 look for a teacher who uses charm and a caring demeanor with the pack to achieve dominance.
- 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 adult learners also need 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.”
- Perspective. Many of us who work with technology do so because we love it. We play with new software on the weekends, search 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 one percent of one’s conscious thinking time. 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.