The Right Way to Workshop

One of the things about the Digital Storytelling workshop that I really appreciated was its pedagogical effectiveness. I feel as if I’ll retain some competence with the tools we worked with (primarily Final Cut Express).

I know I’m dropping into a long-running conversation among people who do training or workshops (whether for information technology or otherwise) but here’s my view after having participated in a number of sessions of this kind.

1. Showing participants a whole range of cool things that a type of technology can accomplish (or covering a lot of subject matter for any other topic, for that matter) doesn’t work well. Your mind numbs out after a while, it all blurs together, and it’s too passive an experience to gain a toehold. This is a big temptation for someone trying to evangelize for new tools or capabilities, showing off everything from soup to nuts. But even a receptive audience is going to come away from that kind of experience with no real feel for what they’ve seen.

2. Having participants do hands-on work with a new technology doesn’t work if they’re doing exercises suggested by the facilitator, at least not if the point is to try and suggest possible uses for a new technology to faculty or other relatively autonomous workers who can take or leave that suggestion as they please. I suppose if you’re training people in a new version of Excel and they have to learn it as a job requirement, it doesn’t matter if you’re helping them envision the range of its uses and you can go ahead and just have them do rote exercises. Otherwise, though, hands-on projects have to come from the participants.

3. Workshops or training sessions where eyes have to be on the facilitators much or all of the time don’t work. People need a lengthy amount of time to work independently on a project. I think it’s well-known by now that most users of information technology, whatever their competence level, have learned most of what they know in relative privacy, through trial and error. You’ve got to accommodate that and leave people to their own processes, maybe with some gentle suggestions based on unpressured observation.

So this workshop was a model: a concentration in the beginning on the projects, not the technology, and then a quick move towards independent work with varying levels of facilitation or guidance depending on the needs and interests of the participants.

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3 Responses to The Right Way to Workshop

  1. Carl says:

    Yes, this is my experience too. And of course these points apply to all teaching and learning, so again it’s clear why so few people really learn much from lectures.

  2. scwalsh says:

    I believe the library science instruction subfield discerned a number of these points when dealing with teaching technology. Looking into their literature might be helpful.

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    Sure, but it’s one thing to know it and another thing to do it. As Carl points out, almost anyone who teaches has observed this principle in action, but not that many of us have thoroughly reconstructed everything we teach accordingly, for a lot of reasons (some good, some not-so-good).

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