Project Management

If you're bored with it, don't teach it

Students can tell if you're unsure of your topic, and they also know if you're sick of it. If your eyes are glazed, you're cheating your class and damaging your reputation. These ideas will freshen up your approach to classes that have become old hat.

In the world of IT training, there is such a thing as not knowing enough about your subject. We all know the perils of that situation and how it can adversely affect your students’ chances for learning and your reputation as a good trainer.

However, there is also the danger of knowing too much about a topic. If this is the umpteenth time that you’ve taught Word Basics or Introduction to Photoshop and you have to force yourself to go to class, there’s a problem.

If you’re not at least slightly enthused about the subject, there’s no way you’ll be able to interest your students in it. Just as students can tell when you don’t have enough information and are faking it, they also know when you’d rather be anywhere other than in front of them.

Freshen up your outline
One of the first things to change if you’re bored with your subject is your class outline. If you know a subject backwards and forwards and never do any preparation work for a class on that topic, it’s time to revisit your lesson plans. Part of the problem may be that you’re bored with the teaching format, not the subject itself.

If you have hands-on experience in the field or even lots of creative feedback from previous students, work this into your class. Students love stories about when the network crashed or when you solved your VP’s e-mail problem (he had Caps Lock on) or that cool script you wrote to automate a particularly laborious task. As long as this doesn’t turn into some kind of ego trip (don’t brag about how far ahead of the e-curve you were back in ‘94), students will like hearing about real-world applications of the technology they’re studying.

Al Hedstrom had lots of ideas about how to make classes more interesting in his “Spice up networking class with movies and show and tell” article.

A chance to shine
Now that you’ve mastered the subject and improved your class outline, this is your chance to update your slides, lecture, and handouts and improve them as well. One of the most frequent complaints about bad instructors is that they read right from the book. If you know a topic so well that you don’t need the book, what better situation could you ask for? Don’t revert to reading just because you’re bored.

It’s easy to use the slides that came with the textbook, and sometimes you won’t have a choice—either you’re required to use the slides as is or they’re in a format you can’t edit. But if you have the freedom and the time, take advantage of this opportunity to add some interactivity, change the content or the format, and add some graphics. A few ways to accomplish these goals are:
  • Insert an exercise that asks students to check out the navigation tools or another feature on several different Web sites. Put the URLs on your slide and have students list the similarities and differences.
  • Put together a resource list of Web sites, forums, or discussion groups that relate to the topic. Add it to your slides or your handouts.
  • Select a task or problem and instruct your students to use Help and/or the Web to find out the answer.
  • If you’ve got the technical capabilities, find audio or video clips to use in your training. Take the time to install plug-ins or other add-ons that you’ve been meaning to install but never have.
  • Take a critical look at your presentation and try to find ways to illustrate concepts with pictures or charts. Have another trainer or graphic artist critique your presentation and suggest ideas.

You could also take this chance to make sure students use the book by including information in the book that’s not on the slides. This will get students turning pages and using the printed materials instead of ignoring them or discarding them when class is over.

Meredith Little offers some good ways to vary the contents of your training materials and experiment with your presentation style in her article, “Timing is critical with training handouts.”

Worth the extra effort
Creativity requires work and time, but the payoff is worth it if your classes improve and your students learn more.
If you’ve been teaching a class for a while, how often do you rework your outline or change your handouts? Do you experiment with different formats or presentation styles? Tell us how often you go into revision mode and what improvements you make to your training materials.

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