So many of our classes are spent with the students sitting in front of their computers, watching us run through the lessons. This can be boring, even with an effective trainer. Some classes cover information that is just plain uninteresting (but vital). Anything you can do to liven it up and still get the student to learn is worthwhile. One technique I use is letting the student teach the class by using my computer and projector.

Putting the students in charge
First, go over the skills, demonstrating each of them, and then have the class mimic your actions. Once you have gone over the material enough for the students to grasp it, make a game of calling students up and having them teach the skill by showing the other students how to do it on your computer and projector.

For instance, if you are teaching the appointments function on Outlook, have students come up and show how to schedule appointments, using the e-mail addresses of people in the class and dreaming up the subject of the appointments on their own.

By allowing the student teacher to select the subject of the e-mail, he or she is more relaxed and not so timid about trying it. As the student goes over how to set up a scheduled appointment, other students will chime in, helping the student teacher if she falters, laughing at the subject matter, and having fun while learning.

I have had students come up with scheduled appointments and meetings for everything from belly dancing classes (bring your own navel jewelry) to a “by-the-pool, manager’s luncheon” (bring your own margaritas). The camaraderie that the class developed as each member took his or her turn teaching made them comfortable and more open to really learning the skills. Finally, the repetition of the same actions helped them to remember the information.

Tips for making student teaching go smoothly
There are some things you should remember when you use this as a tool in your training:

  1. Don’t let the subject matter get out of hand.
    Although it is fun to make up your own subjects (with e-mail messages), you should be careful to keep things censored, and steer the class in the right direction if they get off course.
  2. Don’t push a student who obviously doesn’t want to get up and take a turn.
    Some people are simply too shy to get up in public. However, I have to say that one of the quietist students I ever had was the funniest; she came up with appointments and meetings that had us rolling on the floor.
  3. Let the students help the student teacher.
    Stay in the background and let the students join in and give hints and clues. This also can be a valuable tool for you to assess your training skills, since it gives you immediate feedback on the materials you have just taught and the effectiveness of your teaching. However, you should be ready to help if no one can come up with the right answer.
  4. Keep it fun, but keep the focus on training.
    This is a training technique, not a way to kill time in a class. Using this technique can be a very effective tool, if you keep on the subject matter, and keep in control of the class.

I have had some of my most memorable training classes when I used this method of reinforcement. My students have told me these were some of the classes from which they retained the most information. It doesn’t work for everything, but there are many topics you can teach using this technique. Being flexible in your training methods can keep you on the cutting edge and make you a much better, more effective trainer.
Have you had any really good or really bad experiences with student teachers? Have you tried this in your classroom? Send us your stories of students turned teachers so we can share them with other TechRepublic members.

Marsha Glick is the owner of Cybergators, a computer business that includes everything from training to Web design to networking and computer repair. She has worked in both home and institutional training settings, as well as with special needs computer equipment for the hearing impaired, visually impaired, and physically handicapped.