Monday, July 27, 2009

Unanticipated Consequences

Last week I was in Burlington Vermont for the Learning Technology Leadership Program. This is my last year of being a faculty member for that Institute. I'm going to miss it. There is much fun in leading sessions and interacting with the attendees at meals and in their work groups.

After my first LTL two years ago I wrote a tome of a blog post about it, since I was full of being wrapped up in it. Now I'm trying to let go so will be much terser and limit my observations to a couple of points.

There is way too much rich food at this thing, both at the meals and for the breaks. Even with that, however, I managed to shed a few pounds last week. I didn't limit myself at the meals at all, but for the first few days I tried to be a good boy and resist temptation at the breaks. (It helped that I was leading sessions on both Tuesday and Wednesday and for that I didn't want to feel bloated.) I did have a bit of a breakdown on Thursday when they put out brownies and eclairs at one of the breaks in the afternoon. Mostly, though, I think it's not having a fridge in the hotel room so once dinner was over that was it for the evening, a little discipline imposed by circumstance rather than force of will.

I wonder if there are good examples of that sort of thing with learning, likewise with beneficial results. I've long thought that we should schedule student out-of-class-time that should be devoted to their schoolwork, mainly to facilitate group work. I really hadn't thought of it before as a way of avoiding temptation, as I tried to avoid sweets at LTL. Obviously that can't in itself work perfectly. We know students zone out even when going to class. But for those who want to try, perhaps it could help. Hmmm.

The other thing I want to note is about topic coverage. The sessions I led went pretty well in my estimation. After the first, a sidebar on budgets, a few people came up to me to say how much they liked the session. Yet in the commentary I got in the evaluations we did (we used the forms in Google Spreadsheets and that worked like a charm except that we lost network on Wednesday afternoon) a few folks remarked that they felt the presentation was rushed and they noted I didn't cover everything in my slides, so they wondered what they had missed.

I might not have noted this at all except I often don't get through my slides. That's never my goal, which is rather that we have a lively session. For the budget sidebar, in particular, it was more strange because I showed them ahead of my presentation that I had actually made an online version with Adobe Presenter that was available to them afterwards if they were so inclined. I also showed them another PowerPoint I had found on the Web which was quite good with a lot more detail than I intended to provide. I made a point of showing them how to get more depth. Nevertheless, several of the survey respondents wanted it then and there.

This was even weirder because in this sidebar I was doing essentially traditional lecture and I declined Q&A till right at the end so I could get through the little bit that I did cover. So here were adult learners, learning technology specialists themselves, who were asking for more straight lecture because they thought the topic important for themselves. We're seeing similar type of comments from traditional undergrads in a blending learning offering. I wonder whether there is something more basic in human nature that says this sort of thing is actually good teaching, in the right setting. In any event, I was surprised by that.

I do know that I felt very intense giving that session, like I was doing an extended bull rush. The intensity is not something I planned for. It just came about by itself. I deliberately under prepared for the session, because when I over prepare I'm dull as dishwater. Perhaps the intensity resulted from that and that it was the intensity that made them want more. I don't know. Maybe it's also that for many in the audience budgeting is mostly an alien concept and for them to get some sense of mastery they needed to linger on it for while longer. Realistically, they need to do a lot more than that. All we could hope to accomplish in these sidebars is to provide a gateway for them to investigate further on their own. As obvious as that seems to me, it appears that for some they wanted it all, then and there.


Bryan's workshop blog said...

You were in Vermont?! So sorry to have missed you, Lanny!

Lanny Arvan said...

Sorry, Bryan. They had us very heavily scheduled at this thing and even after we were done I had meetings with folks who were there. I did get to see Barbara by playing hookie, but otherwise was wrapped up in this.