Tech Talks: Building Capacity through Online Training

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TechTalks_LogoFor the past two years, I have led our district in providing Tech Talks for teachers and staff. These one-hour professional development sessions focus on one piece of a technology tool, allow for immediate application in the classroom, and are delivered via Microsoft Lync.

A Tech Talk might show teachers how to share notebooks in OneNote, or better organize a classroom website, or manage students’ devices remotely. It might review best practices for using brainstorming software or how to get more students using interactive white boards. A Tech Talk might even cover the basics of Microsoft Outlook and how to reserve the school computer lab through the shared calendar. But the end result of each Tech Talk is the same: a group of people who are now more prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century learner through available technology resources.

The format of each Tech Talk is simple. We introduce using Microsoft Lync in the first few minutes, and then set the outcomes for the session. With only an hour, we have to jump right in to content. But we keep the content focus very small, because we find that too much new information leads to lots of confusion and no one uses what they’ve seen later on. Our instructors are trained to focus on a few specific features of the program, and to give application time for participants to set up or practice those features within the hour-long session. Instructors also use polls to assess the needs and prior knowledge of the audience, and screen sharing to give live demonstrations of the tool in use. During work time, participants apply the skill or feature on their own, and then regroup to share out through the chat feature or more screen sharing. Tech Talks wrap up with information about where to learn more: online tutorials, our district’s Technology Help Center, or an email to an expert.

Interested staff members simply sign up for the session through our online program and professional development website. The instructor then copies the class list into a Lync appointment and sends the link to join through Outlook.

Feedback on these sessions has been extremely positive. Our participants just love that they can login from anywhere with an internet connection and participate in a training: from their own classrooms, from home, from a coffee shop (and they do!). In addition, one hundred percent of our participants in the past two years have agreed that the instruction was engaging and effective, the online materials were useful and appropriate for learning, that the trainer assessed knowledge/skills formally or informally, and that the overall course was excellent. We must be doing something right!

My team has been sharing this model with other districts informally and at conferences - the Microsoft in Education Global Forum and the Northwest Council for Computer Educators conference this year, to name just two. So far, people seem to agree that it just makes sense. Tech Talks follows the just-in-time, small bits teaching model that has been successful for decades, but it adds a 21st century twist that gives both trainers and participants flexibility and efficiency. And what PD model could be better than that?

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