How to Improve Instructor Training

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

We ran a three-day intensive version of our instructor training course in Toronto earlier this week. The 40 attendees seemed to find it useful, and I'm very grateful to UBC's Warren Code for co-teaching, and to the University of Toronto's Jennifer Campbell for her presentation on MOOCs and flipped classrooms, but there are a few things we'll do differently next time around. They're listed below in no particular order; comments from attendees (and everyone else, particularly people who've been through the online instructor training) would be very welcome.

  1. Have everybody meet online in small groups for an hour a week before the live class. Much of the first day was taken up with presentations about the psychology of learning. These could be done as webinars, and doing that would free up time for things that only work well live.
  2. Tighten up the reading list. Attendees were asked to read How Learning Works, but not pointed at specific sections. We also should provide more targeted readings in advance, and do a better job of connecting the readings with what we're teaching.
  3. Devote half a day to mechanics. We talked a couple of times about how to set up and run a bootcamp, but it was pretty disjointed. We should walk attendees through our operations guide, our checklists, the assessment questionnaires we use, and our instructions on setting up a bootcamp repository and adding new lesson material.
  4. Run a short Git tutorial for people who need it. Setting up a bootcamp website and adding new lesson material requires some familiarity with Git. Teaching this in class to people who don't already know it would also be a good chance to demonstrate how we actually manage a classroom, which is something else attendees asked for.
  5. Make the process and outcomes clearer. We should explain to attendees at the outset that they will still have to teach once after this class is over, and submit a pull request on our lesson material, in order to get their instructor's badge.

Those are the things I took away from these three days. What have I missed? What else could we add or subtract to make this training more useful and more fun?

See also this post by Jennie Rose Halperin, one of the attendees, about what she got out of the training.

Positive/Thing Learned

  • I love all the examples, factoids, audience participation you've built into the lessons
  • Lateral knowledge transfer → usually the best epiphanies! I'll pay even more attention to this in the future. Also, you are not your learners.
  • How to sell the training.
  • Get people to sign up in groups.
  • The very end of the day conversation about various audience defined issues.
  • Discussion of live coding - would like more similar specific examples
  • Explanation of how live coding helps (slow down, etc)
  • Discussions of motivating people to attend. Am planning on re-writing RFPs based on it
  • Tips for peer teaching, how to group/motivate
  • Today it was easier to link info presented to real workshop activities
  • Knowing how to present material in less than 10 minutes
  • I liked the hands on teaching and the examples from others. It takes the theory and applies it, which usually doesn't happen until after a class (if it happens at all)
  • Instead of a thank you slide, leave up a summary slide. Learning about these kinds of tips and tricks are super helpful.
  • Being able to give PhDs ideas how to teach makes my 8+ years in trenches validated
  • Learning more about dealing with/living with imposter syndrome.
  • Example teaching sessions
  • Practice talks
  • The teaching practice is great. The last session of interaction is very useful.
  • Videoing and group work +1. Also teaching and question discussion was fun
  • Critiquing self and streaming 10-min teaching segments very useful; something to self-reflect on.
  • I learned +/- techniques for virtual lessons, which I have never done but will need to at some point
  • The teaching demos in general. It was humbling to realize a couple errors I made and was hard to absorb without being defensive.
  • Recorded teaching, went really well
  • Video sessions daunting, but feedback great! :)
  • the lesson helped with my confidence
  • practice lesson good for confidence and to feel that I am learning something new
  • Really enjoyed the live presentations today! I learned a lot watching others and critiquing myself
  • The live remote sessions were better than I thought coule be possible even with the technical difficulties. Good to see.
  • I learned that I could gain more insight into my own ability to teach a lesson by/after going through group critiquing.
  • 3x10min lecture sessions + feedback. Google hangout experiment also VERY INFORMATIVE
  • Have a few (limited) distinct goals in a lesson because there isn't time → no use rushing and cramming
  • I learned that I am not good writing assessments and need to work on it. It was a painful lesson but a valuable one. Now I know what to work on.
  • Discussion of live screencasting pros and cons
  • Really enjoyed Jennifer's presentation. Very helpful and interesting.
  • Pros and cons of inverted classroom.
  • Getting to practice a 10 min lesson, despite being nervous +1
  • I thought Jennifer's presentation was great - getting to hear from someone who's taught a MOOC is really worthwhile
  • really liked inverted classroom talk
  • loved the guest speaker and her talking about the entire range of students and not just how to engage people who wanted to learn (yay unmotivated students)

Negative/To Improve

  • The lecture on MOOCs wasn't conclusive. I still think a human connection is valuable.
  • MOOC instructor didn't hang around for questions after
  • Not sure how the MOOCs/inverted classroom talk is relevant for me. It was interesting but I find it difficult to relate to it.
  • inverted classroom took a lot of time for little value
  • Need to handle discussion on MOOC and Flipped Classroom better. People confuse the two and develop false concepts.
  • Not convinced how I would use screencasts in my position
  • I'm learning things about myself that I don't like.
  • I learned the hard way what I need to improve on (by failing in teaching) but it was so painful to fail publically that I was honestly tempted to not come back after the lunch break.
  • The live teaching exercise was too time-crunched; I would have appreciated more time for the feedback/review section in each case.
  • Could have more afternoon snacks (not terrible but I had to write something)
  • Feedback about the content is useless (of course the content can be improved and 10 minutes is not realistic anyway! Better to let people give 10 min lecture about some stupid or unrelated topic.)
  • Important feedback is about style of presentation, quality of "acting", etc.
  • Need a better way to tape teaching demos. We struggled with PPT because we initially tried to stand up. But 3 is a great group size so I don't know how to change.
  • Lessons from other instructors (online) were mildly interesting but probably not so useful - redundant.
  • Teaching (on camera) without a projector. Found it annoying to live code and cover the screen with my entire body at the same time.
  • Need some more time to prepare 10 min lecture/teaching time. Maybe have a basic scaffold structure required for Round 1 of live teaching.
  • I think that for the teaching demos, the instructors should explicitly identify their target audiences. Some of the feedback I received and some of the feedback given to the remote presenters seemed to be from people assuming a different audience (i.e. not absolute novices)
  • Today felt disconnected from yesterday. Yesterday was all about catering to the student and being aware of their needs, history, etc. Today is about screencasts where we can't interact. Where is the connection? Aren't we sabotaging what we just learned yesterday?
  • The hangout teaching was useful, but didn't really engage people, which might have been partly a time-of-day thing; morning next time?
  • Online lectures took _way_ too long
  • The online virtual teaching was a bit much. Some of the instructors had too much information on top of the fact that there was 3 of them
  • seemed more formal. I enjoy interactive "movement" activities
  • Very long sessions of at-the-front talking and comments from a limited number of students
  • "Open forum" with voted subjects for discussion
  • Some lectures are too long or too much talking
  • Have a therapy dog available? Is there a way to divide based on introvert/extrovert → might increase introvert participation? Just an idea.
  • Less scheduled peer discussion today. Some during coffee but peer discussion tends to bring up topics not encountered in group discussions
  • Something more interactive/small groups might have been good this afternoon. Got a bit tired of listening to lecture by the end.
  • Quite a busy day, so maybe not enough time to discuss some topics fully (more?)
  • 90 minutes sat first thing in the morning
  • would like to see a walkthrough of a typical SWC class
  • network/tech glitches
  • etherpad becoming more and more huge (linear monster)
  • collaboration tools (etherpad) could be more robust
  • I found the remote teaching a bit hard to follow and think it could have been connected to how/why webcast versus screencast
  • Felt the discussion about how to do screencasts/remote lectures got muddled. Content vs. medium vs. performance
  • Greg interrupting the guest speaker - more so than Warren. I get that it's a nervous tick but it seemed disproportionate based on gender overall.
  • Greg, please reduce the "hands up who..." technique especially as in "Hands up who breathes?" (everyone reluctantly puts a hand up). Feels like hammering an obvious point home unnecessarily.

Dialogue & Discussion

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