I recently received the greatest compliment on my technical training ability that I’ve ever gotten.
When the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) conference was held here at UVA this past May, I led a Neatline workshop for 45 attendees of the conference. For 90 minutes, we worked through the Lab’s standard introduction to the Neatline interface together, solving network issues and technical glitches as we went (something that I could not have accomplished without the able assistance of my Scholars’ Lab colleagues, who all volunteered to serve as “back of the room” tech support!), and at the end of the session my 45 students all had a small working Neatline exhibit and ideas about how they might apply that digital tool in their own research and at their own institutions.
The compliment? One of my students told me that she’d had so much fun, that she wasn’t aware of the time passing.
So how does that happen? A novice level student having so much fun that she experiences a flow state while learning a complex interface, in a very crowded, noisy classroom where people are trying to follow the instruction, or get their wireless passwords to let them connect to the network, or to figure out why their browser did that weird thing they weren’t expecting?
We lower the stakes. We take the training very seriously, but we make it as much fun for the students as possible.
Our Neatline workshop is designed to reduce risk for the students. We always teach in our sandbox installation of Neatline, using a pre-populated set of Omeka records and a carefully scripted workflow that introduces students to every part of the interface with just enough repetition that concepts are reinforced without inducing boredom. Students are not working on a site where their work will later be graded, or will be in public view. They’re not working with data that matters to them professionally or academically. We deliberately lower the stakes so that they don’t feel as much pressure as they otherwise might.
Playfulness is a good path to learning. Making the workshop as playful as I can helps people to let go of their tension around the vulnerability that learning requires (adult learners can be especially stressed about this!), and a less stressed student is a student who is more able to stay engaged, and who later retains more of what they’ve learned.
Are you a trainer or instructor? How do you lower the stakes for your students?