Thursday, September 25, 2008

My 100th post! (A training-by-technology rant)

According to the numbers posted on my Dashboard, this will be my 100th post. Considering that I started my blog just a little over four years ago, that means I average about 25 posts per year. While not exactly prolific, I'm not sure that the world needs to read much more than that from me, at least not in this format.

What compels me to write today is bad videos (and audio) that people create for training purposes. I am now on my second online class, and I have stated before, I really enjoy taking classes this way. While many (but not all) people (in most aspects of life, not just this) seem to be getting more competent with presentation software in terms of design, readability, and so forth, I wish people could be prepared more carefully to make video presentations that are not so painful, and sometimes pointless, to watch.

The worst problem with some of them are that they are incomprehensible. Some people speak so quietly (especially in videos that feature multiple speakers) that you can't hear them. Some people drift off mid-sentence while they are trying to explain something to you. (I am guilty of this in life, and even sometimes when I teach), but I would be more careful in a video because unless it's in real-time and specifically set up for it, there is no opportunity for interaction.

Some people speak so quickly (and this is a problem out in the world too that I will write about in the future) that one can't comprehend sentence one before they have moved on to sentence four, which is very bad in an instructional video. They don't seem to understand that they are giving people new information (or at least they should be) and there needs to be time for it to sink least a few seconds.

I just watched two videos in which a a soon-to-graduate, very competent MLIS student,explains technology concepts for a student orientation. As she explained the differences between computer operating systems, I had to slow down the first video in order to grasp anything she was saying (creating the effect that speaker was drunk or otherwise chemically impaired). In the next one, explaining Mac features, she drifted off in the middle of at least a quarter of her sentences and sprinkled the presentation liberally with "like" and "you know" (particularly before she would cut off a sentence, never to return.) No, I don't know; that's why I'm watching the video.

Another one I watched, just out of curiosity, was faculty introductions. Faculty stepped up one-by-one in front of a green chalkboard, looking very much like they were about to have a mugshot taken. Several of them had that deer-in-the-headlights look. One was completely inaudible. Some spoke in comprehensible sentences but were very stiff. I'm pleased to say the most animated speaker was the professor I have now, but I may be prejudiced. Even though I have never met her, she conveys warmth and affability onscreen, even though she's kind of goofy (in a fun way, making her pleasant to watch).

That leads me to the next thing, though. In our current lesson (Excel spreadsheets, which give me fits) she is telling us what to do, and ostensibly showing us. However, I can't see what she's doing. It's very difficult to comprehend visually. I thought it was just me, but several people posted to the discussion board and mentioned it.

In live presentations like the one with the Mac lady, speakers sometimes ask for questions from the audience. Apparently not realizing the questions are inaudible to the video audience, many speakers do not bother to repeat the question before they start answering it. They should be doing this anyway for their live audience.

I'm not posting this just to be bitchy, but it's a problem. There has been a lot of movement to online classes in the program,for a variety of economic reasons, and I benefit from this in many ways. I assume other institutions are moving this way too. If this is going to happen, though, the people who put these together need to familiarize themselves with some basic production values. For example, why not have the faculty sitting at a table in front of a pleasant background, introducing themselves in a very natural way? The live audience could still see them (and the live presentation should be enhanced with some kind of projection). You can't use old-style presentation techniques with new technology. It's painful to watch, at best, and incoherent, at worst.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The usual fall term frustrations

Classes are now in full swing, both the ones I teach and the ones I take. I agreed to teach a writing class this session after not having taught writing for quite some time. Because it is so time-consuming, most of us in my department tend to burn out on it after several consecutive sessions.

I like to have my students do lots of peer-editing, primarily because I think it benefits the peer editor. I have also been trying to be more conscientious about preparing rubrics so students can both know what is expected of them in their writing, and know what they're looking for when they are peer-editing.

We only have eight weeks, so when my students peer edit, I also edit/proofread their work too so they will have the benefit of whatever expertise I have (I always ask them to bring three copies). However, I have 19-20 students this time (don't ask why I don't know...that is a long and never-ending story, so it is difficult for me to get their rough drafts back to all of them during the same class session. Because of that, this last time I tried to give feedback to those I couldn't in class via e-mail. Because I do not yet know how to have them submit a paper to me electronically which I can then correct electronically, it's twice as much work. I burned out on it after several papers in a row and did not get e-mail back to everybody. However, I tried to get the marked papers back to them via their other teachers (we are a small and specialized department), and was only mildly successful.

I also have some issues with transitional technology. Both at home and at work (and when I take classes at the satellite center here in town for my university) some of the computers still have the 2003 version of Word and some have 2007 (and my desktop has 97, I think). Depending on the computer I'm using, I can not always open up a .docx. In the classes I take, the onus has been on us to put our work in Compatibility mode.(I have 2007 on my laptop at home but not on my desktop because I have lots of quizzes and tests I created using I asked one student to do that I don't remember why he didn't have the rough draft available during class, but when he sent it as a .doc, it opened up as gibberish.

When I told him, he got kind of mad and asked why I didn't download a 2007 reader. That kind of made me mad, and I also wasn't completely sure what he was saying. Because of heavy accentedness, we were having trouble communicating. If he had been one of the students I hadn't gotten feedback to on time I wouldn't have been upset, but he was the one who didn't give me his rough draft on the day it was due. The hard thing to explain is I have to use different computers at work which I share with others, and I tend to be reluctant to download much of anything on them, plus when I take classes, I'm supposed to make sure my work is readable. I had never had problems receiving attachments before when people used the Compatibility feature.

Anyway, then I felt bad and tried to be nice the rest of class. The thing I get frustrated about is I could do a half-baked mediocre job and be very timely, but if I'm going to give them quality feedback, they have to have stuff ready when I need it--and they have to label it properly, and it has to be readable. When I have not been timely, I will give them extra time, but I get very edgy in writing class when students create more complications for me than I already have.

The other complication is that because of some weird scheduling stuff, I'm teaching half-days four days a week instead of full days two days a week, which is the usual process. Not only that, but I started out teaching one writing class but was switched to another when another teacher had a scheduling issue at her other job. I also have decided not to sub in high schools for now as I have done in the past for extra money, because the system has been privatized and it kind of messes up the money which previously went into my state pension fund, which was one of the primary reasons I was doing it build up that tiny, tiny nest egg.

I'm also a bit on edge because I'm taking my required Information Technology class which I have been putting off for some time, and which is now only offered online, AND which now requires taking three certification tests. I'm actually very excited about the class, but at the same time, I'm very nervous about keeping up with the workload and I am somewhat out of my comfort zone. Fortunately, I have loved both the hybrid and online classes I have already taken. I'm just worried about the lack of direct, in-person access to the instructor when I run into problems.

Now that everything has started and/or settled, I will fall into a rhythm by next week, I think, and I hope I will be considerably less frustrated and moody.