I give a lot of training sessions — one-on-one, small group and larger sessions. I think this makes me a bit sensitive to issues when I am on the other side of the table. I cringe when I am faced with a class that is less than it could, or should be. Due to the freely available live streaming audio and video tools, it is easier than ever to create classes, but sometimes the fundamentals of teaching get lost in the process.
While attending an online course today via streaming video, I was struck with a problem that I hadn’t really thought about before. In classes where there is a large amount of prep work — installing several software packages, checking connections, trying a sample project — the first session can be quite daunting. Students are eager to dive into the topic and start working with the tools or information. If, instead, they are presented with an hour or more of setup, you are likely to lose them before you ever get started. I know for myself, today’s class seemed interminable. In fact, they may have lost me for the rest of the class. I will probably give it one more try, but if it isn’t significantly better, I will probably abandon the class in favor of more self-directed learning through others sources.
Of course, this got me thinking about how you can avoid problems like this, where the setup takes up an entire class session before the students can experience something “cool.” One way I would have approached it would to have had an online forum/discussion group setup a week or more before the live class, where students could work through the installation and troubleshooting of all the necessary software and materials. There could have been group leaders online to answer questions and help everyone prepare, so this information wouldn’t need to be covered during the first live class. The instructor could make the assumption that everyone was ready to go and could dive into the most interesting part of the information. This would provide a much more exciting and energetic start to any class.
The next separate, yet related issue, is that of instructor demeanor. Whether this was caused by being forced to address the setup issues in the first class, over-familiarity with their subject or general personality, the instructor of this online class showed no excitement about his topic. One can guess he is an expert in his field, but without any sense of passion about the topic it made the class a very hard slog. For me, when teaching in any environment, a certain amount of passion is expected, desired and, for me, required. If I can’t get excited about the topic, how do I ever hope to excite the students interest? How do I hope to help them (or push them) through the rough parts of the class, if I can’t make the topic interesting and applicable to them. How can I hope to enjoy teaching the topic if I am bored with it. A little excitement, a little fun, a little look into the cool stuff to come would have been very welcome.
Of course, classes are about information transfer — teaching students something — but without a certain amount of fun and passion involved they can become less useful than simply reading the material out of a book or web site. If you are going to “teach” a course, you need to add value to the information, not simply read it out. Your video needs to add value to the information in order to justify someone taking time out of their day to show up in a particular place at a particular time.
How do you add value with your audio or video projects? What passion to you bring to the screen? You would be well advised to think about these issues before you start. Share your thoughts using the Comments link.