21st Century Tools for Teaching and Learning: rules for practical/hands on teaching

This post continues reflection on the learning design process I am currently engaged in for a session I run a couple of times a year and am running again on 7th Feb: 21st century tools for teaching and learning.  In a previous post on my blog, A learning design process using social media: Brainstorming and Aggregating, I wrote about using a noticeboard tool and a bookmarking tool to help in the design process.  I created a noticeboard representation of the existing session to help me reflect on where I was at and where I need to revisit the learning design:

(I'd advise you to right-click and open the above in a new tab/window)

Looking at this allowed me to see that there isn't enough practical components.  I wanted more and, following a scoping exercise, I added a few bits:

(I'd advise you to right-click and open the above in a new tab/window)
Teaching internet-based tools for teaching and learning in a practical way requires careful thought. 

Here are some golden rules I follow:
  • Simple or no account creation - you can’t have participants spending 5 minutes creating an account. Email validation is a big no-no too. There is fine for real life personal use but if you want participants to try things out, it needs to seem easy. Always make the point that there are many examples of any tool type.  Of course, it needs to be free, see Choosing social media/web 2.0 tools for use in teaching and learning for more on this.
  • Good usability - I try to teach tool types not specific websites.  Therefore, I try and show a few different examples.  For them to practice I choose the one with the best usability, the one with the lowest learning threshold so they can have a go as quickly as possible.  Once you've done this you can share the pros and cons of the different services you have identified.
  • Learn the processes inside out - This is a logical point but an important one (as are the others really).  Teach them the basic usability by doing it yourself and float and help whilst they play with it.  It's vital that each click is explained, mistrust of new online tools is quick to take hold so it needs to appear as easy as you can make it.  With their personal ICT skills you will get to know who to concentrate on, but in the beginning don't assume anything.  This is biggest problem people have with any hands on session involving computing.
  • Give them an authentic task - I've struggled with this in the past.  The more you know about their context the better but there is a usually a generic type of activity you can think of so that they start inputting into a particular tool in an authentic way.  One way of doing this is by requesting participants bring content to the session.  However you do it, it's important to try and get participants to think about its use in their teaching context.  The best way to do this is with them performing an authentic task using the tool.