December 4, 2006 Leave a comment
After a massive crush marked by multiple overnighters inside a small number of days, the Hibernate materials were finally finished. My client is happy with them. Personally, I mostly see flaws at this point, separated by large stretches of “not bad” sections. I think after I get a little distance from them, I’ll feel better about the whole thing.
When I was a grad student and working on my Ph.D. thesis, a friend of mine used to say that if you didn’t get nauseous every time you looked at it, you weren’t working hard enough.
Anyway, that marked the end of a major development experience for me. Developing decent training materials is just plain hard. It’s easier if I know I’ll be there in the classroom and can deal with any issues that come up. It’s quite another feeling knowing the materials could be in the hands of an instructor with limited experience in the area who is relying on my materials to bail him or her out of awkward questions.
Here are three levels of understanding, from the training point of view:
1. Knowing a technology well enough to play with it and build reasonably simple, self-contained examples, hopefully a bit beyond the old “Hello, World!” level. That means you can write sample apps in real time and solve the labs successfully and much faster than the students.
2. Knowing the material well enough to teach it, which means being able to handle difficult questions like, “my set up is this particularly strange and bizarre system — so what do I do?” Or, “my system has a weird business need that nobody seems to address. You’re the instructor. How do I make it work?” Or even, “I did everything the book says but it still didn’t work. Why not?” Hey, that’s a big reason the students are there. They don’t necessarily expect you to know all the answers, but if you can’t at least address those sorts of questions, you aren’t really ready to teach this stuff.
(My problem is that I want to be able to answer every question immediately and completely accurately. That’s a tough goal, but we all need goals….)
(One more aside: my over-under for “I don’t know” statements is three. Students always say they prefer instructors to admit it when they don’t know something, but they only mean that to a limited extent. If I say “I don’t know” more than three times, they start to wonder
3. Knowing it all well enough to write materials, which means you know what’s important and what isn’t and how to get the important stuff across to a wide range of students, even if the instructor isn’t really at stage 2 yet.
That last one is hard, especially because there are three steps in the maturation of an instructor:
1. You tell them everything you know.
2. You tell them everything you’ve learned since then.
3. You tell them what they need to know.
That’s quite a different list. It’s very hard, especially for a new instructor, to get out of stage 1. In our highly dysfunctional educational system, the old “sage on the stage” model implies that the instructor knows everything and the students listen attentively and worshipfully. It’s also one reason why college professors tend to have such enormous egos.
(Aside: that’s one the biggest differences between teaching training classes and teaching academic classes. In training classes, I’m not grading them; they’re grading me. In an academic class, if I tell the students to do something, they have to do it. I’m the one with the power. In a training class, they’re grading me. I have to adapt to the needs of the students instead.
That’s a much harder way to operate, but much more rewarding, for me at least. Plus I don’t have to assign and grade homework.
When I walk into a Rensselaer class, I can almost feel the rush as I walk to the front of the room. I’m in control. If I decide something is important, it’s important, even if the students only have my word on it. It’s heady stuff. In a training class, the students have a job to do or they wouldn’t be there. It’s important for me to figure out what they really need and help them learn it, or I won’t get a good grade. It’s very humbling sometimes.)
Experienced instructors sometimes have a hard time getting out of stage 2 (telling them what you’ve learned recently). It’s tough, because part of the reason I became an instructor is that I not only enjoy learning new things, I love telling people about what I’ve learned. Heck, look at the title of my blog.
It’s important, though, not to overwhelm new learners. I took a golf lesson once and after the pro told me three new things I was very excited and enjoyed hitting the ball. Unfortunately, he couldn’t leave well enough alone. By the time he was finished, I was a complete mess, full of what felt like a huge number of contradictory rules. I couldn’t hit at all after that. I try to remind myself of that experience when I teach.
Frankly, I’m not sure where I’m going with all this, other than to say it’s obviously been too long since I’ve made a blog entry. I clearly have too much to say at the moment.
With that in mind, let me leave it at this. The Hibernate materials are done. They’re pretty good and seem to do the job well. I learned a ton in the process of writing them, and will no doubt learn more as I get feedback on them.
I’ll certainly say more later. Heck, I’ll probably be posting several times in the next week or two because so much has happened, but this post is already way long enough.