Where's the Value in Hands-On Workshops? Published 2008-04-16 under

Is there anything worse than sitting in front of a computer totally lost, not sure which button to push, frustrated? I guess it would be sitting in front of a computer in a lab waiting for that totally lost, not sure which button to push, frustrated colleague to catch up so you can progress.

I am attending the TechEd 2008 conference in Ontario, CA and have been excited at the session offerings. But in the hands-on one-hour sessions, I really question where's the value? In the short time allotted, too much time is wasted explaining the technical details and assuring that all attendees time to catch up.

I am in the process of constructing (or really re-constructing) a full-day workshop for administrators. The main question is how do I assure that quality time is spent going over concepts, demonstrating technology used to implement concepts, and giving participants time to reflect and discuss these concepts? For me, the important issues are the concepts but I realize that for many, it is important to spend time on the HOW not just the WHAT/WHY.

The idea that I am playing with is to construct video demos and walk-throughs that focus on the HOW, on how the technology works. These videos will allow participants to work on the HOW in their own time freeing the workshop hours for reflection and discussion. Will this work? What do you expect from a workshop?

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I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful hands-on lab today on Adobe Illustrator CS3. What made this session so fun? First, the goal of the class was simply to gain some confidence with Illustrator. There was no discussion of how Illustrator can be used in the curriculum. The word pedagogy was never event used.

Second, the instructor exuded confidence which was contagious. She was reassuring and gave us all the confidence to produce our first Illustrator piece of art work. She began by showing us an example of what the final piece might look like. Even with my (albeit small) experience with graphic design tools, I was intimidated. But she then explained that everything was done using the shape tools. And so she began... breaking the project into its parts, identifying the next component, and introducing only one or two new tools at a time.

Finally, the activity was both structured and open-ended. The instructor gave us detailed instructions as she showed us a demo. But we were asked to be creative with how we used the tool being demo'ed. She opened the door for the creativity, knowing just how appealing it would be for us all.

This hands-on session has given me hope. While it has been the only hands-on component of a session that I have really enjoyed (both here at TechEd 2008 and at numerous other conferences), it has renewed a belief that it is possible to have a successful workshop that blends time for group discussion, brainstorming, and reflection with time for participant to gain some hands-on experience using the technology.


Todd said...

great conference! i took some pics if you would like to see: http://www.onlyalumni.com/blog/teched+2008+conference+photos