Monday, January 21, 2013

No More Death by Disco - Being a Better Instructor

Remember the last time you took a class? What was the course about? Who was the instructor(s)? Can you recall any of the key points? Did you attend the training in a traditional classroom, in your agency, on-line, at a seminar, or, via a teleconference? Was the material mandatory training by your agency, continuing education material for a certification, a college class towards a degree, or, for personal reasons (hobbies, lifestyles, etc.)? Did you spend the time propping your eyelids open or were you enthralled with the teacher?

How can you become a better instructor? What can you do to ensure the topic you teach is not only absorbed by the students, but retained at a later time?

Let’s start with the basics. First, show up. This is no joke, went to one seminar where the presenter ‘forgot’ and mixed up the dates. Be on time. Dress appropriately for the course (don’t wear a tuxedo to a scuba class or a bathing suit & shorts to a sexual harassment course).

Check the room out.  Are there enough power outlets, audio-visual equipments, tables & chairs, computers, screens, etc. for the students? Where are the bathrooms? Is there a break room close by? Do you need a whiteboard? What about the markers and cleaning cloths (or paper towels)? What is the temperature in the room and can you adjust it? Do you need to have the students sign in on an attendance sheet?

Even in a formalized academy, an instructor may be allowed some leeway with presenting the material. When presented with the teaching materials for your class, review each part carefully ahead of time. This will allow you the opportunity to clarify any sections that are unclear, update out-dated sections, and gather your notes. Have hand-outs and audio-visual files checked. Do they correspond to the class you will be teaching?  For the informal instructor gather your materials ahead of time making certain what you use is timely and accurate.

With that said, how can you make a lecture memorable? No one wants to spend hours preparing for a lecture only to see half of the attendees nodding off to sleep an hour into the program. Is the subject that boring, or is the method of the presentation putting folks to sleep?

One of the best promotional videos I have seen in quite a while was made by the American Heart Association (AHA). Naturally, the AHA would love to have every citizen get certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). With the revision of the standards now focused on compressions only, the AHA sought the assistance of physician and actor Kim Jeong (Role Models, The Hangover). The result was a hilarious spot showing an example of CPR to the rhythm of “Staying Alive”. With an explanation of how CPR can save a life, or as Dr. Jeong quips, “Disco saves lives.”

Not only is the video funny, but it makes the point. It gets people talking about CPR and they remember the lesson. You can watch the video by typing ‘Kim Jeong AHA CPR’ in your internet browser.

Another example of making a lesson fun is using characters to illustrate points in a lesson. When teaching the EMT-Basic class, my husband borrowed fictional characters as examples when lecturing various parts of the curriculum. Coming across former students, it was often remarked that one of their favorite parts of the class was the drug abuse lecture where he used Winnie-the-Pooh & Friends to show possible actions of drugs might be. It seemed a great deal of his EMTs remembered that particular lecture, especially those who went on to work in EMS, and passed on Sam’s methods.

Games can make a session move along. During a Civilian Training Officer (CTO) class for dispatchers, the instructor had us set up our tables in a rectangle. Playing the old fashioned game of ‘telephone’, she told the first person a basic scenario. By the time the scenario made the way around the room, the only information that was correct was the address and phone number. We all had a good laugh at that. At least we managed to have a place to send the cops and a call-back number. She had our attention for the remainder of the day.

My first time teaching a classroom session was nerve-wracking for me. I didn’t want to screw it up, so I probably over prepared. I hand hand-outs of anything I could think of. There were four dispatch trainees waiting for me that morning. When I walked in, I held my head high and acted like I’d been teaching for years. After passing out the copies of the papers, I jumped right in. We ended up having a blast. I tried to keep them engaged, asking questions, making sure they understood before I moved on to the next section, and giving little verbal quizzes. I received a lot of “No one told us this before” responses.

I really hate hearing that.

They were extremely happy to receive the hand-outs. Did I have any more? I ended up getting them a stack of reference sheets. I left that day feeling good about the experience. My time spent preparing had paid off. To this day, when I teach, I never assume those in the student’s seats know what I am thinking. If I don’t say it, write it down, or hand each person a copy, how can I expect them to be responsible for that knowledge or behavior? I then must make certain those students demonstrate the knowledge in a manner, whether verbally or by performance, so that I know they truly do understand that skill or information. Then it needs to be documented properly.

And, if we can do so having a little fun at the same time, then I’m there!

Now, I’m off to watch disco save another life. It cracks me up every time I watch that video clip.
You go, Kim!

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