Monday, 22 September 2014

Low-Tech Information Literacy Training Sessions

I'm lucky to work in an institution that receive quite a diverse public. Actually, a lot of my students follow their courses part-time and have been working for several years.
With them, a problem I encounter quite often, is a weak computer literacy, which keeps them from using many of our resources. And since I don't have the possibility to up their level directly, I have to get creative...
Here are the methods and the tricks I use to take their needs into account during my training sessions, in seven points.

- Know who you're talking to. I systematically send a questionnaire the week before the training session, so as to ascertain the level of the students. I don't ask them what they know how to do (do you know ho to...? > yes / no / I'm not sure) but how confident they are regarding different tools (how do you feel about...? > very confident / confident / not really confident / what is that?).

- Create level groups. If possible, dividing the students in level groups is so much better!
I either ask them to sort themselves in different groups on their own (it does work quite well) or I divide them myself, based on their answers to my questionnaire.
Hence, I get to isolate the weakest students and I can spend some time, at the beginning of the session, to check that they do know how to use Firefox (yes, indeed...) and how to find the library's website before doing anything else.
With the other groups, I'm going to be able to go faster and see more things.

- Learning without the stress of the tool. The important bit that I'm trying to pass onto my students, is not how to use a particular tool (it's part of it, but it's definitely not the first point on my list), but the method behind it. This is where the transferable skills lay, that will enable them to use, not only this particular database, but all similar databases (for example).

So, if we're getting away from a particular tool to go towards the abstract concepts behind it, we can get away from the computers to play with more physical materials, like graphics, "hands on" activities or other pedagogical tools.
And that's really good when you're talking to people who get extremely stressed out when using computers. It enables us to talk calmly of a particular concept, to make sure that they understand the basics before going back to the computer to apply it.
Other use: to give a class in a room with no computer, where the students won't get a chance to try out the tool immediately. It allows us to make sure that they, at least, got the concepts.
And it works even with the most computer literates, who shouldn't need this crutch to understand how to write a search equation, for example. In my feedback survey, the hands-on activities I propose always are what the students liked best in the session.

So what does it look like? It can be worksheets such as the "Good Search / Bad Search" which I talked about in my post on active pedagogies.
It can also be real little board games created to illustrate a particular concept, group games, puzzles, do-it-yourself activities... I'm working on a number of them and I will present them here once they've been tested on my students.

- Take your time. According to my feedback surveys, even when I put a lot of simple activities in a session, the students tend to think that the lesson was at the right pace. So it's best to go as slowly as possible and let them play with the concepts during pedagogical activities rather than going as fast as possible to try and see as many things as possible in a record time: taking your time is never a bad thing.

- Finally going back to the computer. At one moment or another, you do need to let go of your little papers and go back to the computer screen.

If the group has a weak level and is fairly homogeneous, I'm going to go as slowly as possible and see very little things. The idea is not to overwhelm them, but to make sure that they get confident enough to be able to reproduce the simple steps that I'm going to show them.
I show each step one by one on the main screen and wait until everyone has been able to do the same on their computer before going to the next step, even for the most elementary things such as clicking a button...

If I wasn't able to divide the class in level groups, I ask a colleague to come and help me. She's going to check on the weakest ones and help them while I present more advanced functions to the others.

- Photocopies, photocopies everywhere. What's the use of having course materials online if the students have a hard time accessing them? For the computer literate students, the question is moot. But for the others I'm now systematically going for printed copies.
I always have better feedback when I give out old-fashioned paper handouts. Of course, I put everything online as well and send them an email with the links just after the session.

Other example: when my feedback survey was online, only 25% of the students answered it. Now that I give out printed copies for them to fill in before leaving the class, I have 100% responses!
Okay, it's bad for the trees... But I have yet to find a better alternative.

A last point:
- Training the teachers. I systematically ask the teachers to come to the training session with their students: more often than not, they need it more than them! It's particularly true of those who don't want to give me too much time with their classes: they often don't even know of all the knowledge and tools we can give them. And sometimes, their computer literacy is not very good either...
For those who can't come, I propose to go directly to their office to train them. I will get them all!

Creative Commons LicenseThe above picture is of Phil Gyford

It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

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