In My Worst IT Training Days #1: Internet Training Day, I made the point that you always need a plan B. (My mantra as far as technology is concerned is that it’s not a matter of if it goes wrong, but when.) But in the story which follows, a plan B wouldn’t have been much use, because there wouldn’t have been anywhere to execute it.
Rather, the story illustrates the fact that when giving training, adopting an approach similar to that of advanced driving is not a bad policy. The difference between advanced driving and ordinary driving is that the advanced kind involves a great deal more anticipation of what might happen. Consequently, the word “suddenly” is rarely to be heard in the advanced driver’s conversation (as in, “He suddenly pulled out right in front of me!”). An interesting statistic I came across some years ago was that drivers who had taken and passed the advanced driving test had 80% fewer ‘accidents’ than motorists who hadn’t taken the course. And interestingly, even the ones who had failed the test tended to have 50% fewer accidents.
The incidents related in the story below were not of my making, and fortunately I was still able to conduct a fruitful training session. However, had I anticipated the ‘mishaps’ described, I probably could have prevented them altogether. These days, I always check in advance that these and other factors will not be an issue.
I had been invited into a secondary school to teach very under-confident teachers how to use the web. They had few or no skills in this area, and frankly didn’t necessarily want them. However, the school had a remit to make all staff digitally literate and competent, so they were obliged to attend whether they wished to or not. It was an after-school session running from 4:30 to 5:30.
Four things happened. Well, five actually, for reasons I’ll explain.
The first was that I and the teachers all turned up to the computer lab where the training was to be held, and found it locked. I went off to find the Head of Computing, who fortunately was still working in his room (which was a five minute walk away from the computer lab). It turned out that he kept the door locked as a security measure. For some reason it didn’t occur to him to meet us there and let us in.
So, by the time we all traipsed into the computer lab, we were 15 minutes late, the teachers were in a foul mood, and even more time was wasted because I hadn’t been able to get into the room to log on to the network while the teachers were getting themselves settled down. Basically, by the time we got going, we’d lost a third of the time allotted to the session.
The second thing was that none of us could access the internet. I raced off to find the Head of Computing once again.
“I blocked access to the internet so that nobody could accidentally access porn”, he told me.
“But they can’t access anything, and it’s an internet training session!”
The next thing that happened was that when the teachers tried to print something, they discovered that the printer wouldn’t work. Even worse, (and this is the fourth thing) the error message that came up on the screens was something like:
‘Fatal Error #10978. Do not continue. Call Technical Support immediately.’
As you can imagine, being completely under-confident already, the teachers all thought they had somehow destroyed the school’s network.
I went off to find the Head of Computing, and he told me that there was nothing wrong with the printer. He’d disabled it in order to save paper. However, if the teachers chose another printer from the menu, they could print off their stuff in the room next door.
It was locked. That was mishap #5.
Somehow, we had a good training session in the sense that the teachers were able to achieve quite a lot by the end of it. However, as for whether or not they would do anything with education technology in the future was very much an open question.
“Tell me”, I said to the Head of Computing afterwards. “Was it your aim to deter those teachers from ever using the computing facilities again?”
“Of course not!
“Well, I’d be surprised if they do. If they were experiencing so much aggravation in a twilight training session, do you really think they’re going to take groups of kids in there?”
Since then, I’ve always asked for — insisted on if necessary — certain things to be in place if I’m to do training:
The facilities have to be available. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would ever need to stipulate this, but the training room has to be unlocked before much else can happen!
The things I want to be able to do can be done, such as being able to get online, print (in the same room), or whatever.
Ideally, the tech support people should make error messages friendly and comprehensible, and never use the term ‘fatal error’ unless the system has just killed someone.
The teacher who has asked me to do the training must be in the room, or very close by such as next door. Every time I went off to get the Head of Computing, I wasted ten minutes (five minutes each way).
Failing that, tech support should be in the room, or very easily available by phone, and respond immediately.
As I said at the start, none of the things that happened were my fault. However, they’d have been less likely to have happened if I’d thought of giving the school a more comprehensive list of my requirements in advance, and that’s exactly what I do these days. By ‘more comprehensive’ I mean including really obvious things.
For example, if the teachers will be using school laptops for the training session, I’ll request that they are fully charged, available in the room and ready for use (such as actually being on the desks), with a list of guest log-in details in case anyone has forgotten their password, etc etc — and that someone is there 15 minutes beforehand to unlock the room.
This all points to a wider truth of course. We tend to avoid stating or requesting the obvious because, well, it’s so obvious. But in my experience it’s precisely those things that get overlooked if you don’t bring them to people’s attention. Far better to err on the side of caution than to try to avoid looking pernickety!