For geeks and techies, the subject of information technology is endlessly fascinating calling to mind gadgets, code, and future possibilities. But for the uninformed lay person, the term is mysterious, dry, and dull, and may cause their eyes to glaze over when they hear the words. Yet the world has gone digital and anyone who wants to keep up must have at least a rudimentary knowledge of information technology and how it is used in today’s world.
There are a multitude of people seeking instruction in information technology who have been out of school for decades. They take advantage of free classes at the local public library or pay relatively inexpensive fees for community classes. Some even sign up for classes at educational institutions like universities or community and technical colleges. They are serious, to one degree or another, about gaining information to assist them in entering the digital realm and utilizing the opportunities offered by information technology.
If you find yourself in the position of teaching IT to laymen, no matter how much you know about the subject, the primary challenge you face is how to take something perceived as dry and dull and make it, if not fascinating, at least interactive, lively, and maybe even fun.
The first task for the instructor is to learn about the students. Ask about their level of experience with information technology and also what their expectations are. What do they want to get from taking the class? This information may require some revision of teaching plans, but you won’t be considered a good teacher if students don’t find the class personally rewarding. Put yourself in their place and figure out what you can give to them based on your perception of their capabilities.
Housekeeping chores such as taking attendance, filling out forms, and such, are a necessary evil of the teaching experience. But if possible, don’t take up the beginning of the first class with such drudgery. Instead, start off the first class by engaging the students right away. Save the housekeeping for the end of the class. This should keep the students from falling asleep and deciding not to return for the next session.
Establish learning objectives quickly. What do you want them to learn? What do you want them to be able to do with what you plan to teach? Again, this may require some revision on the part of the instructor, but it is an essential element of the teaching process.
If at all possible, learn the names of the students. Calling them by their names establishes a personal connection and goes a long way toward establishing and maintaining a rapport that is conducive to the learning process.
Be mindful of how you appear to the students. Be yourself. Do not try to imitate someone else’s teaching style. If the students perceive you as being sincere, they will have confidence in you as an instructor.
Do not read lectures to the students. They can read any required texts outside class.
As you progress through the class sessions, encourage questions. If you don’t understand someone’s question, rephrase it and encourage the asker to correct you. Place the onus upon yourself by saying, in the case of a misunderstanding, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand . . . .” Do not say to them, “Your question is unclear.” Keep them feeling good about themselves.
Now that we are past the nuts and bolts suggestions, it is time to offer specific suggestions about how to liven up your teaching.
- Have students find news articles on the subject and briefly share them with the class at an appointed time during each class. This can be expanded to a bigger project involving teams of students for presentation near the end of the course.
- Ask them to write a descriptive essay on a person that marked the history for which they’ll need to use Internet resources. This can be a fun little project, plus you’ll find out more about each person and their idols.
- Show a movie or part of a movie that was cutting edge in its time. Compare the technology that was so new in the film with how that same technology is currently put to use in our everyday lives.
- Each week or each session, introduce and demonstrate a cool technology and explain its uses. Encourage the students to think outside the box for useful ways to use the same technology.
- Report on new smart phones or tablets and outline how they are different and/or innovative.
Occasionally utilize a game show format, like “Jeopardy,” to review material and encourage healthy competition.
Above all, assure the students that they are capable of learning about technology. Make positive encouraging comments about their questions or observations. And let them know that you believe in them. Chances are that if you follow these suggestions, you’ll be known as a great teacher of information technology, one who takes a complicated and boring subject and makes it interesting and fun.