Phew! This has been quite a week! Our CLC (1:1) Orientation went amazingly smoothly, thanks to all of the wonderful YIS colleagues involved, and now all of our students in grades 6 – 12 (around 400) have their own laptop! I’ve been getting emails, chats and FB updates all weekend about how happy the students are with their new MacBook Pros. I absolutely can’t wait to see where this new adventure takes us as a school community over the next year.

ChecklistAs I was designing the orientation sessions for students, particularly the session on Managing Your Laptop, one thing jumped out at me: understanding how to be digitally efficient can make the difference between loving your laptop and constant frustration. I mean, if you know how to use CMD/CTL+F to find what you’re looking for on any page, in any application, you’re generally going to be a lot more efficient and effective with your time than someone who’s constantly scrolling up and down multiple pages to find the one word they’re looking for (and sadly, that appears to be 90% of computer users).

So, I guess the question then becomes, what are the key skills everyone (students, teachers and parents) need to be efficient? Especially when technology is always changing? And, isn’t each person’s concept of productivity and efficiency different? So wouldn’t the skills be different depending on the person and their work flow?

I’ve pondered this idea before, and even tried to make up a list of implicit technology skills that we can explicitly teach to help students and teachers feel more confident in any new application. Those skills were more general, focused on understanding how applications work, and how to transfer knowledge from one to another. This time I wanted to focus on day-to-day tasks, skills that would help our students and teachers feel more productive, and that would enable their laptops to work for them.

Because we ran two sessions, one for students and one for teachers (technically it was way more than 2, but all of the sessions for the students had the same list of skills), I tried to make sure the skills overlapped as much as possible. It will certainly be helpful for the teachers to know how to support the students, and all of these skills are foundational for more advanced strategies to help everyone be more productive.

Essential Productivity Skills

For the most part, I focused on Google Apps, especially Gmail, Docs, and Calendar, because those are the tools that make my life so much easier on an average day. Here’s the list:

  • Creating labels in Gmail
  • Creating e-mail lists in Contacts
  • Install Google Notifier to set up web Gmail as your default email client (this has saved me hours of work)
  • Creating collections in Google Docs and organizing your files
  • Making a copy of a document & saving for yourself (to edit)
  • Sharing a collection with a group (made in your Contacts list) or a colleague
  • Make a Google Doc public, for linking on your class blog
  • Check the revision history in a Google Doc
  • Creating events in Google Calendar and setting automatic reminders via e-mail
  • Creating repeating events in Google Calendar
  • Importing the school’s calendar into your own Google Calendar
  • Creating a Google Reader account and subscribing to feeds
  • Create a bundle of feeds in Reader for each class you teach
  • Adding feeds to folders in Reader
  • Recording screencasts in QuickTime

These are super basic, but for those who don’t know how to do them, I imagine there’s a lot of frustration and wasted time. Just like the people desperately scanning page after page for the one thing they’re looking for. My hope is that once teachers and students are able to build these simple skills into their everyday workflow, they will be ready for the next set.

Tech Tidbits Format

To help teachers learn the skills they needed (and not have to sit through the ones they already know) in a more comfortable environment, the session was run kind of like a fair. Fifteen different teachers were seated around the room to teach each of the different items above. We had a shared Google Doc listing the topics and the trainers for the day and teachers were able to work in partners (or independently) and move around the room to the session they needed at that time (basically a variation of SpeedGeeking).

After a few minutes, new tables started opening up with teachers training their colleagues on the new things they had learned. Anyone who felt confident that they could teach one of the skills was able to write their name down on the Google Doc so that other teachers, who may not have had a chance to learn everything, would know who to go to for support. There is also a growing list of new ideas at the bottom of the document for future sessions.

Over the year I’d like to offer a number of these sessions, allowing different teachers to do the training, and building up a repertoire of productivity skills that anyone can combine to suit their needs. It’s fun, it’s quick, it’s easy and everyone walks away with something useful they can implement immediately. Over time, as the skills become more complex and interdependent, I think (hope) teachers will see how all of these tools can be combined together to make their lives easier.

Building Expertise

Another side benefit of this format of PD is that each time we run a session like this, I’ve promised the day’s trainers a special workshop with me to demo all of the skills covered (because they may not have had the time to visit other tables) and to build up to the next level of skills. Hopefully, this will not only spread the knowledge base across the school, but will also entice more teachers to offer training sessions. By the end of the year, I hope we have a set of teacher experts, along with our Student Tech Team experts, that is continually expanding and changing as needs arise. Although this is focused on technology skills, I hope this can be a start to developing an environment of professional learning, along with our YIS COETAIL cohort.

Final Thoughts

From what I’ve heard, the session was well-received and teachers would like more sessions like this. I love the idea of not being the only person leading technology training at school, and making our PD a community experience, rather than a departmental show off. Now that everyone in the middle and high school has their own computer, I think these kinds of skills will be more essential and help us spend more time on the creative and fun aspects of technology.

What would be on your Tech Tidbits list?

Image Credits: Creative Commons Licensed