May 1997 // Commentary
Hands-on Training: No Substitute
by James Garner Ptaszynski
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: James Garner Ptaszynski "Hands-on Training: No Substitute" The Technology Source, May 1997. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

This past month I attended the Council of Independent Colleges' Technology Workshop in Pittsburgh, PA. An annual event for the, past eight years, it brings together college faculty, IT staff, provosts and a smattering of college presidents.

Microsoft, Compaq and CBT Systems held four "Hands-on labs" for the participants. In addition, we sponsored a fifth half-day lab for a special CIC project called Enabling Leadership in Information Technologies and facilitated by Dr. Ed Barboni, Senior Fellow at the CIC and Drs. Thomas McCain and Stephen Acker of the Ohio State University.

In our general labs, we covered strategic and financial planning, collaborative learning, rich messaging (i.e., enhanced electronic mail, AKA Microsoft?Ç¬Æ Exchange), and increased training through the use of interactive CD-ROM training programs (using CBT Systems interactive products).

All of our sessions were over-subscribed during the three-day event. Most curious of all was the tendency of these educators to line-up outside the door 15 to 30 minutes before the session in order to insure that they obtained a seat. I have not seen such behavior since I was in college and everyone wanted to register for the current crib course to round off their senior year schedule.

The full seating and the enthusiastic response we received on the labs (we had to shoo people out of several labs and encourage them to attend the plenary sessions that followed) were encouraging.

I relate this story not to pat our collective corporate backs on a job well done (although it was) but to bring to our attention a vital unfulfilled need on our campuses today: training. Talking with the participants and viewing the experience, I can tell that we are starved in higher education for both basic training on foundation software (e.g., Word, PowerPoint?ǬÆ, Microsoft Excel) but also on the innovative uses of software in teaching and learning.

One of the labs I conducted was on what I call "rich messaging." I define rich messaging as the next phase in the evolution of electronic communication. In addition to simple electronic mail (the usual text and attachments) it supports integrated graphics and living documents through the use of links and replicated objects. Users can schedule meetings, update shared calendars, conduct team discussions, contribute to shared documents from remote locations, and create and deploy "instant" groupware on intranets using rich messaging technology. As might be expected, we used Microsoft's rich messaging technology, Microsoft Exchange, for our demonstrations and practice sessions.

All of the participants in the labs (about 200 people over three days) were already regular users of electronic mail - simple electronic mail. When I asked them at the beginning of the lab for their expectations of the session there were few responses. I took this as an indication of two possibilities (later confirmed through individual conversations). First, they were so starved for any kind of hands-on technology experience that they were willing to join a lab session without any significant up-front expectations. Second, as regular users of electronic mail they felt that they pretty much knew what mail was all about and did not expect too much new information.

They were pleasantly surprised.

In the session we explored adding graphics inside electronic mail documents, live spreadsheets, embedded video and audio files and many more "enhancements" to simple mail. We quickly moved on to supporting student-faculty and student-student collaboration using such things as threaded discussions and public folders. They experimented with participating in a threaded discussion and quickly designing their own pop quiz using the survey template. In general, they quickly came to realize that this new type of electronic mail could open up new ways of teaching and learning.

My point is that, while much of this information could have been conveyed in a traditional presentation (dog-and-pony show), only hands-on experiences can help faculty and staff gain a visceral understanding of how new technologies can be applied to teaching and learning. Everyone who has ever taught understands how anchored most of us are to our teaching pedagogues. For faculty to change, as new learning technologies require, there must not only be a cognitive understanding but also a visceral understanding of the benefits of incorporating technology in education.

There is a tenet in counseling psychology that asserts "beliefs follow behaviors." That is, if a client does a behavior long enough, their belief system will follow (rather than the reverse). For example, getting up early and running each morning before work for a month, a person is more likely to have an "athletic mindset" than if they were to first try and totally convince themselves of the importance of regular exercise before starting such a program.

We need to provide more opportunities for our faculty and staff to experiment and receive training (and education) on the appropriate use of technology in education. They should not always need to go to conferences in order to be exposed to the latest in technology. We need to help our faculty keep abreast of the leading-edge technology rather than, for a variety of reasons, subjugate them to technology that is several years old.

I would be interested in hearing from our readers how they accomplish this on their campus. I will report on the responses in a future Technology Source.

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