Today I offered a two-hour session on new web technologies (blogs, wikis, RSS, podcasts, folksonomies and tagging, etc.) and their potential application for public diplomacy to a class of Foreign Service officers who are about to head off to various posts abroad as public affairs and cultural affairs officers. This was the first time both that such a segment had been included in this class and the first time I’d offered this specific training (though I’ve done training and presentations on bits and pieces of it, and on other technologies, for other groups). I’d been preparing my materials–presentation graphics, web page of resources, various activities and handouts–for several days (the major reason I’ve not done any blogging, nor read any, nor even been able to answer email since early this week). Preparation was a bit of a challenge, because I knew nothing beforehand about any of the officers enrolled in terms of their technical expertise or Internet sophistication. The coordinators for the class suggested that the level of such experience probably would be low, so I prepared my segment mostly as a broad survey of the technologies in question. Two days ago I was asked to try to include some kind of hands-on exercise, if possible, whereas originally I had been told that probably wasn’t necessary or useful for this first class, which we’d treat as a test run. So I made some changes to the content to incorporate such an activity, but still wasn’t sure that what I had would be the right level, or fill (or overfill) the time alotted, so I was a little, not exactly nervous, but uncertain.
When I walked in to the room fifteen minutes before my presentation was to begin, in order to log onto the computer, set up the digital projector, and log in to various sites I wanted to show as examples, my uncertainty increased. The dozen students, with few exceptions, appeared to be in their 20s to early 30s, and I started to wonder to myself if my content might be a little too simplistic and broad, rather than sufficiently narrow and deep, apparently from an assumption that their youth meant that of necessity they would find a discussion of blogs, feeds and podcasts old-hat and humdrum. I noted to Jeff this evening that, perhaps because most of our social circle–such that it is–are either other bloggers or IT professionals, I tend to assume that other people–or the younger generations, at least–are steeped in this stuff.
So getting ready to adjust the content on-the-fly, I asked the officers to go around and introduce themselves, and at the same time to tell me about their experiences with the Internet, blogs, etc. And my concerns were allayed; all were fairly confident users, a few read blogs and a couple of them had done some HTML coding at previous jobs, but that was pretty much as far as it went. So the broad survey was pretty much right on target.
I had a great time with it. The class was informal (when I first arrived with my jacket and tie, one of the class coordinators said she hoped I hadn’t gotten dressed up for their sake; so my jacket immediately went on the back of the chair); I sat at a table in front and alternated chatting about the various technologies and services with showing examples online. They had their own laptops, and followed along, using the web page I’d set up beforehand to navigate to the various sites. We joked a little–I noted that my major experience with training folks is usually teaching sex education to thirteen-year-olds, so I expected this might be a little different, perhaps with less giggling, and one responded that it would be okay if I brought a little of that training to this class as well. When we later got to blogs, and the topic of comment moderation came up, I noted the prevalence of blog spam, “much of it pushing Viagra,” so we managed to bring sex into it after all.
I’m usually very tough on myself after I finish a presentation or a class, but this afternoon even I felt pretty good about it. There were a couple of things I’ll definitely change for the next offering, but all-in-all there was a good mix of material, I think that they definitely took away some new tools and new ideas, and there was a fairly good flow. After the sessions ended, the class coordinators were very enthusiastic about the session and have asked me back for the next offerings, in June and August, and asked if they could tape my presentation in June so they’d be able to use it after I move to California. They’ve also asked if I would be willing to do some regular, 30-minute hands-on BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) brown bag sessions.
I really enjoy doing this, though I don’t know how full-time teachers handle it; I put in a lot–a lot–of hours over the course of a couple of weeks preparing my materials and organizing my thoughts for what was just a two-hour session (though as I offer it again and again, and only need to make minimal changes, the ratio might come to seem more reasonable). How in the world can you sustain that kind of ratio of preparation time to teaching time when you’re doing it day after day?
Still, I find myself regretting–again, as happens every few years–that I never (yet) went for a Master’s degree. I’ve been asked a couple of times if I might like to take an adjunct faculty position at a college or university and teach in my spare time, which I think actually would be really cool, but my experience and domain expertise aside, I don’t have that requisite piece of paper. Not that it’s not possible to get it, even now, of course; the past few months I’d even begun thinking about it again, and started to look into some online courses, but I probably need to wait until we’re moved, if not settled in, before taking on the demands of a graduate degree program.