(image from nordwood at unsplash)

Sharing, for teachers who don’t like to share

The spread of learning platforms in schools awoke an old demon: should a teacher share its teaching material, or not. Legal advisers reminded us that, per contract, any material created for the school is the property of the school. Of course, reality is far from this. And asked this way, the question about sharing or not sharing, only divides the teachers community. Some consider that their job might disappear at any moment and for their protection, they need to keep their material for themselves. Some consider that they can’t face the new students alone anymore and that sharing is the only solution. I consider that both are right, and that the question should be better stated: what to share?

Example 1: The resources

I made a bibliography (or a webography). It took me a lot of time to build it. Should I upload the file on the school’s platform?

What is precious about a resource list?

  • the list itself, of course. It is a document to give the students: immediately useful

This is definitely the primary value. But there are many secondary values that need to be emphasized:

  • updates: are the new elements included? when were they?
  • categories: how the elements are grouped? By usage? By type? Depth? Level?
  • description: does it say what the articles is about?

If you don’t like to share, well, this is easy: upload the list of resources, in alphabetical order, without details. Other teachers will be able to start from this, but either they will have to come to you for more information (and maybe they will share with you their own material) or they will have to also spend a lot of time to make it useful.

If you fear to have your job replaced (by someone younger and / or less paid) or by a computer, well, they won’t be able to do a lot with your work.

Teacher’s hint

Actually, in the age of information, I have personally reduced the size of my “resource lists”. Instead of a big outdated list, I create a “forum” or a “news page” where students can upload links to the documents, articles, videos they found useful. They love finding new stuff (curiosity) and sharing it (generosity + showing off). I give them marks when the job is correctly done: relevance of the resource to the topic, credibility assessment included, description the content of the resource in a few word, why / when someone might find it useful (usage and purpose)…

I try to convert a “work done by the teacher” time (which usually is poor on the impact on the students) into “learn methodology activity” : we can cross views about why I find something useful that they discarded… and the other way round.

Example 2: Presentation material

When I was doing some consulting (quite some time ago), I was often handed some presentation material (slides of powerpoint) created by some experts, that I had to present in front of clients. Believe me:

the value was NEVER in the document itself, ever!

I know you might have spent a lot of time, gathering information, changing word after word to make your point easier to understand, and that you spent hours, designing the whole lot to make an everlasting impression… This, indeed, is the primary value of your document.

Unfortunately, from what I remember, each time my boss just gave me such a beautifully designed document, full of intelligence and cleverness… I completely failed the presentation!

It is because a presentation document in only worth the amount of animation you can make of it. The job is to give it life.

Actually, it really is the same each time I give a course plan to another teacher or when a colleague gives me his or hers. What are the absolutely essential secondary values?

  • the timing: how long to stay on each topic. You all know that each point is not as important as the others. Some slide / page will require more time, some should go quickly. That’s the difference between a newby and an experienced teacher / speaker. Usually, in this job, identifying the correct timing is the thing you learn the hard way! You really “know” the material when you know what to skip or rearrange at presentation time, depending on the mood / level of the audience.
  • Which comments / examples to give: if your slides contains all you have to say, I am sorry, but it is not a presentation material, it is a book. For a presentation, you need to come up during the speech with additional elements to incarnate it, illustrate it. This also includes all the “storytelling parts” meant to add a kind of “emotion” or reality to the subject.
  • Transitions. It took me a long time (I am a slow learner) to ask the right questions when someone gave me their presentation. Finally, I understood that I should use the small time I had with the expert to ask what to say “between the slides”. What would make a great link from one point to the next. This is a real value added secret, that turns a presentation into a success. And when it’s not there, the audience is lost with crumbs instead of a cake.
  • Questions: in a presentation, the speaker faces a hard challenge: how to engage with the audience. Usually, after you managed to intrigue with some paradoxal comment or embrace a shiny storytelling, you have to use the third most engaging tool: asking questions. Well, a presentation, without a list of effective questions (the ones that really did work the previous times) is a useless package for a class.
  • Answers: in the opposite directions, a presentation generates questions from the public — hopefully. Questions, remarks, doubts, usually mixed with irrelevant comments… When I want a young colleague to succeed, I make absolutely sure that he or she is prepared for this part of the class. I give a list of the most common reactions and we train on how to manage them.

So, if you don’t want to share, it is very easy. Before you upload your presentation material just strip any timing indications, erase the details of the examples, forget to add a list of engaging questions, put the plan without the logic of transitions, don’t describe the audience’s common reactions, don’t add any follow up activity.

Animator’s hint

I could spend hours preparing my presentation material. As an introvert, it is one of my real pleasure. After a few years, I figured out that my student didn't care so much about it. Even worse, I noticed how much they considered a burden to read or learn, what I put so much heart into.

Now I make them do it. When we have seen a few topics and that it is time to “review” them before they get lost into forgetful oblivion, I create groups of students and assign one topic we have seen by group. The have to create the “revision material” that the other groups will be able to use to prepare the exam. Of course I help, usually by questioning them: what did you find difficult? (maybe you could add a warning for your friends to check precisely this). When could you use this? (maybe a real life example could illustrate it better than just a definition: can you think of another application than the one I proposed in class?)…

With any smartphone they can even film themselves (I usually limit the time of the video to 2/3 minutes). They can add files on the platform too. I encourage them to ask question to the other groups (written in the forum) to make sure each group dig to the same depth. When it works (which requires a certain motivation / energy of the class), they manage to produce an impressive complete multimedia material that they can add to their portfolio or CV.

In higher education, you can remind your students that they are the generation of “high speed change” in the work place: they will be hired, not only to learn a job, but mainly to bring in the firm new ways of working. Their pedagogical competencies will be acknowledge as a very important soft skill at recruitment time…

Example 3: Exercises, quiz and tests

I have created lots of questions but I don’t want to put them online

“Google form” allows to create a quiz with specific grade for the right answer. Some teachers would rather have their students do their tests on Google than on the school platforms… just to keep the property of their quiz.

Questions are meant to evaluate the level of the students: this is a undeniably a very important primary value. But let’s try to see if we can unfold this to find some secondary values…

(On this one, I won’t study the opportunity of providing the tests questions to the school without also giving up the correct answer for each question. it Tempting, but even for this article it would be too much. Putting the quiz online on the school platform is understood as “student can immediately have their grade”. Which means you have to give both to the school: questions and the correct answers.)

With some colleagues we tried to share our test quiz questions (that we created ourselves) and we also took a bunch of questions from a certification manual. We thought we could make a good training program with this question bank… It turned out to be a total failure! Here is a list of what made our questions so useless:

  • Purpose: most of the time, my colleagues couldn't understand what the point of my question was, and I felt the same way with some of their questions. I teach something technical (Excel), and between colleagues we expected our questions to be highly redondant. Surprise! What seemed for one of us like a complete obscure detail, was considered as the most obvious trap to avoid by another. Some questions were linked to “know by heart” learning, and were incompatible with the way of “learning by example” taught in the class of the others teachers: divergent purpose.
  • Wording: in class, even the best technical teachers tends somehow to shift from an “official” vocabulary. First because most of the time there is no real official vocabulary. Second, because a teacher uses the terms that came up regarding the examples given during the lesson. It took us some time to rephrase our questions to fit a common wording. And it required even more time to do our lesson in class, using explicitly the shared wording, so that students could correctly understand the quiz question and find them “manageable”.
  • Answer explanation: you don’t have to worry too much about a less experimented teacher stealing your questions. A quiz set of questions becomes valuable when you also add cues to help the student who gave a wrong answer. Not so much “what is wrong”, but more “how should the student see the problem”, “what was missed”?

So, if you don’t want to share a bank of question, give them anyway, even with the correct answer but make sure: the school provides no time to clarify the purposes for the questions, and that no normalizing time is given to compare the scores of different student groups who have different teachers; that there is no explanations about wrong answers.

Actually the same applies to almost any exercise. The best part is not the idea of the exam, it is how you make it work for student.

Facilitator’s hint

The success of an exam depends on how student learn how their teacher will formulate the questions. The students whose teacher created the exam have more chances than the other students. Not because, the teacher gives away the theme of the exam. Just because along the lessons, students have learned the type of question he or she asks.

I usually give my students a set of training questions, always available on the platform (night and days). The questions bank grows at each lessons, and student can train as many times as they want on this quiz. Some might think it is cheating. I answer: it is learning, exactly like flipping cards. The test quiz simply becomes the learning material. When students understand, that just by doing the quiz three times each week they can score 100/100 in next class test, it becomes a sport: which class will be the first with all the student getting 100!(Don’t misunderstand me: the main exam is not a quiz, I am talking about the “weekly” test)

Trying to create a positive ambiance, is the trick. If the school want to reuse my question bank without telling me, I am not sure they could easily use it to create a positive atmosphere in the classroom. This has nothing to do with my question bank, it has to do with “relationship”.

Example 4: corrections and tutorials

I am filming myself explaining a notion… but with this video, my school won’t need me anymore

Have you ever seen an TV serie? You have cliffhangers, you have “coup de theatre” (twist), the plot deploys itself along many episodes. Your video explanation is exactly the same. It’is not because you make a video that people (school and students) won’t need you anymore. It is because you put everything in your video. You have to learn how to improve your scenario. Like any tv show, you have to make people come back for more.

Even if you create a video exposing the main aspects of a concept (primary value), what are the secondary values that could be missing and would make it necessary for students to attend your class?

  • Exceptions: imagine you are asked to make a tutorial (video or not) about “a rule”, almost all the rules have exceptions. If you are talking about a “tool” or a “technique”, there are always cases when it is better NOT to use this tool. Competency includes the ability to differentiate between the situations where a technique is adapted, and the times where it is better to avoid it.
  • subtleties: when I explain a concept, there are always some part of it that is not understood during the first sweep. I usually come at it a second time, when the first bite has been digested, to lighten the parts that I left in the shadows.
  • hidden functionalities: You can play on the “hidden”. Use a storytelling to show that some aspects of the concept (or the technique) where discovered later. But, exactly as for the subtleties, there are things that are “hidden”. Things that require a higher level of understanding before getting uncovered.
  • use cases: Sometimes the way a concept is used, depends on the context. It means that to discover more context, people have to attend your class
  • deeper understanding: what is under the hood? How it works? why it works this way? What is the next new things to expect from this field?

If you want to make people come to your class, even after they have watched your video, be sure to stick to the main concept, don’t forget to indicate that “in class, we will make a focus on the specific situations, where this technique leads to a terrible mistake”. Mention that many of the hidden aspects about this tool will be taught during workshop (“master class” seems to be the current buzz word…).

Trainer’s hint

It means that usually, a video should provide either: a synthetic resume (presentation), a point of view (usually after the lesson), an example.

This should be separated from the “hands on” part.

For anyone who hasn't read about pedagogy since the dawn of internet, the teaching field is challenging the prevalence of theorists in the classroom. What schools start to identify as a “good teacher”, is someone who make student “touch” the subject, “produce” something. Not just see or hear about the subject.

So make sure your video is scenarized as just an appetizer or a dessert, before or after your main course. Main course being the application time.

Example 5: Projects

From what you have read until now, you start to understand how our “new version of the teaching job” gravitates around the animation in the classroom. We are asked to focus on motivating and interacting with the students, and even more, to provide some simple but intelligent “hands on projects”. So, here is our fifth challenge about sharing:

My school wants me to describe on the platform the projects I created… it is all my life! How can I keep them for myself?

That is indeed a problem. Because from my point of view, you shouldn’t want to keep them to yourself. You should be communicating about the projects, from day one: to your students, to their parents, to their job mentor if they have one, to your principal, to the other teachers… Or even better, you should make your students talk about the projects you created, how it went, what they found great, which outcome they produced… It is your advertising: spread it! In higher education, create a process before student can publish articles on LinkedIn about what they did with you to make sure it has a professional finish: it’s how they will be spotted by recruiters and get a job!

Make known to everyone, as part of your branding, the fact that your are great at creating projects. This will be the reason you will keep any job at all in a school!

Of course, by now, you can guess the “secondary values” that makes a good project linked to you, even if you publish about it:

  • the way you “sell it” to the students, how you introduce it and give it purpose
  • the way you motivate the students when they are in a confusion period about a step of the project. How your questions help them find new directions or inner resources to get back at it with a reborn appetite
  • the process you put in place for the project to reach its target or its final form

All those aspects are intuitu personae: they are the soft skills belonging to your personality.

School finally understood how the character of the person matters (above expertise). And that the place of the teacher was not in front of the class but inside the class, around the working groups.

Far from being replaced by machine, this job position is the requirement of successful learning, physical or online.

Sharing for principals and stakeholders

From what I tried to show, you have a list of things showing that your teachers are not sincerely “playing the sharing game”. You can try to go in force against it, or use legal arguments. The problem is that unfortunately, this is not a game at all: creating a teachers community is the only solution for schools to survive in the digital transformation era.

The managerial change requires to create the conditions for your teachers to work as a strong community, who voluntarily share their productions. This can only be achieved through a complete acknowledgment of the personal values they bring into their class and the soft skills they share among the teaching team.

Hopefully I will find time to write about:

  • the new skills and competency portfolio for teachers
  • the new metrics for teaching performance in the digital era
  • how to create a community of teachers

so follow me!

Thanks for reading this through, and don’t forget to share your remarks and questions below ;)