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12/8/2005
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Lessons in Teaching Collaboration Technologies

I’m back home for a while after a whirlwind traveling schedule. My goal was to visit groups interested in learning more about collaborative technologies and teach them how the technology we are currently using can help them to achieve their goals. While I may have been the instructor, I learned some valuable lessons as well.

The most useful method of teaching people how to use a collaborative technology is to first introduce the concept of collaboration and what it means communicate and collaborate with others electronically (both asynchronously and synchronously). Then, it is absolutely key to show how others are doing it using the same technology. Give plenty of examples.

In nearly exhausting my resources, I learned that the more examples I gave, the more wheels started to turn in my students’ heads. They wanted to see how people posted questions, and how people replied to the topics. They wanted to see how files were posted and how the version control feature worked. They wanted to see all the really nifty things they could do with the databases. They wanted to see how the calendar reminders worked and how often people could receive notifications of new content. But, most importantly, they wanted to see all of this (and more) in context. My students did not want to explore new ways of reinventing the wheel. They wanted templates for improving communication, project management, and collaboration within their organizations.

If learning a particular technology, or set of technologies within a platform, requires training, make sure that you have exercises for your students to do. More importantly, make sure that the facility has workstations and laptops available for them to try the technology. In two of the facilities I visited, the majority of the students did not have laptops, nor were there computers available for them to use to try out the system while I taught the classes. If you find yourself in the same position, try to tailor the class to show the different ways the technology may be applied within the context of your students’ work.

For example, a group of participants dealt with external vendors and other constituents that were not on staff. First, I showed them how another group was using the platform to perform very similar tasks. I confirmed with the students that they wished to use it in a similar way, then I demonstrated the steps for performing those tasks if they had their own setup. Less than a week later, a request for a new site for this group was in my inbox.

While that may be the desired outcome, not everyone will be convinced that it is worth their while to change the way they work with others. As I (and many others in this field) have said before, it will take a massive cultural shift for adoption of collaboration technologies to take place on the larger scale. However, if we look at the pattern of adoption of the now ubiquitous email, we can predict that within a few years, use of collaborative technology platforms will be the norm, and not the exception.

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