My Favorite Administrator Training Yet

Yesterday Ted Lai and I led an AB 430 Module 3 training, which is focused on developing school administrators’ technology proficiency. I started leading these sessions back in January 2005 (with Jackie Francoeur at the time – in the wake of Mike Lawrence’s departure to CUE). I inherited a curriculum that was only a few years old, but naturally already in need of revision and updating. Over the next six months or so the presentations evolved gradually and when it came time to resubmit the curriculum to the state I prepared a complete re-write based on the new material. Ted and I have continued to introduce incremental updates, but yesterday included the most exciting enhancements in well over a year – and it was by far the most exciting day of AB 430 training I’ve been involved with. (Though the participants were not a terribly excitable group themselves, they seemed to get a lot out of it and the evaluation responses were very positive.)

For me, the following enhancements really added to the day… by generating all new experiences for the participants, and for Ted and I.

A Google Docs Presentation

Google Docs only recently added the presentation element and even when Ted and I were planning last week we hadn’t yet thought of including it. However, this morning before the training I uploaded the AB 430 slides to Google Docs. The slides are very bare bones so this worked extremely well. I had any formating issues fixed in about two minutes. During the morning portion of the day the participants don’t have access to computers (it’s discussion driven), so we could really only demo the online nature of it, including the chat (which we did from two different laptops). The breakthrough came when I realized that even though the face-to-face audience couldn’t access the chat, others out in the world could… so I posted a simple invitation on Twitter.

I was thrilled when a few minutes later (as the participants introduced themselves and a technology success at their sites) David Jakes and Sharon Peters showed up. I asked what words of wisdom they might want to share with administrators learning about technology. Jakes talked about the importance of his online personal learning network, and Sharon promoted the Women of Web 2.0 talk that was to be happening that night. I could see lights go on for some of the participants when they experienced the world brought into their workshop – and several jotted down the WoW2 show info, so I wonder if any attended tonight. (I hear it was a great episode with Bud Hunt, who if I’m not mistaken also popped into our presentation chat for a minute, followed by Chris Craft some time later.)

It was an amazing experience (for me) to be able to apply this new tool in a teaching context so soon after discovering and becoming excited about it. I’m grateful to everyone who piped in.

A Thinkature Mindmap

We usually run an (Alan November inspired) exercise called “Worst Fears, Best Hopes” on a white board, chalk board, or chart paper (the participants have a handout, too). We’ve tried to move it into an electronic medium in the past, but Word and other tools have been awkward (the training labs usually don’t have Inspiration or anything like it). Today, though, we used Thinkature (a web based collaborative mindmapping application) for the first time, and it was a fantastic experience, for two reasons.

First, it was easy for the participants to use, and it just worked. At this point we had moved in the lab earlier than usual to complete this exercise. We’d already introduced the new wiki (see below), so participants clicked on the link for the mindmap… then all they had to do was input a nickname for themselves and they were in. There was no need for participants to create an account! Then as I lead the discussion from the front I could see the mindmap growing behind me… in fact it was growing out of control… the best hopes side filled up even as I was just beginning to lead the discussion on Worst fears.

This was the second reason it was so fantastic. Ted and I were modeling not only the new tool, but some risk taking as teachers. We’d never done the exercise that way before and it was ok that there were some unexpected results. More importantly, the power to lead the conversation more or less passed from me… to the participants. They were creating like mad, and I really didn’t need to say anything. When we reflected on the process I think they got at least as much out of that experience as the actual worst fears and best hopes. At least I know I did.

Ultimately, the process needed more structure. We allowed time to clean up the messy and redundant map and ended up with something somewhat functional… with connectors between fears and hopes that that they saw as different sides of the same coin. Ted also suggested using small groups (instead of a facilitator lead discussion) so that the groups could brainstorm and then post their more polished ideas on the class space. We’ll have to try something like that next time.

Incidentally, I posted the mindmap URL on twitter, it generated some questions from others and I believe some edubloggers may have popped in as well, though as near as I can tell no one added anything to the discussion.

Here’s a link to the worst fears, best hopes mindmap (note, many of the cards look like they were created by me, but I didn’t type any of them… I believe Ted completed much of the final clean up using my account).

A Wikispaces Wiki

Now, using a wiki is not nearly as new to me as using the tools above, but I had only just begun using wikis for workshops before I left the OCDE in June 2006, and we’d always continued using the official binders. Now, though, Ted has recently moved the binders online, so here was a new opportunity to use a wiki with the participants. The really new thing for me was somewhat accidental… since the use of the wiki wasn’t planned ahead of time, Ted and I created it as we went. Then anytime we, our guest speaker (Steve Glyer), or a participant mentioned any tool, resource, or book… we added it to the wiki and linked to it – as we went! This was a really great experience because the wiki became not an official curriculum, but rather notes for that particular day. I’ve added bits on the fly during workshops before (and had participants – and even visitors – add them, too, but this was very different). Part of me wants to archive this page by date (in the navigation to the left) and then recreate the experience in the future, at least to some degree. On the other hand, it would be nice to have all these references at the ready next time – and then to build upon them as with a normal workshop wiki.

We weren’t perfect note takers of course and thinking back on the day there were many things mentioned that still didn’t make the wiki. Next time I want to get the participants more involved from the start.

In any case, if you’re interested in what we talked about with site administrators for six hours today, check out the (unofficial) principals’ wiki and feel free to contribute other resources… like Lucy Gray did. ;)


I’ve never experienced such a powerful (and effective) intersection of leading a workshop (my “teaching”) and tapping into experts in the field (my “learning”). There’s no question that this was facilitated by using twitter. The Google presentation was cool, but without visitors in the sidechat, it was really only a run of the mill presentation for the participants; and it was twitter that gave me synchronous access to a network of possible visitors (IMing a few individuals to demo on the fly has never worked as well). And though the participants really got to experience Thinkature themselves, the experience was definitely extended for me due to the interest on Twitter (I noticed Bernie Dodge was using it with his doc students tonight, too). And it was an added bonus that Lucy came over from twitter to check out (and join) the wiki. To boot I actually learned a bit about twitter today – from one of the folks I added last night, Sherry Crofut.

In any case, I haven’t written such a long post in a while. It’s safe to say this was my favorite administrator training yet (in almost three years)… there were many other small successes throughout the day in addition to these. Also, this just might be my favorite blog post of the new school year – so far. :)