Tips for teaching/training on data skills
(photo of Ignasi, Olu and Ketty by Heather Leson, July 2014 (CC-by))
You probably have a skill or knowledge that others would love to acquire… but teaching can be intimidating. Fear not! In this post, we will share a few tips from the School of Data network, which is filled with individuals who hold continuous trainings on all things data worldwide.
It’s not a great idea to improvise when you are frozen by stage fright, nor to realize in the middle of a workshop that you can’t continue as planned because you are missing materials. That’s why formal planning of each workshop can help. Here’s an example you could use.
Michael from School of Data in Berlin has a special piece of advice for your planning: “Be yourself! Find the teaching method you feel comfortable with (I like to do things ad-hoc, Anders prefers slides, e.g.)”
Also, maybe it’s a good idea to partner up. Cédric from School of Data in France makes a great point: “There are two essential things in a workshop: knowledge of methodology and knowledge of the subject. More often than not, it’s better to separate them between two people. One will make sure that the workshop goes smoothly, and the other will help individuals get past roadblocks”.
Be mindful of how you speak
Beyond what you say, the way you speak can have an impact on the success of your workshop. Michael (again) and Heather from School of Data in Toronto recommend that you try to speak a bit slower than you’re used to, with simple sentences, and avoiding jargon or descriptive metaphors.
Make it a friendly environment
Helping people feel comfortable and welcome is necessary in every educational setting. Happy from School of Data in the Philippines explains it: “The point is to keep it as trivial as possible so that people don’t feel intimidated by the skill level of others”.
Codrina from School of Data in Romania has a lot of experience here: she recommends not keeping it too serious, and rather make small jokes; also, “give a little pat on the back for those who ask questions”… And don’t forget to take breaks! Yuandra from School of Data in Indonesia reminds us of something crucial: refreshments and water. People won’t learn if they’re distracted by hunger.
Also, icebreakers. We all love icebreakers, and Olu from School of Data in Nigeria has these in mind.
Try to connect with your audience
We use this phrase a lot, but what does it mean? Ketty from School of Data in Uganda puts it in very practical terms: try to read the learner’s facial expressions for e.g. confusion/tiredness/intent. This will help you find the best ways to continue.
Also, Ketty adds, “sometimes you have to be flexible and allow the learners to change your program… A bit of a give & take approach”.
On a slightly different topic, but still related to your connection with the audience, Olu thinks your audience will be inspired to work harder in your workshop if you tell them stories of what data/open data can be used for. You can find some at the World Bank Open Data Blog, and here on School of Data.
Some other didactic considerations
Heather recommends that you repeat key things 3 times (but not right after each other – spread them throughout the workshop). Also, Codrina recommends repeating questions when they are asked so everyone can hear before the answer is given.
Another recommendation: If you have a really successful workshop, try to replicate it through other media. For example, run it on a hangout, write it out on a tutorial. Multiple content won’t be redundant – it will mean more and more people will have a chance to learn from it.
Happy has a great tip: “When you want to get the group to mingle and pair up (data analysts paired with visualizers, for example) one way to do it is to divide the group, 1 line for data analysts, another for visualizers. Then we ask them to line up according to a range of categories – from technical categories or something as simple as personal information, like the number of house they lived in during their childhood, for example”.
Make an effort to keep track of time and exactly how long you spend on each part, Cédric recommends, as this will help you plan for future trainings.
Your audience may well be outside the room where you are doing the training. Cédric adds: “Sometimes good suggestions can come from social media platforms like Twitter, so if you have an audience there, you might want to share some updates during the event. People might answer with ideas, technical advice or more”.
The workshop was fun and people attended. But did they really learn?
Try to evaluate this learning through different methods. Was everyone able to complete the exercises? What did they respond that they learned in your ‘exit survey’? Did you get good responses to your last round of oral questions?
A few resources shared by the School of Data community
Notes from the OKFest How to Teach Data Session (July 2014)
Aspiration Tech has great tips in their guides (via Heather)
PSFK on how people make/learn (via Heather)
Escuela de Datos on our Local LATAM training lessons learned