Thursday, December 13, 2012

No more canned food for my students

One of the things I teach at my work is Microsoft Office. I remember at my last job that after taking a few Office courses, I promised that if I ever were to teach it, I would try to make the content more fine-tuned to the user community instead of relying on canned curriculum.

I'm making good on that promise. The first thing I did was give the canned curriculum our company had bought a chance by delivering those courses for a few months. They suck. Like most canned courses, they gloss over features instead of giving them the time and multitude of examples they deserve. They also discuss every feature under the sun, but let's face it, many of these features you'll never use.

Now for the remodel. The first thing I did was scrap the Intermediate and Advanced level courses for Word and Excel. More on that in a minute. I kept the Basic level courses around because they focus mainly on the interface and the Home tab on the ribbon, which is something everyone should learn. I even urge my experienced (but self-taught) users to come and take the Basic courses so they learn the things they've been missing out on.

The most useful components of the Intermediate and Advanced courses I deconstructed into one to two hour sessions focusing on one feature. Named ranged. Conditional formatting. Tables of Contents. Formula auditing. Data validation. Charts. Document protection. The list goes on. This works so much better because it allows us to really work out why each feature is so valuable and it doesn't force my students to abandon their desks for a whole day. I have co-workers that have a rough time getting away from their desks for fifteen minutes. But I don't just teach Office program features, I explain document design as well. What makes a good spreadsheet and things you should avoid doing when making one. What you can do with a document you have created so that it will live on long after you're not around anymore. In other words - built-in instructions. Nobody teaches that stuff. Why? It's important, dammit!

Phase two of my Office remodel was to build a new kind of session called 'putting it all together'. In it, we use many if not all of the features they have learned in separate sessions and actually make something. An invoice form in Excel for example. These new sessions are a hit with my colleagues. And that's why I love my job so much.

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