Agnes Namaganda Kanzira is an Academic Librarian, Information Literacy Instructor, and Head of Africana/Special Collections at Makerere University Library, Uganda. Agnes has taken part in a number of pedagogy skills workshops, initially as an observer and now as a facilitator, alongside mentoring others.
Over the past few months, I have participated in the pedagogy skills workshops organised by INASP in partnership with library consortia in some African Universities. I have participated in various capacities such as: Observer, Co-facilitator and Facilitator. The aim of the workshop is to equip trainers (Librarians and Lecturers) with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to deliver learner-centred training.
The Pedagogy skills workshop is change-oriented training — from the teacher-centred instruction to a learner-centred approach. The learner-centred approach shifts the role of the instructors from givers of information to facilitators of learning. As they are in control of what they are learning, participants are encouraged to reflect on content. Some trainers consider the learner-centred approach risky because they felt they would lose control of their classes. However, by the end of the workshop, they were converted.
The overall structure of the training process involved three stages: the initial pre-workshop diagnostic (a survey and a task). I wonder how many of us conduct needs assessment before delivering training — in most cases we make assumptions about our learners’ needs and conduct training to fill the “unknown” gap. This takes me back to some of the disturbing scenarios I have observed during some of our information literacy sessions, where some students get so distracted that they end up using social media during sessions. Here I pose these questions: Are the students distracted because the content is irrelevant? Do we always have the right participants in the room who understand and are interested in the workshop? What about the level of skills and methods of delivery? Do we take into account the differences in the learning styles and preferences of our trainees?
Pre-workshop readings were sent to the participants so as to become familiar with some of the content to be presented. My observation is that participants who didn’t have time to read ahead found it difficult to internalise some of the content. Is it therefore true that “Africans do not read”? The facilitators had to recap in order to bring everybody on board after all this is what learner-centred training is all about — all inclusive to make the learners succeed. Writing and sharing reflective journals by the participants was quite a learning experience for me. Participants were required to think critically about their learning experience.
The objectives and ground rules of the workshop were established through a participatory method which was quite unique. I learnt that establishing clear rules and expectations in a participatory manner upfront keeps many problems from arising. Learners who do not know what is expected of them are more likely to be disruptive.
Creating an environment that is conducive to learning is something that I used to pay less attention to during my training sessions. Little did I know that a room layout can communicate the dynamic between the trainer and the trainee. For example a room set up in a lecture format will give the trainee the impression that the trainer will be delivering presentations and that the learner is expected to listen through-out whereas a room where there are break-out tables encourages group work and collaboration. It is therefore, important to take note of the room layout.
Getting participants relaxed and talking within the first three minutes of the workshop was a new concept to most of the trainers attending the pedagogy skills workshop organised by the Consortium of Tanzanian University Libraries (COTUL). In my capacity as an Observer, I realised that after the Ice breaker activity, the right mood was set and participants started talking and the smiling faces were visible. This activity was an eye opener and for all my future training sessions, an Ice breaker can’t miss!
Group tasks provided an opportunity for participants to bring out varied experiences in solving problems. Bruner’s 5Es (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate) were taken into account while designing the content for the workshop. I realised that content was presented in interesting ways, because the participants were active and focused throughout the workshop.
Communicating effectively is another aspect that came out clearly during the workshop. With the support of presentation software, trainers can easily deliver training. However, it is important to know how to communicate effectively using the tools available. Participants were given a task to prepare a seven minute PowerPoint presentation to assess whether they had mastered the skills of effective communication. The first comment I received from the participants is that it was impossible to deliver a presentation in seven minutes. This means that trainers were accustomed to delivering training without training/lesson plans. Regardless, they had to perform the task and, to their surprise, they were able to do it.
The elements of planning that need to be taken into consideration are: assessing the training needs, designing the programme to fit those needs, developing a variety of activities to stimulate and engage learners, planning how these activities and the training programmes will be implemented and, finally, evaluating the session.
Change is part of life and as trainers we need to be flexible to adapt to the shift in teaching and learning. I am confident that participants who attended the Pedagogy Skills Workshop were equipped with skills to conduct learner-centred training.