New PD Site: Presenters

sWe’ve had a look at how users work in the new PD site, so let’s take a look at another major player: presenters.

The word “presenter” is really loose in this system. This can be a person who is leading a one-off workshop. It can also be someone who can answer questions about a program. Or it can be someone who is facilitating a multi-week learning extravaganza. At the end of the day, a presenter in this system is someone who is responsible for certifying participants have done a thing.

I mentioned in the last post we want to move toward competencies and to encourage the coaching aspect of skill development, presenters play a crucial role in the professional learning system. I’m getting a little ahead, so let’s back up.

FREEDOMMMMMM

Presenters start with a little more freedom in the site. They have two additional menu items: Presenter Tools and Create. This is a smaller group of people who will make things happen, so they need more tools in their kit to do those things.

Home

The presenter is a more powerful user. So, their home page is the same as a general teacher. Notice that the home page now only loads future, active events. Their navigation menu has new options, though.

Create

By default, a Presenter can create a new event. An event can be a one time workshop or something spanning a longer period of time. The type of event is determined by the presenter, so the form helps with that. This also helps us categorize which types are more or less popular, which ones get more registrations, and which have higher rates of completion.

Creating an event sets it to Active by default and people can begin registering. On first submission, the person completing the form is set as a presenter. This will need to change because we'll eventually have secretaries or assistants creating events but we don't want them listed as the main point of contact.

One point I'm particularly happy with is setting the event type and location fields. I took major inspiration from Jonnie Hallman, a developer who write extensively about his design and build processes. His post on building inline forms helped me think through how to handle this part well.

When the page loads, it grabs current event type options (In person, Google Meet, Webex, etc) and throws them in a dropdown menu. The same goes for locations. These include metadata that can be used later in the UI, but for now, it's just to help categorize our events.

The big question was how to handle a situation where the type or location didn't exist. Using an inline form, I was able to allow the presenter to create a new type or a location on the fly and dynamically update the menu.

After submitting the event, a simple modal confirms (or rejects) the submission.

To do

  • Better validation in the UI to make sure errors are caught early.

Presenter Tools

Here’s where the rubber starts to meet the road. Once a presenter has created (or been added to) a event, they are able to see more information and even change some of those details.

In the Presenter Tools, the user is given a list at the top of the page of each session where they are listed as a presenter. Clicking on an event title loads the registrations and enables editing tools. It's important to note that this view does not filter by date or active status because we want presenters to be able to make those changes.

Edit Sessions

In the tools section, a presenter can open a sidebar to make small adjustments to the event. Things like the title, meeting location, description, etc. Date changes are also supported right now. Using the same inline form as before, a slider will pop out with a form they can edit. Current values for the event are pre-loaded into each form field.

To keep the sidebar from scrolling to the moon and back, different edits are split into different actions. The only edit not supported for presenters right now is the ability to edit who is presenting. There's no method for getting users who are already presenters, so that needs to be built out before those changes can be allowed.

Another helpful tool for presenters is a clean method for adding resource links to the event. In the edit form, current links are shown as well as a simple form to add a new link. The link categorization isn't really used yet, but it will allow us to use that metadata later.

To do:

  • Edit event presenters by only displaying users who already have presenters status somewhere else.
  • Remove links from the event.

Communication

Often, presenters will want to get in touch with registrants before or after an event. When a presenter clicks on an event in their list, they’re given a snapshot of the registrations at that moment along with a couple of tools.

Presenters can open an email to all registrations for quick communication from here. Emails are sent by whatever is set up on their computer (Gmail, etc) so the app can stay simpler. Getting into sending automated emails is hairy.

They’re also able to see the registrant status. Remember in the last post how one session was marked “Registered” and the other was marked “Attended?” This is where that happens.

In reality, some of the training we’ll be facilitating is just that: one time training. After an event, the presenter can come in here and mark an individual has having participated or make those marks in bulk on the registrations list. This will flip the status for users and they’ll be able to get their documents.

At other times, we want to see growth and competency. So, a presenter may have a long-running event - weeks or months - and as participants show their skills, the presenter can come in and mark those people off. The asynchronous, intentional marking of completion will help presenters take action in working with their participants and signal to staff that we want to help them make substantive change in their practice.

This was a huge update to functionality, so I'm going to stop there. There will be at least one more post detailing the admin tooling. Lastly, I'll probably do a big writeup of the technology behind this system and give links to source code so you can dig in and take a look.

Supporting Hybrid and Online Learning

My district is entering a phase where students are in one of two situations: fully online or a hybrid with two days in person and three days online. The goal of this structure is to provide a safe space for students who need it without mandating that all students come back to the building and create a new unsafe space.

I've been thinking hard about how to support this new structure. Trying to work the old school model into a new structure is going to cause headaches. The lowest bar is often one of the worst, even though it's an attractive option when you're under time constraints and high stress in new situations. To that end, I've been trying to pare down what I would suggest if I were teaching classes of my own this fall.

Simplicity First

Complex systems which evolve from simple systems often work well. Complex systems developed without simple implimentations often run into the ground, hard. Starting simple and choosing two or three solid instructional methods will help teachers make connections and teach new material.

There will be a time when you need to figure out how to accomplish tasks X and Y without letting A, B, and C fall apart, but it isn't at the start of the semester. Those acrobatics come later. For now, consider how you're going to introduce concepts, close gaps in understanding, and then build on those ideas.

In Education and Experience, John Dewey (yep, I just pulled that card out) argues that experiences should build on one another and drive students to want to know more. This is critical in building self-regulation habits, espeically at the high school level.

Well Defined Material

You are not going to be able to "cover" or "hit" the same amount of content you did before March. It just isn't feasible given the time delays and other constraints of teaching fully (or even partially) online.

Deep breaths.

You should start by identifying the absolute essentials for your content. If you would typically explore 15 content standards in an in-person semester, cut that down by two thirds. You might be at a good starting point.

Not only should content be pared down to essentials, it should be explicitely and repeatedely shown and explained to students. This opens up a number of opportunities from direct discussions of material with students (imagine no more, "what are we learning today?" It can be your reality.) to fully-fledged standards-based grading.

As a fringe benefit, reducing your scoped material gives you a soild guaranteed curriculum which can be expanded based on student interest. Your time is more flexible to follow lines of inquiry and delve into topics or ideas you would normally gloss over for the sake of "covering more material."

Cycles of Learning

Ramsey Musallam uses this term a lot (it's his blog title, after all) and I really like his approach to flipped learning. Instead of preteaching with a video and assuming you know what students need to know, be patient and wait for those misconceptions to expose themselves. Then you can make a short, targeted video to close those gaps.

When you're fully online, it's easy to make assumptions about where students are before you actually know...where they are. The easy button solution is to make a ton of videos up front only to find later that they don't target specific misconceptions well, which leaves you feeling stressed and rushed to make more videos.

Rather than jump to video as a go-to, invest time in finding other ways to engage students in their learning. Set explorations first which challenge them to think through ideas or topics and express their own understanding before you swoop in with instruction.

Adjust on the Fly

I student taught twelve years ago and I still remember my mentor teacher's response to my very first solo attempt. She observed the class and then brought me a small notepad and said, "Write down three things you're proud of and two things you want to improve." Shen the proceeded to coach me through the first item on my "to improve" list until I felt proud of it and we moved on through the semester.

This changed my life.

It's easy to focus on the terrible lessons. It will be even easier now that many teachers are sitting alone at home or in classrooms. Develop a habit of constant reflection, but start with proud moments and move on to one or two items to improve. Take advantage of any instructional coaches in your district. Reach out to colleagues also teaching online and ask for advice or if they've had the same experience. Ask the students what they think. Find that feedback and take time to adjust as necessary.


There is no top-three list I can give teachers. There is no combination of YouTube channels or websites that will help you teach better. There are chances to move away from time-based, self-contained, content-overloaded courses. Focusing on simple systems which support learning and allow for changes in what "normal" used to be is the best advice I can give heading into the new semester. It's trite, but this really is a chance to rewrite the book on what school could look like.

I hope we take it.


The featured image is solar system by carolinamadruga is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND