In last year’s education supplement in the Southwest Journal, Southwest Community Education Director Tom Nieman encouraged people to teach a Community Ed class about something they know and care about.
After reading this, Stuart Rosen, an instructional designer and writer and Kingfield resident, decided to give it a try. Rosen writes print materials, videos, Web sites, etc., that teach people how to do things. He figured, as he put it, "since I write stuff that teaches people, someday I’d like to try teaching people how to write stuff."
Rosen signed up to teach a course he named "Writing to Train or Explain." Then, he started keeping a diary to track the process before, during and after the classes. He agreed to share some entries with readers who might like to sign up to teach a Community Ed class but would like to know more about what it’s like to teach one (or, at least, what it was like for him).
The course isn’t until mid-May, but I begin organizing what I want to teach. I realize that I need to be able to articulate, by explanation and example, the principles, techniques, tips, tricks, do’s and don’ts that have accumulated in my head during the 17 years I’ve been doing instructional writing.
I start writing out what I’ll present in the classes. I want the course itself to be an example of good instructional design and writing.
Community Ed brochures have come out. I’m excited to see my course listed. (I guess I have to do it now.)
I start promoting the course with e-mails, flyers and calls to business organizations.
No registrations yet. I go to a dinner and meeting at Southwest, and get to know many of the other teachers. It’s quite a mix — some have taught for years, some are teaching in Community Ed for the first time and some are teaching for the first time. Subjects include Spanish, French, Japanese, American Sign Language, history, yoga, woodworking and creative writing. Also, sewing and belly dancing (taught by the same person, but not during the same class).
There’s a mix of men and women, a wide range of ages. I enjoy meeting them — It’s good to be with a group of people who are enthused about teaching.
There are only four people signed up. I tell Tom I’d like to do it no matter how few people there are. He’s OK with that, so the class will happen.
I start preparing the examples of scripts, manuals, Web pages, etc., to show and hand out to participants. I have lots of questions for the Community Ed staff — practical questions about the room I’ll be in, getting copies made, etc. Tom and the other people who work on the program are all very friendly and helpful.
I finish my preparations for the class, which starts tomorrow. I’m excited, a little nervous and also concerned about how much I’ll be trying to teach in two two-hour classes. There’s a lot I want to cover.
The first class. There are four people, with different goals and experience, from a freelance writer who wants to add to her skills to a former teacher who is developing a pilot for a TV cooking show. The two hours go by quickly, and I realize that I have tried to teach too much. There’s not enough time for questions, discussion and writing activities.
I finish preparing for the second and final class. In the time we have left I want to concentrate on fewer things, and have more class participation.
The second class goes better. I still try to teach too much, but the class is more focused, and there’s more time for questions, discussion and even a short writing activity.
I write a lot of notes about the course. I have mixed feelings. I know that the participants learned something, but it didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I want to do this again, to continue to develop my skills as a teacher. (When I do it again, I need more class time and less content to cover, or maybe both.)
Overall, it was a good experience. I learned a lot, and I really liked working with the Community Ed staff.
I offered the course in the fall, this time for a total of eight hours, but not enough people registered, and it was cancelled. However, I’ve found it all worthwhile and plan to try it again, maybe when the economy is better.
For more information on teaching a Community Education class in Southwest, call Tom Nieman at 668-3100.