6 tips for problem solving flexible delivery
This article is contributed by Anne Walsh from New South Wales. Anne has extensive experience consulting with clients regarding flexible teaching and learning, and here she shares with us her six tips for problem solving flexible delivery.
OK, so you've been sent out to interview the client, teacher, learner, "whoever" to find out what sort of flexible/online learning solution they need and why. Just for a moment we'll forget that you may already think you know the answer for them. We'll also ignore the fact that your organisation has already chosen a "preferred platform". Instead, we'll assume that you're genuinely interested in finding out what is needed - what the problem is that you're trying to solve.
An effective method is to interview then analyse the responses. Anyone who's tried this will probably tell you that the interview is no problem; it's the analysis afterwards that's the real challenge. What you thought you heard at the time is not so clear later. When your colleagues read the transcript they find totally different threads of importance than the ones you heard.
Well, here some tips to help you interview more effectively and, as a result, end up with more easily interpreted information on which to base your flexible/online solution.
Tip 1: Record the conversation
No matter how good you are at making notes, there's nothing better than a recording of the conversation. Even better would be to have someone transcribe the tape. You'll see why in the next point.
Tip 2: Record the conversation
If you hear "we need to be self-paced", find out what's meant by this. The terminology people use when talking about flexibility in an educational setting is variously interpreted. Don't make assumptions that what you hear is what is meant. Depending on your own experiences your understanding of certain terms might vary greatly from those of the person you're interviewing.
When you find out what they mean by a certain term don't fall into the trap of telling them your definition or discussing if it should mean this or that. Your job is not to come to agreement about terminology. It's about clarifying their problem so you can help find an appropriate solution.
Tip 3: Record the conversation
Yep, I know how annoying it is when a toddler keeps asking "why", "why", "why" until you feel like screaming. However, this is the reason toddlers learn so much in those pre-school years and you can learn a lot by using a similar strategy.
I'm not suggesting you literally repeat the question. What I am suggesting is that you take care to uncover the reason for things rather than assume you understand or know. As pointed out in the previous item, your own experiences have led you to a set of understandings that is unlikely to match those of the person you're working with. You'll have a better insight into their needs if you ask why they do things a certain way, believe this or that will or won't happen, or want to head in a particular direction.
Tip 4: Record the conversation
No, I don't mean you should discuss Plato or Aristotle. I mean you should take time to find out what underpins the educational approach of your client. If you only ask about the 'technical' aspects of their delivery issues you may miss very vital information.
At the very least, I'd want to know if their educational delivery is commercially driven, for social justice purposes, meeting mandatory requirements, or... whatever. Ask the questions and find out.
If they know, it would also be valuable to explore whether they ascribe to a behaviourist, humanist, liberal, progressive or radical approach to education.
Tip 5: Record the conversation
If you're at all human, you'll become engrossed in the conversation. Two persons discussing something they're passionate about tend to speed up and move on from one point to another without necessarily exploring each one fully.
To do the job well, slow down; pause and take a breath every so often; recap what you've be talking about and remember tips 2 and 3.
Tip 6: Record the conversation
Preparing your questions in advance is recommended - but don't insist on addressing them in a specific sequence. If the discussion is going well, it will move from one topic to another with its own natural flow.
Use your questions as a prompt only. When you pause (see tip #5) refer to your list of questions to see what you've already covered and what you need to move on to. Ticking them off might be off-putting to the other person but there's no reason why you can't use your list as a mental reminder.
Great tips! Thanks for your contribution to In Focus this month, Anne.
Acknowledgement: Article authored by Anne Walsh. Originally published in the Australian Flexible Learning Community March 2004, and reproduced with permission.