Starting blocks on a running track.

The past couple of weeks have thrown up huge changes and challenges to the way we work, including the introduction of new technology and new ways of thinking about how we do things.

New tech always comes with risks and it’s no wonder that you’ll be worried about things going wrong; pressing the wrong button, pointing the camera to look right up your nose, or forgetting to press record on an important section of your lecture.

Then there are the things other people might do in your session.  Will it be like that famous internet moment where a toddler bursts in or the slightly less famous moments where people have taken their device to the toilet with them? Who knows.  

These are things you just can’t predict and why you need a Lesson Zero.  

What is Lesson Zero?  

Lesson Zero is like the messy first draft. It’s the first time you Do It For Real and the outcome is to teach your students.  

At the beginning of April, Digital Learning set out to begin webinar sessions around how tools we already have could be used in teaching during the period of lockdown. The first-ever session, run by Tamsyn Smith, was about the use of Teams.  Having never done one of these sessions at such a scale and with such a diverse group of people before, we didn’t know what to expect, how people were going to react, what sort of things we might need to know before we went in. Tamsyn handled it brilliantly, and we came away with a list of things to remember to do next time.  

  • Mute mics 
  • Turn off cameras 
  • Have someone giving out links in chat to make sure people are reminded where to go for help 

That was our Lesson Zero. 

Since then, the team has gone on to deliver lots of webinars, each time making small iterative improvements. We’ve even run them in another new tool, Blackboard Collaborate, which meant another Lesson Zero.

Lesson Zero is like the messy first draft. It’s the first time you Do It For Real and the outcome is to teach your students.  You may have spent some time in meetings or using the technology with your colleagues and pressing every button you can in preparation which is an excellent way to build confidence and get ready. However, it still won’t be quite the same as that first lecture you run live.

And things will go wrong.  

But, you know what? That’s OK.  

Each and every thing that goes “wrong” during that session is a chance to learn and a chance to learn where the gaps are for your particular group. Do you need to provide more guidance? Do you need to make sure people know where to find the emoji buttons?   

It’s going to be confusing, and no one is going to tell you “Here’s a tool, here’s a checklist, this is how to deliver a lecture” because you are the experts at delivering lectures. 

Pedagogy always comes first, technology is just the delivery vehicle. 

Make sure you’ve read all the available documentation – the CHEP website has a great diagram on when to use what. The MLE team has a whole host of resources on Blackboard and Blackboard Collaborate, and the Office 365 support centre is there to help you get started with Office 365 tools.  

Right now, we’re in extraordinary times, so it’s OK to experiment a little. If you want to try Teams this time and Blackboard Collaborate next time, go for it but remember you’ll have a Lesson Zero on both.  You could even try setting this expectation with your students, making sure they get that you’re learning at this point as much as they are.  

Learn from your colleagues’ Lesson Zeros – have a laugh about them and, if you fancy a challenge, try to recreate them so you can work on improvements.  

Technology doesn’t have to be frightening, although it’s generally understood that sometimes it can be. It has unseen consequences resulting from the idea of not being able to see your students or react to them. There is all manner of scary news articles about security in online tools. All of this culminates in making us feel like we are incapable of conquering this beast. Making sure your participants know that everyone is just trying to do what they can and learn as they go along can go a long way to increasing everyone’s confidence. One session in Teams isn’t enough to have you knowing everything, but it’ll give you the basics and enough to get you able to make a video call, and if that’s it for this time, good for you.  

Good luck with Lesson Zero.  

And don’t forget to share feedback and Lesson Zero experiences on our Padlet wall.

What is Lesson Zero and why is it important?

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