The Trouble With Teachbacks


This from a TechSmith newsletter:
“Resources & Ideas: Back to School with TechSmith Idea #1 – Have your students make a short, instructional screencast of their own…using the free, friendly  Jing. They’ll develop presentation skills, work with a popular new media tool, and really learn the subject matter through teaching it. You can even give  them a printed handout that introduces Jing!”

The Teachback method — an approach designed to bring interactivity to the class by having the participants create the material for you.  We are first introduced to this method as students; as trainers we find ourselves using the method in our classrooms.

  1. The classroom is divided into groups.
  2. Each group is assigned a topic.
  3. Each group reads the material on the topic.
  4. Each group presents what they learned to the rest of the class.

As a tool to increase engagement, it’s not bad.  As a tool to train others on how to do a job, it’s a cop-out.

Yet this technique is used a lot. Heck, I use it a lot.  Struggling to get the class engaged in a segment on compliance?  Have THEM recite the laws that govern how we do our work!  Stuck facilitating a process-based class for something that barely keeps the employees awake on the line?  Divvy up the class, and have each group teach a segment of the process!

Here’s where the problem lies. Someone’s still speaking to the material. Someone’s still lecturing.  And you’ve just given the reigns of the course to someone who may have less of a skill of keeping the class engaged than you.  You think you’re boring as you review what a collector can or cannot do under the FDCPA?

During a teachback exercise, the ones most engaged in the material are the designers. The remainder of the participants sit passively in the room, letting the information wash over them, waiting either for their turn to speak, or the break that follows the “activity.”  The result? The class becomes experts in that component they taught — but they won’t necessarily have an understanding of the remainder of the components they heard.

Another challenge with teachbacks is often time.  The participants don’t necessarily know what to cover, so they cover EVERYthing. This slows down the class, often to the point where the facilitator imagines seeing the minute hand on the clock turn backwards.

Consider Compliance class.  I mention FDCPA (that’s the “Fair Debt Collections Practices Act,” for those of you not swimming to your eyeballs in debt) because I’ve spent several years talking about that bit of law.  It’s extensive, and addresses a lot of things a collector shouldn’t do, like: “don’t cuss at the customer.” The list is fairly extensive.  Thus, during the new hire training compliance segment, those who are assigned to teach back the FDCPA often find themselves reading the same list I could have read.

Jay Cross of Internet Time may have a proposal to get around that: set ground rules.
“The presenter cannot speak for more than 2 minutes.  You’ll allow for 2 additional minutes if the presenter is creating a case-based presentation that requires the other participants to weigh in with their thoughts.”

Could the Twitterification of Teachbacks be a means to help keep the group engaged? With the focus of the material shifting more rapidly, the class hardly has time to be bored. But even though the information comes at us in newscast-like bursts, a lecture remains a lecture. The information remains actively delivered, yet passively received.  So we’ve addressed time, not necessarily content mastery.

Thiagi, the Resident Mad Scientist at The Thiagi Group, tackles this challenge of passive information delivery in what he calls Read.Me Games.  In this post, Thiagi gives an example of a Read.Me game for a Total Quality Management course.  It’s an interesting method because while each person is working on one specific task, that person’s task is directly related to other tasks being read about in the class.  A summative activity calls for the participants to all work together to ensure all their pieces work. Thus, while one person is responsible for one particular piece of knowledge, and is tasked to share that information with the remainder of the group, it’s the interaction between the pieces where the team learns — how did what that participant create impact what I do?  As Thiagi describes it, the Read.Me teachback game “uses peer support (and peer pressure) to encourage application and transfer of what they read.”

He also cautions:  “Instructors may use these games to cover up sloppy writing.”

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