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At-Large: Staff development presentation essentials

Effective recommendations for getting your staff up to speed on online technologies
University Business, September 2013

While digital technologies have become central to our society and our lives in higher education, the continuing development of the internet, mobile phone applications, and social media brings the need for up-to-date professional development. Indeed, standing still with digital technology means we are falling behind, and your staff needs continuing opportunities to evaluate and implement new online options.

Although it may seem expensive to do online staff-development well, it costs more in the long-run to do it poorly, and even more to skip it altogether. Whether you do staff development in-house or hire outside consultants, the following are nine key elements for success I gleaned from doing countless professional presentations and interdepartmental workshops at colleges and universities throughout the U.S.

Focus on content and skill acquisition.
“Inspirational” presentations certainly have their place, but participants benefit far more if they acquire usable content and practical techniques they can apply professionally. Examples include participating in virtual communities and web-based cooperative projects, and adapting social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, and LinkedIn for curriculum applications.

Tailor programs to local realities.
Staff members justifiably feel frustrated if the content presented cannot be applied because needed technology is not available. Similarly, skills and examples that are introduced must be appropriate for the teaching levels, content specialties, and initial technology experience of the participants.

Use humor “with a purpose.”
Although humor can add interest to presentations and serve as an ice-breaker, it is more effective if it relates specifically to the content or situation. For example, when I anticipate that the content will be tough to grasp, I share the “skin story” about a child who answered a question on “the purpose of skin in the human body” by stating “so people don’t throw up.” My point is that we will work on applications, and “skin over” the technical realities.

Encourage systematic note-taking.
When participants “act on” information, such as keeping notes in their own words, they will be better equipped to apply the content. I therefore almost always provide participants with overview handouts they can use for notes and to follow the presentation as it moves forward.

Introduce genuine examples.
While there is seldom a lack of hypothetical examples for using new techniques, it is infinitely more valuable to share how real professors and real students use the content. Using local experts where possible is particularly motivating.

Identify online professional “source sites.”
Lists of applications can soon become obsolete, since web addresses can suddenly change, move or disappear. It is therefore important to identify “source sites” where applications can be found, since these are relatively stable.

Provide for hands-on experiences.
Presentations should include live demonstrations that model what to do when common problems arise. Also, participants must try presented procedures themselves, as soon as possible, so long presentations can be broken into shorter blocks interspersed with work time.

Recommend supporting resources.
Staff presentations should provide and recommend materials to help individuals go further with what they learned when they go it alone. These can include step-by-step instruction sheets, background articles, problem sets, copies of presentation visuals, and suggested optional activities. There are also free services that allow you to put handouts online, such as Box (

Offer a variety of instructional options.
The best staff development programs continue throughout the year, in varying formats that include large- and small-group presentations, individualized sessions, and workshops divided by content area or experience level.

Odvard Egil Dyrli is columnist and editor at large for UB.