I have run a number of IT courses for HMRC offices in Northampton, Peterborough and Luton over the past few months and had some more scheduled in the diary. Then everything changed with the Covid-19 virus doing its worst and effectively shutting down working life as we know it. So, for the next scheduled course, Spreadsheet Software Level 3, at the Northampton office it was no longer to be the nice relaxing little drive up, through the countryside from my house to their office on the edge of town. We had to think of a way of running the course remotely.
I had observed that HMRC use Microsoft Teams to communicate with each other and this made me think, could it be used to run the course? Now they may know how to use it, but I certainly didn’t, after a rather rapid learning curve, it became clear that it would be an ideal platform. We have video links, screen sharing, a chat facility, invitations and a joining mechanism through the existing Outlook email. I did a couple of test runs on Teams with my colleague Peter Finch and also on my wife, who was working upstairs and uses Teams to communicate with her Chamber of Commerce colleagues. Pete and I decided between us that it would work. We now had to adapt our learning style and content to the new delivery medium.
Changing a tried and tested training style and content was quite a time-consuming process, I was certainly quite anxious about the whole thing. It turns out I had to send out an invitation to the course from within Teams or no one could join it, I only found that out quite late on, that only ramped up the tension, what else did I not know? Pete and I worked closely together in the days before the course, checking how we were going to run things, making sure that our Excel formulas worked and swapping ideas on how to get the workbooks completed. We split the learners in to two groups of nine and agreed that we would continue to deliver our own version of the course, using our own spreadsheets and formulas and explain this to the learners.
Day one arrived and I set myself up at the now famous dining room table. I started by asking all of the learners to have a video link on, so that I could greet them personally and put a face to a name. It turns out that I had met two of the learners while walking around their office, this was nice for me. I was also joined by another TCHC tutor Sarah Randall, so it was again nice to have a friendly face on the course, this helped to settle my nerves. I discovered a useful feature of Teams, when someone was talking to me, the software put their initial in a box, so I could identify them. I made a point of replying using their name, this helped to build rapport. We managed to have some laughs along the way, just like normal and we managed to work our way through the course at roughly the same pace as when I am in the room.
Naturally we have a few technical issues, mainly with the pressure on the learner’s home broadband. They all had family at home, doing work or schoolwork or just using the system for amusement. This meant that we had some bandwidth issues. The only other issues that we had, were when someone was not able to get a formula to work for example, ‘=IF(H3>$K$3,"","Below Target")’ can be hard enough when you are with the learners, but when you can’t walk around the room to help them it is a different experience, so I put text boxes on screen containing the formulas. This particular client uses Microsoft Surface computers, which look very trendy, but have quite a small screen, Excel shows the buttons but without the written name. So, I put text boxes on screen containing pictures of screen buttons again this helped, that was the only other real issue.
At the end of the scheduled 2 days, we finished the course exactly on schedule, as a bonus we had time to run an additional module of Data handling tools that they enjoyed, everyone likes Pivot Tables! Remote Training is clearly the way forward for now and also, when things get back to normal it will allow us to reach out further geographically. I am sure that Pete and I can adapt the full range of IT courses to this method of delivery. And I am sure that other tutors will be able to adapt their own programmes as well. Necessity is the Mother of Invention, said someone famous and it has certainly proved to be the case here.
Stephen - Tutor