December 18, 2003

Bulk view

The class is practically running itself

It’s amazing. The class is practically running itself. The time I put
into making those exercises was definitely worth it. They’re off
solving them or making up their own exercises. With documentation,
time to explore the system, and the freedom to make mistakes and ask
questions, the trainees learn almost entirely on their own.

When they do have questions, they tend to ask each other first before
asking me. I handle the questions they can’t figure out from the text
and clarify things that are fuzzy.

It’s really amazing. I hope they’ll leave the training confident that
they can learn whatever else they need to – considering they learned
Perl nearly on their own! Because I’m more into getting lots of people
do Perl, I’m not worried about long-term profitability. After all,
what training center would do well if they kept encouraging students
to learn independently?

That said, it was a lot of work preparing the exercises, and I can’t
count the number of times quick thinking and familiarity with UNIX
made things easier. For example,

wget -r -nc --no-parent --proxy-user=secret --proxy-pass=secret

and judicious use of ncftp’s mput command (skipping the
already-uploaded files) allowed me to easily make Perl’s documentation
available even though the server didn’t have anything but perl(1).
Better than manpages, actually, as these were hyperlinked! =)

tar zcvf day2.tar.gz /usr/local/training/home/

will allow me to pack up all their work so that I can use my Emacs
keyboard macro to send it to their listed e-mail addresses. (I should
get around to making that a defun…)

Thoughts on training

Yesterday was my first day of corporate training. It was surprisingly
draining. On my feet almost the entire day, facing the same crowd,
waiting for their questions… After the training, I was so zoned out!
Fortunately, it was just a short walk to Powerbooks in Greenbelt. To
top it all off, I discovered a chocolate bar quite near there!

The trainees are remarkably independent, preferring to work on the
exercises on their own or in small, informal groups instead of
listening to me explain the solution. My role is more of a
facilitator. I point them to the documentation. I also walk back and
forth looking for people who are stuck at a problem or are faced with
a trivial bug they can’t find and fix, and I give them small hints.

For this group, it seems very important to gain mastery of the basics
first – so we’ll stick with the promised coverage and we’ll have
plenty of exercises. That works out for them because they’ll have time
to gain confidence. That works out for the training company as well
because they’ll have an opportunity to do Advanced Perl Scripting.

It was a very good thing that I’m used to this style of teaching –
embedding lessons in exercises that build on each other and involve
several concepts. If I expected to lecture, I’d have been dead on the
first day! With that in mind, I had a lot of fun preparing more
exercises for them. I worked until one in the morning. A phonebook at
my side, I came up with all sorts of phone-related exercises. I hope
they take it well; they might just be sick and tired of anything that
looks like work after all!

I met Dominique yesterday and we swapped notes on training. From what
little I know of it, I rather like corporate training. It gives me a
chance to spread the good news of UNIX. ;) That said, I like school
teaching, too. Maybe I can do part-time teaching and part-time
training in the future.