Lessons Learned From Teaching

DrupalCamp NH

I train new Drupalers with varying amounts of previous experience. The questions and comments from my students have revealed a lot about Drupal itself and ...

  1. [title]
    Hi.  Welcome.  My name is Michelle Lauer.  I am known on the web as either miche or bymiche.

  2. [lullabot]
    I work for Lullabot.  We are a virtual company that does consulting, development and training on large-scale sites.

  3. [diwd]
    We also throw awesome conferences!  This year’s Do It With Drupal conference is October 12-14 in New York City.  You should totally come!  It is an event not to be missed!!

  4. [drupalizeme]
    You may have seen me around the web.  Drupalize.Me is an all-you-can eat buffet of Drupal tutorials and musings.  Not only do I develop the site, I am one of the smiling faces teaching you about Drupal. With over 150 hours of video and new ones being released regularly, you are sure to find the answers to your questions!

  5. [transition]
    How many people here teach their clients how to use the website you build for them?  I have heard that the most amazingly designed and developed sites can completely fail after you give your clients the keys.  No matter how great the product, if people don’t know how to use it, it will never evolve with them.  Training is an important step in the website building process.
    I have been teaching Drupal for a while.  And before that, I was training clients to use their EZ Publish sites.  And before that, I was showing my mom how to download her photos off her camera.  People have always told me how patient I was and how good I was at breaking steps down.  But really, I don’t assume what they already know and speak about the details.

  6. [1 use less pronouns]
    So, the first lesson I want to share with you is:  U s e   l e s s   p r o n o u n s.  No, this isn’t a grammar lesson.  Just be explicit.  How is anyone supposed to know what you are really talking about when never actually say it. “Go to the page, scroll down and click the thing to open it and select the option that you want from and…”.  Say what you mean!  “Edit the node, scroll down to the ‘Publishing options’ fieldset” and deselect the ‘Published’ checkbox.  That is much better!  But how do I ‘edit a node’?  What is a ‘node’?

  7. [2 use less jargon]
    I attended a session at DrupalCon Copenhagen by Diana Dupuis and she said something that really resonated with me.  ‘A content manager does not want to know how to edit a node.  They don’t even know what a node is.  That want to know how to fix a typo on their About page.’  As people who do Drupal, we forget what it was like before words like hook_form_alter, theme functions and node just rolled off our tongues.  To really communicate with your students, use normal words, not Drupal Jargon.

  8. [3 be creative]
    Yes, there are times when you just have use Drupal specific words.  I was teaching a theming course and we had successfully explained how to create page.tpl.php, node.tpl.php and even node—article.tpl.php.  Those are clearly a mouthful to say repeatedly so we started shortening them.  We alternated between ‘pageTPL’/‘nodeTPL’ & ‘page template’/’node template’.  The students easily followed the transition of terminology.  But then it was time to introduce a new file: template.php.  To the new themer, ‘page.tpl.php’, ‘pageTPL’, and ‘page template’ sounds REALLY similar to template.php.  Faces changed from displaying an excited glimmer to a blank stare.  I could actually see the facial muscles change as we introduced this new file.  There must be a way to differentiate them right?  Introducing ‘tipple fips’.  This is by far the goofiest phrase I have ever heard, but it worked.  The html files were ‘tipple fips’ and the php file was still template.php.  Drupal uses some arcane terminology.  And at some point, you need to teach that, but be creative in how you present it.

  9. [4 everyone can teach]
    Everyone has something to teach.  You don’t have to work for the biggest drupal shop to have something important to share.  Your insights from working with Drupal for 5 days are just as valuable as those from people who have been working with drupal for 5 years.  {story about matt from penn state}

  10. [5 you know more than you think]
    There is a lot to Drupal.   But before you can specialize, you have to learn the basics.  Most people start with configuring the site and placing blocks.  You then move into creating content types and Views.  With each of these tasks you master, you are one step ahead of someone else.
    {story about seth telling me I was smart} At a previous job, I was not very confident about my Drupal abilities.  Even though I contributed to a large site’s content architecture, built nearly every View and wrote all the custom update scripts for each of our sprint releases, I still viewed myself as a noob.  It took one of my coworkers dragging me to my first local user-group meeting for me to realize, holy cow - I know stuff.  And you... You know stuff too!  You are empowered to share it.

  11. [6 drupal has a learning curve]
    Drupal has a steep learning curve.  That is no secret.  But your students don’t need to know about everything that Drupal can do.  They only need to know about the current tasks they are facing.  Don’t overwhelm them with cornucopia options.  Introduce new concepts one at a time.

  12. [7 developers climb mountains]
    Nodes  Blocks  Forms  Views  Modules  Content Types  Workflow  Roles & Permissions  Taxonomy

  13. [8 users hike paths]
    The user’s learning curve is steep ONLY if you bring them up every mountain.
    Log In  Edit the About Page  Create a Blog Post  Attach a File to a Press Release  Add a new content editor to the group  
    {story about changing the header image for a specific page – don’t need to explain that the system is set up with a series of fallbacks based on taxonomy hierarchy}

  14. [9 don’t teach drupal]
    Don’t teach Drupal.  Teach the users to do only what they need to do with the tool we built for them.  Find out what tasks your users expect to accomplish.  If the user is a member of the HR Department, all they need to know is how to add new Job Descriptions and remove then once the position is filled.  Teach them that.

  15. [10 know your audience]
    Ask, What do you do on the site?
    Ask, Have you ever used Drupal before?  Have you used any other web applications?
    Empathize – “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another…”  In other words, try to walk in the user’s shoes.  With this information, you can tailor the experience to them.

  16. [11 let them do more]
    --Tell the student what you are about to do.  “We are going to fix a typo on the About Us page”.  Be specific.  Use less pronouns.  Limit Drupal jargon.
    --Show the student how to do it, speaking explicitly about the steps needed.
    --Let the user Do it.  There are so many learning styles, but everyone learns well by doing.  Pay attention to where they falter…  Is there a way to make the path more clear?  Go at their pace.  Add more challenge when it is beneficial, stop and rest when necessary.

  17. [12 be enthusiastic]
    It is so important to stay positive.  The energy that you project has a huge effect on the people that you are teaching.  When topics are challenging, be encouraging.  When you see light bulbs start going off, get excited with them!
    {story about doing a little diddy when talking about Views}
    If you think something is cool, so will your students.

  18. [13 document]
    -Prepare “just enough” written documentation ahead of time.
    -Encourage the user to take notes: to fill in the holes and expand on it.  This will help them remember how to do it, or at the very least, know where to look it up.
    -Create a space for organic documentation, where the entire team of users can add & edit snippets.  It will grow into and focus on areas that they find challenging and important.
    {share story about Webmaster module for Stonyfield}

  19. [14 give them tools]
    You never stop asking questions.  You never stop needing to learn more.  Your students are the same.  Give them the tools to continue down their paths.  Sit down with them while they create their drupal.org profile.  Show them how to search the issue queue.  Show them how post questions in those forums.  Log in to G.D.O and help them join their local user group.  When the classroom time ends, your students still need resources.  

  20. [15 everyone should contribute]
    I have heard from so many people that they just can’t find documentation.  Time to start writing it!  If you cannot find the answers to your questions and after banging your head against a wall for hours, you finally solve your problem.  Share the answer!  Everyone has the power to make the resources better.

  21. [questions]
    Many of you said that you have taught Drupal.  Whether you are training a client how to use their site or teaching new developers, we all have experienced those amazing light-bulb moments and those we rather not repeat.  I want to know from you.  What has worked?  What hasn’t worked?