[Today's guest blogger is Rick Mansfield, one of several new Accordance trainers who have been leading free training seminars across the country this Spring. I asked Rick to share his experience of leading a seminar for the first time, and much of what he's written echoes my own experience of leading seminars. Except, that is, when he chronicles all the preparation he did. I'm afraid I'm not that much of a go-getter! ;-) —David]
Last Fall, OakTree Software invited me and a few others to come down to Florida for a weekend with the purpose of training us to be Accordance trainers. I jumped at the chance because I've been using Accordance for about a decade now and it is absolutely integral to my work and daily routines. It was a great experience to finally meet folks at OakTree with whom I had corresponded over the years, but had never actually met in person. The weekend itself was fairly intense as we spent many hours, sometimes late into the night, going over the workings of Accordance—from the big picture and philosophy of the software to the very minutiae of its extremely powerful capabilities. Then on Monday following our weekend of training, each one of the trainers-in-training took about an hour to present a segment at an actual Accordance Training Seminar in Orlando.
Flash forward six months. This past week, I had my first opportunity to "fly solo" as a trainer: leading a seminar on Friday at Asbury Theological Seminary and on Saturday at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I'm no stranger to the classroom, but one thing I've learned over the years is that whenever I have a new "prep," I don't let the students know I'm teaching something for the first time. I've found that if I demonstrate confidence in my presentation, the students will have confidence in their learning.
But that doesn't mean that I didn't have some initial concerns as I prepared to lead an Accordance seminar completely by myself for the first time. Even though I've used Accordance for almost a decade now, it's no secret that it's a very sophisticated program. It's simple enough for a casual user to sit down and go straight to work, but at the same time it's complex enough for the most advanced biblical scholar.
I'll admit to my own initial anxieties about going on my own for the first time. The Accordance Training Seminars last from 9 AM in the morning to 5 PM in the afternoon. Taking time for breaks and lunch, that still leaves roughly six and a half hours of straight instruction time. Could I possibly talk about Accordance for that long, or would I—like a new minister preaching his first sermon—run through all my material in a mere matter of minutes? And although I use Accordance almost every day, I don't use all of it everyday. I don't build elaborate constructs regularly. What if I got asked questions I couldn't answer? What if the attendees conspired together to play "stump the teacher"?
Fortunately, because I had quite a bit of lead time for my first two seminars, I prepared as if I were studying for the Bar Exam (well maybe not quite that intensely). I had David Lang's own instruction in the very excellent Accordance Training DVD that contains about five and a half hours of material. I watched the entire DVD completely through twice and watched certain segments more than that. I pored through the printed version of the Accordance 7.4 manual, underlining, highlighting, and placing sticky notes all throughout the pages marking significant spots. Perhaps most significantly, I had my own experience to draw from that included not only my own routines for using Accordance, but also little tips and tricks that I've picked up over the years.
Early on in my preparation I prepared a basic outline for what I would cover during a full day's seminar. The morning would be introductory, focused on the philosophy and basics of the Accordance interface including a Resource Palette and Search Window overview. From there, I planned to move to basic searches and cover search commands and symbols. The time after lunch would be reserved for more advanced topics such as Greek and Hebrew searching and the construct window. I also planned to cover topics such as tools and tool searching, the Atlas and Timeline, and creating one's own user tools and Bibles if time allowed. As I continued in my preparation, my outline grew more and more detailed. In some places, I gave myself very simple instructions: "Run through elements of the search window from top to bottom"—a very simple instruction that took 45 minutes or so to actually do. In other places, I wrote down bullet points that included exact elements to put in a search field or in a construct window, step by step. For those kind of demonstrations, I wanted to make sure it worked right the first time, and I wanted to be sure that I had every element in place so that I wouldn't accidentally forget something. By the time I was ready to actually lead the seminar, my notes had grown from that simple outline to an eleven-page document.
I also thought about what the attendees would see from my screen. I have a MacBook that I use for most of my work, but I knew I needed to clean it up a bit. Teaching software is different from teaching a class using presentation software such as PowerPoint or Keynote. Using those programs, learners only see what you've included in the slides. But in teaching software like Accordance, the projected screen is going to mirror my own. So I cleaned up my desktop, placing all those stray files that have been piling up there for a while elsewhere on my hard drive. I downloaded a nice Accordance-themed wallpaper from the Accordance Exchange. I switched the Mac OS X dock to autohide rather than remaining visible so I could use as much of the screen as possible. I removed all the little system icons from the top menu bar except for a basic minimum. Thinking that I might show attendees the Accordance website, forums and Exchange, I set Safari's homepage to accordancebible.com to save time. And finally, although I prefer to use the Accordance toolbar horizontally on top of the screen, I set it back to the default vertical position so as not to confuse new users. In fact, so as to change my habits, I did this a full week before my first presentation so that I would not confuse myself!
All this preparation really paid off. In the end, none of my worries were really warranted (of course careful preparation itself didn't hurt!). I found that a full day's seminar really wasn't enough time to cover everything. In fact, I think I could have very easily used an entire other day as well! That fact, of course, is testimony to the richness of the Accordance program itself.
At the beginning of each session, I informally polled the room in an attempt to determine the various levels of proficiencies among the attendees. I wanted to be careful not to rush into anything too difficult, but I also didn't want the experienced user to get bored during the morning sessions. On each day, there were enough "new" users that I felt justified in not assuming anything and starting with the very basics. At the first break, I asked a few of the folks who had been using Accordance for a while if what I had covered so far was too elementary for them. No one said that it was. Even these users were picking up little tips and tricks or discovering a basic feature here or there that they didn't know about.
These kinds of lightbulb moments lasted all day. The attendees were encouraged to ask questions or even ask me to go through a particular procedure again. The setting was very informal, and even though everyone had his or her own Mac laptop, it was very much a "group" learning experience. We had a variety of ages in attendance ranging from those who were in college, all the way to a 76-year-old retired Greek teacher!
Although I spent most of my time teaching the group, I also had the opportunity to provide quite a bit of one-on-one assistance. During the breaks and even after the seminars were officially over each day, I stayed and helped attendees individually by giving further instruction, offering clarification or occasionally troubleshooting something that wasn't working correctly for a user.
In addition to essentially following my initial outline for the day, I also showed attendees how to get more help using the Accordance forums. Plus, I introduced them to the Accordance Exchange and encouraged them to offer up their own user tools to the rest of us. Bravely, I decided to give out my own email address. Although I suggested using the forums or technical support for a first line of defense when needing assistance, I told the attendees that I wouldn't mind helping out as well if I could. Already I've received a handful of emails and have been able to have some positive follow-up correspondence from the seminars.
I should note, too, that as someone who gets to teach adults fairly regularly, I'm used to looking at the back of laptops. But normally, I see Dells and Toshibas and a small number of token Macs. How exciting it was to look out and see nothing but glowing white Apple logos shining back at me! Well…with one exception. On the second day of seminars, there was one lone individual who was actually running Accordance in Windows in the emulator. Such creatures really do exist! She testified that it worked quite well, but has already decided that her next computer will have to be a Mac. Good idea :-)
Even though I led both days by myself as far as the training goes, I wasn't by myself. OakTree sent a member of their sales staff to join me for the purpose of selling any additional Accordance software and modules to the attendees. I believe we made a very good team, and from what I understand, the bags she carried home were much lighter than when she first arrived.
At the end of both days, although I was tired, I also felt very good about the entire experience. It's very rewarding as a teacher to know that I've helped people learn something new. All the feedback (at least what I've heard!) has been very positive. But in reflection, it's not just some random piece of software I've helped folks with. Accordance allows us to study the Bible—God's Word—more efficiently. Studying God's word at any level allows us to understand Him better and our relationship to Him. By helping people better use Accordance, I've been able to instruct people how to "self feed" in their own spiritual journey. When I first agreed to become a trainer, I never realized there was an aspect of ministry to it as well, but there is.
So what now? After the seminars were both over, I was pumped. When's the next one? I'm ready to do this again! We are in talks for me to lead another one, but right now I've been told it would probably take place in the Fall. The Fall? Hey, OakTree, I think I could lead one of these every other week. Line it up, and I'm there!