Rethinking Introductory Material

Wow it is hard to respond to a community that you can’t see or poll and that is shifting by the day. Take this question, just for a moment: at what level should we be targeting our web-cast presentations?

  • They should be relatively advanced; after all if you’ve found your way here, at this stage of beta, you are clearly an early adopter
  • They should be relatively introductory; all our material is coming out fast and furious; and we need more on-ramps
  • They should be intermediate; meeting the needs of both groups

The above can be said about the tutorials once we have a dozen or so, about the videos, and so forth.  What is more, whatever answer you come up with will change (and quickly) as more people discover and choose to learn to program in Silverlight. While we do provide introductory material, there are two problems

iStock_headwithgears1. The intro. material quickly becomes out of date as we learn more and so must be continually refreshed.

2. Much more important, as we add more advanced material, the learning curve becomes steeper and more daunting  We can flatten that curve by rewriting. but this requires an enormous leap of imagination about what we mean by introductory.

The idea of making once intermediate material, introductory is certainly counter-intuitive;  yet we’ve all lived through it. What we were taught in high-school math and science is now taught in sixth grade. The more we know, the more we can comfortably push more down into the introduction.

Presenting It All

This ties in nicely with my earlier post on presentations – I’m coming to believe that everything about how we present new programming approaches must change, at least a bit.  Too strong. I'm coming to believe that I want to change the way I present this material. 

This includes the use of slideware to support emotions and reinforce ideas; the way I demonstrate code, and ensuring that I focus on  “what can be done and why it is  important” rather than “here is how you do it”  when presenting live, and using videos and tutorials/books for drilling into the techniques.

Committing to Dynamic Evolving Multi-Dimensional Info

All of which is to say that if we’re going to do this right we’ll need the following elements, most of which are in place:

  • multiple knowledgeable voices
  • the willingness to cycle back and rebuild earlier material, especially the “on-ramps” – the getting started material

GettingStartedTH

  • redundancy both in different media (live/ videos/ tutorials/ articles/ books/ podcasts) but also in terms of more than one person covering the bigger subjects
  • re-targeting (don’t even try to figure out who your audience is; you have multiple audiences and the level of experience is changing faster than you compile the results of your surveys

One truism that is honored most in the breach is that every presentation (and for that matter every video and tutorial) must be described accurately. That comes into immediate conflict with the need to schedule web casts weeks or months in advance. My solution will be to use my blog to update the exact level and topics 2-4 weeks before each Webcast; and to put that fact into the blurb about the web cast as soon as I can get access to the tool that controls the web cast event.

As an aside, the TSA could learn a great deal about security from the folks who guard that tool.

New Media – Hypervideo

Within the next six months, preferably much sooner, I will be starting a new project: using hyper-video for some of my “How Do I” series. The goal will be to either create or standardize on a  Silverlight player that will indicate when additional information is available. I’ll then be able to present a relatively advanced presentation, with hyper-video links to more introductory material that you can click on as needed. Some of the clicks will bring up other videos, some just text explanations of terms, some links that you may choose to follow or not. More on this to come.

Tag: What To Expect

You’ll find that I’m a big believer in transparency – I think that in my particular role, which we’ve taken to calling “Developer Community Liaison”  I believe in erring on the side of telling you too much about the process rather than too little. The vulnerability is that things change and one might want to say “just get on with it.” 

In any case, not everyone cares. The solution is tagging. All messages like this will be tagged “What To Expect” – feel free to screen to find or avoid as you like. These are process messages, and I won’t mix process with substance (that is, I won’t sneak in any information about Silverlight coding under messages with this tag).

If you have suggestions or ideas, please be sure to send them my way.

Thanks.

photo-credit: headwithgears licensed from istockphoto

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About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty is an independent consultant and programmer with three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects. He is the author of 2 dozen books and multiple Pluralsight courses, and has been a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP, Microsoft MVP and Telerik MVP.
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