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Teaching paper science to a non-technical audience.

Congratulations! You are about to do something important and extremely useful. You're going to teach a powerful, effective course on paper science. Before we explore the criteria of a great course, we'd like to give you our credentials. We have both been teaching communication skills to businesses, government, and academic institutions for over 20 years, and we have co-written two courses on paper science and technology--an audiocassette course for TAPPI, and a textbook still used in one of the leading American pulp and paper companies. Also, for this article we interviewed people from many different areas of the industry to learn what worked and didn't work for them when they were taught the essentials of paper science.

To teach a good course on any subject, you must obviously start with a solid knowledge of the subject. If you have been asked to teach paper science, we will assume you have that knowledge--which is essential, but not sufficient. Expertise can enable you to run a sophisticated process and solve intricate problems. However, it will not ensure that you impart your knowledge in a useful, understandable, interesting way.

That is your goal in teaching. To accomplish it, you will need to augment your knowledge of the subject with three other components: excellent preparation, organization, and teaching methods.


There are two critical parts to the preparation for any effective course: organizing the material you will teach and learning about the people to whom you will teach it. The two are tightly wound together.

Your primary goal in this course is to teach the people what they need to know--which is not necessarily the same as what you want to teach them! When we are passionate about a subject, it is often difficult to remember that other people may not share that passion and do not always want or need to know everything we know about it. If you tell your class what they don't want to know--no matter how enthusiastically you do it--they will soon not listen to anything you say.

For learning to take place, the message sent must also be received. Listening attentively to understand something new is very hard work! The people in your class can choose whether or not to make that effort. They will do so only if they believe that what you are telling them will fill their needs.

How do you fill your students' needs? Begin your preparation with a class needs analysis, asking and answering the following questions.

* Who will be in the class?

You know they will all be people from various sections of the paper industry. If you can find out more specifically which areas--sales, finance, R & D, analytical chemistry, etc.--you will be able to tailor your course more exactly to their needs.

* Why are they coming?

They want to improve the work they do by understanding the essentials of papermaking. They will want an overview of the papermaking process and a basic understanding of each step along the way:

1. Why it is done

2. How it connects to other processes

3. What you need to know to do it well

4. What can go wrong

5. How to fix it

That is the basic outline of your course. You can refine it by answering the next question.

* What will they do with the knowledge?

Obviously, people from different professions will have different interests and needs. To make this a useful question, you must know who is coming to the class. For example, sales people will usually want to learn about the properties of paper, as they sell properties, not materials. Scientists in research and development will be interested in the principal and current challenges in papermaking, to help them resolve property and process complaints such as dusting, joint failure, and dirt problems. The more you can relate knowledge to what your people are doing, the more attention they will pay.

* How much do they know?

Try to build the new information on the knowledge they already possess.


Begin with an introduction, including the goals and scope of the course and the essential principles of paper science. This will give participants a roadmap and a framework.

Here is an example:
 "This course is designed to give you a broad understanding of the
 aspects of paper science that are important to you in your job in
 the paper industry. In our discussion of pulping, we will cover wood
 preparation, kraft cooking, bleaching ... (list the topics to be
 covered). In papermaking, we'll take up stock preparation, sheet
 formation, pressing ... (again, list the topics).
 "Throughout, we will be focusing on three principles of paper
 science. One, both pulping and papermaking are continuous processes
 that feed both forward and back. Two, properties are more important
 than materials. Three, materials, processes, properties, and uses
 are all interdependent."

Separate your material into 50-minute sessions, with short breaks. Studies have shown that this is the best period for attentive learning. You can use a 90-minute session if that session is mainly a small-group project.

Try to teach only one main concept per session. People just can't effectively absorb and practice more than one at a time. This was proven to both of us when we took skiing lessons. We were told to take a run down the mountain, focusing on "bending the knees, keeping the poles in front, shifting the weight before the pole plant, and keeping the body facing down the hill." Forget it! We found we could focus on only one of those simple instructions at a time. It was a good teaching lesson. Teach one concept at a time.


For each topic covered, begin with an overview. The overview will include the topic, its place and purpose in the whole process, and, consequently, what needs to be understood about it, as here:

"Bleaching (TOPIC). After cooking, screening, and washing (PLACE IN PROCESS), we bleach the pulp assuming we want to produce white paper. The basic goal of bleaching is to make the pulp brighter (PURPOSE). To understand bleaching, we therefore must understand what "brightness" means, how it is measured, and how we can improve it (WHAT NEEDS TO BE UNDERSTOOD)."

Whenever possible, give a real mill problem or customer complaint relating to the topic under discussion, and ask participants, "How would you fix that?" This can be a good small-group exercise:

Here are two examples of this exercise:
 A printer complains of machine jams with our paper. The printer has
 noticed that two sheets are often being picked up at once. What
 could be causing this problem? How could it be solved?
 Throughout, focus on the connection of the topic you're presenting
 to the whole process. Introduce your topic as a part of this
 process, as in this example:

 The kraft recovery furnace has three critical functions in the
 pulping process. It extracts cooking salts from the concentrated
 black liquor, generates steam that can be used for heating and other
 energy needs, and stops pollutants from escaping into the

As you discuss the different parts and operations of the furnace, relate them to one or more of these functions. Don't get caught in the web of details of that particular phase; see it and show it as part of a whole. That is the only way to make it both interesting and meaningful to the participants.


The key to effective teaching is variety. Remember, however willing your students may be, you are engaged in a constant struggle with their desire to do something other than pay attention to you: sleep, dream, think about dinner, worry about work, imagine themselves in Hawaii, or wonder about the meaning of last night's late night movie. The possibilities are legion. To keep your people's attention, fill each session with changes.

Your changes do not have to be dramatic. In fact, too many pyrotechnics can be exhausting and distracting. Here are some guidelines for change.

Consider that people have different learning styles. Four common ones are verbal/auditory, visual/spatial, logical, and active/kinesthetic. Most of us have a leaning toward one or another of these styles; some of us can really learn in only one of these ways. To meet the learning needs of all the people in your class, try to present your lessons in all four ways.

One way to reach the oral learners is to use the pyramid format in Figure 1. With the pyramid format, you open your presentation with a simple statement of your message in one or two sentences. Then immediately after that, you give an explanation, example or illustration to clarify the concept. This is the backup to the message. Here is an example:

One promising area of forestry research is tissue culture propagation (-STATEMENT OF MESSAGE). This means taking a single cell from a genetically superior tree and letting it divide into many identical cells, each carrying the same genetic instructions. Next, we grow each cell into an embryo with shoots and roots, to produce exact clones of our original superior tree for mass planting (-EXPLANATION OF MESSAGE = BACKUP).

Another effective oral teaching tool is analogy. Present a new concept to people by comparing it to something they know. A classic use of analogy to explain a very new and difficult concept is Einstein's demonstration of his principle of relativity.

"I stand at the window of a railway carriage which is traveling uniformly, and drop a stone on the embankment without throwing it. Then (disregarding the influence of the air resistance) I see the stone descend in a straight line. A pedestrian who observes the misdeed from the footpath notices that the stone falls to the ground in a parabolic curve. I now ask: Do the 'positions' traversed by the stone lie 'in reality' on a straight line or on a parabola? Moreover, what is meant here by motion 'in space?'"--Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, Chapter 3, 1916.

From this simple, down-to-earth example of standing in a railway car--a situation we can all easily imagine--Einstein then leads us into the heady concepts of relativity.

Once you have used a couple of oral teaching tools, switch to another learning style. To appeal to visual/spatial learners, you might run a video, show a slide, or send participants to their handouts to read an example or problem, which they then discuss. To reach the logical learner, you can turn to a chart, graph, or simple proof. For the active/kinesthetic learner, switch to a small-group discussion, a demonstration, or even a group skit.

Plan a teaching day or half-day to include lecture, videos, large-group discussion, small-group workshops, and possibly demonstrations. For each 50-minute session, be sure to switch between at least two learning styles.

In addition to these four learning styles are two other important distinctions in the ways people learn. Some learn better in a group, others, by themselves. Again, most of us do better when we are exposed to both forms. In your classes, you can foster both.

For group learners, throw out real mill problems or customer complaints and have small groups work out solutions together. To help those who learn better alone, you might alternate class sessions with one-on-one tutorials and also include self-study with a text. Give participants chapters or articles to read and plan in-class discussions based on that material. Guide them to books and journal articles by using a good bibliography.

To give your lessons immediate practical use, try to set up on-the-job learning for all participants. Encourage their managers to help them find mentors. Suggest rotations for young engineers in a mill, with mentors. Make sure all participants go to a company mill and see the processes you're teaching in action.

Finally, your attitude to your students is a critical part of the success of your class. There is only one effective attitude: You must like your people! If you like them, you will care more about their understanding of the material than your impressiveness as a teacher Remember, you are there not to dazzle, frighten, or worship them. You are there simply to teach them what you know so they can do their jobs as well as they possibly can. Focus on that goal, determine to like everyone in the room, and you'll teach an excellent class--With special thanks to Ted Altman, Debbie Jeske, and Ginny Rizzo.



* Know your audience.

* Focus on the process, the connection between the parts.

* Use a variety of teaching styles to appeal to different learning styles.

* Give class real mill problems and customer complaints to solve.

* Keep sessions to 50 minutes.

* Begin each session with an overview.

* Relate new information to what they already know.

* Include self-study with a text.

* Set up on-the-job learning for all participants.

* Like the people in your class.


* Lecture nonstop.

* Assume the subject is interesting to your class just because you love it.

* Talk about abstract concepts without giving concrete examples and/or analogies.

* Teach in a vacuum, without relating the information to the participants' work.

* Make fun of their questions or mistakes.

* Look up or down to participants.

* Forget to find out what they already know.

* Get so tied up in a topic that you forget to relate it to the whole principle and other parts of the process.

* Use technical terms rather than simple English.

* Try to be liked or admired.


* What you will need to teach a course

* How to evaluate your audience

* Teaching do's and don'ts


* PERC Communications web site:



Cheryl and Peter Reimold have been teaching communication skills to engineers, scientists, and businesspeople for 20 years. Their latest book, The Short Road to Great Presentations (Wiley, 2003), is available in bookstores and from Their consulting firm, PERC Communications (phone: 1 914 725-1024, e-mail:, offers businesses consulting and writing services, as well as customized in-house courses on writing, presentation skills, and on-the-job communication skills. Visit their web site at

COPYRIGHT 2004 Paper Industry Management Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Training and Development
Author:Reimold, Peter
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Previous Article:Reconditioning wire pressure screen cylinders.
Next Article:TAPPI Journal.

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