Archive for the 'collaboration' Category

Nov 27 2015

Relationship Centric Teaching – Part 3 of ISS Fellowship

This is the third in a series of posts about my ISS/Chisholm Fellowship in Victoria State, Australia. You can find the previous posts here: Part 1, Part 2.

learningLiberationBoth of my weeks in Victoria revolved around a series of workshops that were generally designed around the idea of increasing learner engagement. We played with all kinds of titles in advance, but of course, once I showed up and started to hear people’s stories, the new theme emerged: Relate and Liberate. I was very inspired by this quote:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lilla Watson (Quote found via The Interaction Institute/ )

Coincidentally, an essay by Clay Shirky, The Digital Revolution Has Already Happened” was circulating when I was planning and it really hit home. In it Clay talks about the importance the access online learning has provided.

I also wanted to focus on relationship centric teaching using conversational approaches. This was supported by a graphic facilitation workshop, which in the end, applied the relationship centric approach while introducing the joy of visuals and graphic facilitation in teaching and learning. You can read more about that workshop in Part 4.

threelegsFinally, I wanted to try out some thinking that I’ve been doing around how to shift such a strong emphasis on content to a “three legged stool” approach that looks at the interplay between content, relationship and social scaffolding, and signals (quantitative and qualitative data that helps us make sense of what is happening) not just from our courses, but across courses and options made possible by open learning. That will have to wait for a full blog post, but I’ll slide in my sketch here and leave it at that for now.

I was surprised that most of the participants were primarily teaching face to face. In my past visits to Australia to hang out with my educator friends, the emphasis had been much more strongly positioned on the online. So I made sure to talk about both online and offline contexts around the materials and processes. The first group at Chisholm were the Learning Leaders working on community based education. The introduction was strongly tilted towards seeing learning as liberation. I have a deep fondness for community based learning. The subsequent sessions were mostly TAFE educators or designers of learning courses and materials.


In all of the workshops I tried to hold myself to the standard of walking my own talk. My plan was to focus on identity and relationship as a key to engaged teaching and learning, and use methods from Liberating Structures as a set of exemplar processes to embody this approach. That meant a focus on liberating the intelligence and passion in the room, making time for connections and creating conditions for useful conversations. My role was to be a catalyst, rather than positioning myself as the expert. This is a good thing, because I’m a learner first, expert… well, that is way down my “identity” list!

Liberating Structures were part of every workshop. We used Impromptu Networking to identify shared challenges, 1-2-4-All to make sense across those challenges. Then the subsequent structures varied by workshop. We  very successfully used Troika Consulting (I keep calling it by the name I know – Triad Consulting!) and Discovery and Action Dialog (DAD) to help address the challenges each group identified, W3 to evaluate the session, tagging on 15% Solution as the “What Next” step of W3 to identify a simple follow up step. In some of the workshops we ended with a simple appreciative networking activity to note who contributed to our experience during the workshop, and who people wanted to follow up with.

goatrodeoIn each of the workshops I offered a quick overview of Liberating Structures (see slides) that covered the micro structure concept and some other example structures. But I have found it has been more useful to USE them, then as appropriate, debrief them, rather than “preach” them.  I reviewed the basics of LS by showing a slide about the micro structures, the list of the 33 structures and shared Keith McCandless’ recent thinking about that (fragile) and rich space between over control and under control (goat rodeo – see Keith’s image to the right!) In the workshops there was insufficient time to talk about how to build an entire agenda by “stringing” structures, so I have included some examples at the end of the slide deck. That probably should have a blog post of it’s own!

In the session where we did DAD, I really appreciate the reflections about the value of iteration in DaD, and in staying close to the questions that are at the core of the structure to avoid “goat rodeo.”  Goat rodeo is everyone doing their own thing. Smart people fall into this trap all the time. In Troika, many people mentioned the freedom of turning one’s back to listen in. In all the structures people noted the deep importance of the starting questions. The more specific the question, the more precise answers are liberated.

A fabulous question was “when is it appropriate to use LS.” I offered an answer, but I also suggested I email everyone in a month and find out what they have used and done, and we’ll generate an “in situ” answer — nothing like reality!

My Reflections

IMG_20151118_154110941Identity & Good Teaching

This issue came up most strongly in the workshops hosted by eWorks the last day of my fellowship. I took this little visual note on the white board. Our conversation about educators having a strong self identity as educators was the basis of good teaching. Good teaching comes before any facility with online teaching. It always goes back to those basics. This is no surprise, but surprisingly this concept can get lost with online initiatives because people focus so intently on content. Content alone can be found many places. The unique offering of the TAFE institutions is GOOD TEACHING.

Conversational Teaching

IMG_20151112_141319178An essential practice of good teaching – online or offline – is getting immediately into good and useful conversations. I asked people at many of the workshops if they struggled with discussion boards and many raised their hands. I suggested that we need to think carefully and skillfully about how we engage people so that things like discussion forums and web meetings are meaningful, not just things learners have to to. NO TICK THE BOX! This is where we can always improve our skill at designing really engaging questions that people can’t resist responding to, versus canned “discussion prompts.”

In our workshops, every session was started with a conversational approach that asked people what they wanted to get out of the session and what they had to offer. This activity helped me know what they wanted, and acknowledged their expertise as educators and designers of learning. The process used rotating paired conversation and without fail, the buzz in the room was robust and it was always hard to get people to stop talking. I take that as a sign of engagement! (Yes, they could have been complaining about me or the process… 😉 ) But again, this acknowledges identity in the context of meaningful conversation.

I asked people how they currently open conversations in their teaching, and how they might change this. One person said he was going to take is face to face group to coffee, instead of starting by reviewing the syllabus. Another was going to use the paired drawing exercise we did in the graphic facilitation workshop to help learners create relationships right from the start. Just two examples!

It was interesting to be in rooms with so many smart and passionate people, yet I sensed a reluctance for people to speak up at the full group level. Is this part of the identity thing? IS there a “tall poppy syndrome” issue in these organizations?  It may be some of those things, but for me it was yet another example of the critical importance of breaking people into smaller groups because intense, buzzing, engaged conversation emerged every time at the small group level.

brainBrain Based Approaches

Before the workshops I happened on a fascinating article on neurobiology. It described how neurobiology might inform our teaching practices, particularly the work of Dan Siegel. He talks about the unity of the “triume brain” of cerebral cortex (rational brain), the limbic system (emotional brain) and the stem (reptilian brain). Siegel “envisions the brain as a social organ,” and “the emotional system that develops in relationship.” I was taken how he describes a “sixth sense” as “mindsight,” and links this to mirror neurons. “What fires together, wires together,” is a way he talks about how we learn by what we observe. If we observer our teachers functioning as learners, will we be better learners? I think so…  Siegel talks about the power of associations that people make in order to make sense of the world. Positive and uplifting associations can be more meaningful, encouraging, and benefit change. There was so much in this and I only scratched the surface. But by the second week I had to make a visual…

Remember Group Process

A post on Facebook by the fabulous Chris Corrigan reminded me of some very resonant practices from the Art of Hosting and I grFrom Chris Corriganabbed an image to share about the Four-Fold path of Presence, Contribution, Participation and Co-Creation. I am a little shocked when I don’t see many of the deep process work from the facilitation community in teaching and learning. There are natural connections. So introducing across these communities is a particular joy. Going by to my “three legged stool” — this is the relational aspect. How we interact is as important as what we are interacting about.

Share Real Examples

Finally, it was fabulous to hear the examples of the educators in each workshop. In turn, I was able to share about a project I’m working on with an international team sponsored by the Justice Institute of British Columbia and the University of Guadalajara, the  UdG Agora Project. You can take a peek at a recent presentation online about the project from #OpenEd15.

Slides & Resources

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Sep 16 2015

Sharing Practices from Project Community 15

flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I’m hip deep into this year’s Project Community course with the Hague University of Applied Sciences. Again, one of my fabulous partners is Alan Levine, aka Cogdog. I love working with Alan because we together we identify a need, throw ideas back and forth, then experiment and iterate. Alan is, among MANY things,  a tech steward, so not only can he experiment with present external tools, but he can tinker with our core technology, WordPress, and hack even more functionality out of it. (Want to learn more about Alan and his tech stewardship? Watch this.)

I’m a great resource finder/sharer. We have tried a variety of ways to share these resources with our students and to encourage their own resource sharing. We’ve tried curating a library of links in a Google doc, putting them on a WordPress page, dumping them in the program’s Facebook page, Tagboard (for resources shared via Twitter)  and Storify. But we have not been satisfied. So here is this year’s hack from Alan:

Nancy and I are exploring ways for the #ProjComm15 to generate a community built resource. There are many ways to group curate content yet most involve asking you to Sign Up For Another Tool And Go There All The Time. We want to try something easier that works into the flow we are already asking you to do– use your team blog.

When you find a resource really worth sharing, most typically people push it to a social media stream, our facebook group, maybe even twitter with our hashtag more or less saying “here is something neat”. That works if you happen to see it, but it just rushes on by.  We still encourage you to do this as a stream of raw information resource just include a #projcomm15 tag in it; it will flow into our tagboard.

But go one step farther. If the resource is really useful, write a short blog post on your blog. Make sure you add a tag (a box for tags is on the side of your composer and add the tag coolstuff (one word, no space), and any othe useful descriptor tags. When published, all of these post will show up on our site via . Automatically. Without using another new tool.

Posts on Projcomm Faculty blog  written by Nancy White

ProjComm always stimulates me to pay attention to the flow of ideas and resources that come across my screen, so I’m enjoying blogging them. Sometimes I tweet or Facebook the posts right after I put them up to do a little more amplification/cross pollination. If you have anything cool to share, let me know!

Source: coolstuff | From the Project Community Faculty

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Sep 09 2015

What art can teach us about knowledge work

painting4How Art Reveals the Limits of Neuroscience” by Alva Noë is a fascinating read that asks us to step beyond the idea that we are our brains. It is stimulating me to reflect on some things I’ve been trying to articulate about knowledge sharing and  the transformation knowledge into new ideas, application, etc. It relates to some conversations on how we share knowledge across research projects, between journalists who care about their communities, and people who are trying to improve the world.

In observing how our experience of art changes when someone else shares their experience of the work, Noë writes:

This shift — from not seeing to seeing, from seeing to seeing differently, from not getting it to getting it — is actually very common. We live and learn, look and ask, bring what’s around us into focus continuously. At least part of what makes art different, or special, is that it yields the opportunity not only to “get” something, perhaps something new, but also to catch ourselves in the very act. In this way, art illuminates us to ourselves.

Interestingly, when I started to read it, I was not actually looking at art itself. The experience Noë writes about resonated deeply to my experiences of seeing people take in an idea and transform it into something they can use, apply, and “own” in the very productive sense. Own it in terms of being able to to use it meaningfully. Imagine a way of reducing open defecation, or changing water use habits. Imagine being able to take the building blocks of an idea and transform it into a locally useful solution. She frames it as the “world as the playing field for our activity,” and thus the interplay with it.

“This is not to deny that the world acts on us, triggering events in the nervous system. Of course it does! But the thing is, we act right back. Every movement of the eye, head, and body changes the character of our sensory coupling to the world around us. Objects are not triggers for internal events in the nervous system; they are opportunities or affordances for our continuing transactions with them. The world shows up, in experience, not like a diagram in a brain chart but as the playing field for our activity. Not the brain’s activity. Our activity. Not activity inside our head. But activity in the world around us.”

Now that I’ve read it, I’m thinking about how art can help me address my challenges with knowledge work!! Take a few minutes to read the article.

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Jul 29 2015

The Power of Ordinary Practices – Quotes Worth Amplifying

Well, this seems to be a fitting follow up to my last blog post.

Amabile: I believe it’s important for leaders to understand the power of ordinary practices. Seemingly ordinary, trivial, mundane, day-by-day things that leaders do and say can have an enormous impact. My guess is that a lot of leaders have very little sense of the impact that they have. That’s particularly true of the negative behaviors. I don’t think that the ineffective team leaders we studied meant to anger or deflate the people who were working for them. They were trying to do a good job of leading their teams, but lacked an effective model for how to behave.

So, I would say sweat the small stuff, not only when you’re dealing with your business strategy, but with the people whom you’re trying to lead. I would encourage leaders, when they’re about to have an interaction with somebody, to ask themselves: Might this thing I’m about to do or say become this person’s “event of the day”? Will it have a positive or a negative effect on their feelings and on their performance today?codrawing2

Amabile also calls out the rich, internal emotional lives that we all have, and how that influences our working together and collaboration.

One, people have incredibly rich, intense, daily inner work lives; emotions, motivations, and perceptions about their work environment permeate their daily experience at work. Second, these feelings powerfully affect people’s day-to-day performance. And third, those feelings, which are so important for performance, are powerfully influenced by particular daily events.

This again has resonance with last week’s #UdGAgora work where we explored the role of empathy in course design. The red threads are really showing up today. Maybe this will help me start pulling together a full post about The Agora. Alan has already started the “reflective ball” rolling.
Source: The Power of Ordinary Practices — HBS Working Knowledge

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Jul 29 2015

Hospital checklists and Inviting Participation

5429335563_ebe9be20dcJohnnie Moore pointed to an interesting article on why checklists don’t always produce the kind of positive results expected in hospital operating rooms.

I remember a few years back when I had major surgery. I had been rolled into the operating room. I was looking around and I commented on the team’s use of a checklist. They looked at me, surprised that I noticed. I said I’m interested in group process. With that, they gave me my anesthesia. I think one of the things on the list was to shut up talkative patients. :-) But I wondered, did the checklist make a difference for that team? It seemed like they were comfortable and well-practiced…

Outside of hospital operating rooms, where I have no expertise other than as patient, I’m fascinated by what sort of invitation gets people to engage with tools that can increase their individual and collective performance. It seems to me the invitation is as important as the checklist. Here is a related snippet from the article:

Dixon-Woods did identify one exemplary ICU, in which a high infection rate fell to zero after Matching Michigan began. The unit was led by a charismatic physician who championed the checklist and rallied others around it. “He formed coalitions with his colleagues so everyone was singing the same tune, and they just committed as a whole unit to getting this problem under control,” says Dixon-Woods.

I don’t think the intention here is blind lock-step and I cringed a bit at “singing the same tune.” What I do think matters is that people understand the value of something they are asked to do, and that leadership walks the talk. That starts with an informed, intelligent invitation to participate. Not blind obedience. Not “because you have to.” And the ability to critically question an invitation, checklist or whatever, because in complex settings, not everything is predictable.

I’m currently reflecting on the last two weeks where a team of us co-facilitated 2 rounds of a week long learning experience for professors at the University of Guadalajara system in Mexico. (More to come on that.) I suspect where we created warm, intelligent INVITATIONS to experiment with mobile technologies for engaged teaching and learning, we had more professors “accept,” dive in and learn. Where we focused too much on content, we started to lose people. Interesting, eh?

Source: Hospital checklists are meant to save lives — so why do they often fail? : Nature News & Comment

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.
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