What triggers us to adopt new facilitation and engagement processes?

(Note: currently the images on this post have gone missing. I’m working on it!)

I have developed an enormous backlog of things to write about my learnings from my Liberating Structures practice. Sometimes I need a little kick in the keister, so this tweet got me rolling from @TrustedSharing

“Any ideas on events that get people to facilitate using #liberatingstructures? I have a group that wants to learn.”

Introductory/Immersion Events

Image by Tracy KellyEvents are certainly one way to get people started using Liberating Structures (LS). Earlier this year Tracy Kelly and I facilitated a two day LS Immersion for the education community up in British Columbia and based on some tweets that have followed on, some (many? Who knows) participants have begun incorporating LS into their teaching and administrative meeting practices.  Tracy wrote up a great blog post here: http://www.tracykelly.net/?p=1247 and the BC Campus hosts wrote here https://bccampus.ca/2017/04/05/opening-the-flow-of-learning-with-liberating-structures/ . Both posts highlight some very useful ideas and practices for event based invitations into LS and from a specific domain perspective (in this case education, but imagine other domains!)

Having co-led immersions for the past few years and participating in them for longer, the real clincher for me is to make sure the event isn’t just about LS, but looks closely at the real application “back at home/work” for the participants. When you have groups with some shared purpose, this is magic. When your group is heterogeneous, it can be harder to find that “what, so what, now what” hook that helps people not just get an introduction, but to understand the value proposition of using LS to increase engagement in their work and lives. Real stuff. Tracy wrote it well: “Purpose is the new vision!

Practitioner/User Groups

Once I was introduced to LS, I thought “yeah, these are good” and then slipped back into my old ways. I needed to experiment and practice with at least one other person to push myself past my own ruts and comfort zones. So after an immersion, it can be super useful to convene lighter, smaller experiences for people to practice, dig deeper and understand how to use LS in their own work. After all, there are tons of riffs, variations and different sequence options.

These groups can be geographic, within a workplace or domain. What matters is getting together. If I use an LS once, that is all fine and good. If I use it twice, I’m beyond the initial twinge of possibility. Repeated use is the “gateway drug” to full use — and all of the rich possibilities of LS.

Here in Seattle we have a deeply playful and creative user group. At the May Seattle users group, Keith (LS co-founder) hosted us to explore “punctuations.” A couple of years ago when some of us retreated for a weekend to play with some emergent structures, I had this sense that we all did these little things in between individual structures, and I described them as punctuation. The term took hold.

When we gathered to play with punctuations, we started with a little meaning making – what DID we mean by a punctuation in the context of LS? Of course, we had to use a little punctuation to elicit our definitions, using a visual riff on Gareth Morgan’s, “What is a Pig” exercise. Hard to see in this picture, but our images had a lot of connectivity and bridging metaphors. Breaths, pauses for soaking in and making sense of an experience. Something that prepares us for what comes next.

Turns out we had some different initial definitions, which grew a bit closer with conversation and some experimentation. For example, Keith was imagining punctuations as affordances for specific structures. For example, how can Fisher Qua’s riffs on Spiral Journal support a deeper “What, So What, Now What?” (There is a picture of the Spiral Journal about half way down this page and hopefully someone is working on writing it up. Hint, hint, you know who you are!) I saw them independent of any particular structure, and called upon as needed, sensing what a group or situation needed. By the end of our What is a Pig Conversation, our senses of the word became intertwined. But darn it, did anyone write down some sort of synthesized definition? I think we were having too much fun.

There were also some emergent threads – maybe principles – that emerged from our play with punctuations.

  • There are always many riffs and variations. How do we discern when we are riffing for our own love of riffing, and when we are responding to emergent contexts and adapting and iteratively experimenting forward?
  • Our core group of experimenters is in love with clever language. When do we, as Viv McWater’s says, “put down our clever” from Keith Johnstone- noting when others may feel confused or excluded.
  • Including many senses might make LS strings (sequences of structures) more flexible and mixable. See the next section for more on this.
  • Punctuations are flexible and mixable.
  • They elicit things (this deserves more unpacking!) They reveal things.
  • They are bridges, synapses.

So practice groups are places for LS to soak in, get clear and “stick!”

Intentional Experiments and Salons

Finally, there are some of us who want to dig in more, play more. A small group here in Seattle have started hosting little experimental “salons” with our first one just a few weeks ago exploring the role of space and movement in the application of LS. You can see a few cryptic pictures here, and yes, I have promised a write up. https://goo.gl/photos/mKNnhtmmNHcrBZ2fA We plan a few more and I am on the hook to organize one around visuals and LS.

That said, there are a few things that became clearer to me as we moved around a beautiful dance studio and reflected on how we use our bodies when we “meet.” The primary driver for these salons and which was clearly visible in the first was we, as facilitators, participants, leaders, engagers, need to remember all our senses. A moving meditation as a group is completely different then asking people to “quietly sit and reflect” in your seats. At the same time, I’ve been working with an amazing network across the developmental disabilities community and I have to carefully attend to abilities and how to invite movement when I’m with a group of diverse people. I’m still feeling quite bad that I did not fully tweak a “Shift and Share” design with quick changeovers that were difficult for folks in wheel chairs. I underestimated the logistical load (not to mention cognitive.) Always learning…When we engage multiple senses, we must attend to design for including everyone.

Friendly Mentoring

Finally, the thing that has kept me moving my LS practice forward has been the generosity of my mentors, Keith, Fisher, Neil and many others. From a quick phone call or “over coffee” meeting, to our online spaces in Slack and Linked in, the ability to throw out a question, or offer a string of structures for feedback and critique has done the most to inform, deepen and improve my practice. So @TrustedSharing, if you mentor one, the magic is happening!

Can we actually practice graphic recording after just a 4 hour workshop? Yes! Part 2

Background: This is the second of three posts about some recent visual experiences at the  7th Annual GFRAS Meeting in Limbe, Cameroon, where I was invited as their graphic recorder! As I noted in Part 1, it is a huge investment of resources – theirs and mine – to have me there for the meeting, so I asked if I could also run a short “introduction to graphic recording” the before the event kicked off, and then we could have the participants fan out across the breakouts and field trips to capture sketch notes. This second post in the series shares a few stories and artifacts from the workshop participants about their sketchnoting at the meeting and after they returned home. How are they using their new skills? Part 3 will share the graphic recordings I did with a little reflection on my own process. When I publish #3, I’ll come back and link it here as well!

Unleashed across breakout sessions, field trips and plenaries, many of the participants of our short graphic recording workshop took their pens and notebooks to try and capture the essense of sessions as sketch notes. Remember: these people walked into the workshop with little or no sketchnoting experience. Just a fire in their bellies and a willingness to try.

The first experiments were just with pen, mostly on the small conference spiral note books. You can see the experimentation with how to organize the ideas on the paper and a great deal of courage focusing on the images, not just relying on text.

At one point after a plenary, a few folks stopped by my graphic recording station and we did some mini debriefs and talked about introducing color. The magic was instantaneous… (not that I don’t like black and white, mind you!). Click the images for a larger and fuller view!

By the end of the week, our intrepid team had introduced metaphors and ways to organize space on the page along with some clever extras.


But wait, this is not the end of the story! What happened after everyone has gone home? I have two stories to share already (and hopefully I will glean a few more.

Merida Roets, who was also our day 2 keynote and my wonderful roommate at the hotel, was already planning to offer her staff a brief graphic recording session upon her return to South Africa. (I’ll share the capture of her keynote in post #3). They may have wondered what Merida was up to, but she immediately applied her learning to her work with her project developing some learning materials for the South African Sugar Association. She shared an image with me as an example. (I can recommend Merida for both her intelligence and love of chocolate!)
Finally, one of the workshop participants who was already deeply into visual practices for agricultural development, Luke Smith, who is the AgriEdutainment Officer & ICT Director of WhyFarm that originated the world’s Food Security superhero  “AGRIman” as a way to engage younger folks in agriculture , wrote ” I have used the graphic facilitation method with some children in a workshop. I didn’t have all the materials required to execute they way I wanted too. I showed the children  the basics as you showed us in the training. I then gave them the problem of how can we increase food production by 2050 and told them to use the icons, arrows, symbols to come up with a solution.
The children drew there ideas on a copybook page, I didn’t get time to take a photo as the session ran out of time . But I was amazing that some kids drew the ideas of doing farming underwater. I want to try this method again but with flip charts and markers etc. I will certainly capture the use of graphic facilitation the next time. ”


And for a bit of fun

What does “digital native” imply? Just sayin…

F2FtoONlineA quote worth sharing from my blog draft backlog… emphasis mine. Smash stereotypes and remember many roots of learning are social, even online!

During two long-term studies, which looked at learners who had personal connected devices or were using a powerful online learning community, we found that many users struggled to operate the basic tools. Those who were more active users, rather than somehow miraculously working it all out for themselves, in fact belonged to groups of active users among both friends and families. It seems that learning to be a competent user of technology is a social and cultural experience. However, even where the learners were competent users of the device or service, they were not naturally effective learners using technology. Simple things like arranging their work so they could find it again was a challenge and there was no evidence of working iteratively, incorporating feedback from teachers or fellow learners. Searching skills were pretty rudimentary. They did enjoy drill and practice exercises and referred to these as “games” which they “played”.The minority who did use their devices more did also revisit work they had done earlier, including a few who referred back to relevant work in primary school following transfer to secondary. Being able to create, save , share and rediscover their work via a personal device was a game changer for the few who found out how to do these things – but they were a minority and they had help from home and friends, which made the difference. Not much evidence of the “digital native”.

Source: ‘The idea that young people are digital natives is a myth’ | tesconnect

The website or the people who make them?

holdingcenterI was attracted by the title of a 2015 opinion piece in the Observer by Thomas Oppong @Alltopstartups,  33 Websites That Will Make You a Genius. If only! Apparently so were many other people because if you search on the title and first sentence, you will see the article republished all over the place. I had tucked the url into a draft blog post that I’m finally getting to today! (Note: there are actually 34 on the list. Brainpickings did not get a number. Brainpickings, by the way, is one that I’d prioritize reading!)

Why are people interested in these lists? Are they really going to go out and working on getting smarter? Does anyone have time to read them on a regular basis? For me it is an interesting reminder that there is so much interesting stuff out there we must both use it and not let it overwhelm us. Or let lists limit us because the diversity is much richer than can ever be boiled down to 33 or 34.

The question I sit with is WHY are these 33 websites considered so valuable? Is it the website, the artifact, or the people who make them, individually, collectively and everything in between! What if instead of listing these sites, we had a chance to sit down and have a meal with the people behind them. Now THAT would be WONDERFUL! Here is the list with Thomas’ annotations – and thank you Thomas! At the end I leave you with a question similar to the one Thomas left at the end of his article.

1. BBC — Future — Making you smarter, every day.

2. 99U (YouTube) — Actionable insights on productivity, organization and leadership to help creative people push ideas forward.

3. Youtube EDU — The education videos that don’t have cute cats in boxes — but they do unlock knowledge.

4. WikiWand — A slick new interface for Wikipedia.

5. The long read (The Guardian) — In-depth reporting, essays and profiles.

6. TED — Great videos to open your mind on almost every topic.

7. iTunes U — Learning on the go, from some of the world’s top universities.

8. InsightfulQuestions (subreddit) — Intellectual discussions that are not necessarily genre-specific.

9. Cerego — Cerego helps you build personalized study plans based on your strengths and weaknesses to retain knowledge.

10. University of the People — Tuition-free online university that offers higher education in multiple course streams.

11. OpenSesame — Marketplace for online training, now with 22,000+ courses.

12. CreativeLive — Take free creative classes from the world’s top experts.

13. Coursera — Partnering with some of the top U.S. universities, Coursera offers massive open online courses for free.

14. University of reddit — the product of free intellectualism and is a haven for the sharing of knowledge.

15. Quora — You ask, the net discusses — with top experts and fascinating back and forth on everything.

16. Digital Photography School —Read through this goldmine of articles to improve your photography skills.

17. Umano—Explore the largest collection of audio articles powered by real people. Dropbox has acquired Umano. Brain Pickings is a great replacement for 17.

Brain Pickings — Insightful long form posts on life, art, science, design, history, philosophy and more.

18. Peer 2 Peer University or P2PU, is an open educational project that helps you learn at your own pace.

19. MIT Open CourseWare is a catalog of free online courses and learning resources offered by MIT.

20. Gibbon—This is the ultimate playlist for learning.

21. Investopedia — Learn everything you need to know about the world of investing, markets and personal finance.

22. Udacity offers interactive online classes and courses in higher education.

23. Mozilla Developer Network offers detailed documentation and learning resources for web developers.

24. Future learn — enjoy free online courses from top universities and specialist organizations.

25. Google Scholar — provides a search of scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources, including theses, books, abstracts and articles.

26. Brain Pump — A place to learn something new everyday.

27. Mental Floss — Test your knowledge with amazing and interesting facts, trivia, quizzes and brain teaser games.

28. Learnist — Learn from expertly curated web, print and video content.

29. DataCamp — Online R tutorials and data science courses.

30. edX — Take online courses from the world’s best universities.

31. Highbrow — Get bite-sized daily courses to your inbox.

32. Coursmos — Take a micro-course anytime you want, on any device.

33. Platzi— Live streaming classes on design, marketing and code.

If you had to suggest one website that presented a more diverse perspective or represented views that don’t often make into lists like the ones above, what site would you recommend I look at?

Learning While Building eLearning: #4 Lessons from the Pilot

Scholar Project - 2This is the last of four pieces reflecting on the experiences of Emilio, a subject matter expert who was tasked with converting his successful F2F training into an elearning offering. This one focuses on the lessons learned from the pilot and we are pulling in Cheryl Frankiewicz, the project manager. You can find the context in part 1 ,  part 2 and part 3. (Disclaimer: I was an adviser to the project and my condition of participation was the ability to do this series of blog posts, because there is really useful knowledge to share, both within the colleague’s organization and more widely. So I said I’d add the blog reflections – without pay – if I could share them.)

Nancy: Emilio and Cheryl, what is your advice for someone else embarking on this process?

Emilio: Solve the prep work for the launch. Pay a lot of attention to the very important thing you do in every single project, no matter what it is. Getting the process of getting the people there. The enrollment, selecting a good partner and being on top of your partner so that nothing goes wrong in this introduction process. The key thing is to get the people there at the start of your course. That has to go flawless. If it starts flawless, it is almost a piece of cake to do a good learning course. Then everything flows easily.

Cheryl: I would encourage others who embark on this process to start by revisiting their objectives and making sure that they measure the most important learning outcomes. Once the objectives are clear, focused and measurable, it’s much easier to make wise choices about which content and activities to include in the course design. Interaction is just as important in elearning as in F2F learning, but that doesn’t mean that all the interaction that takes place in the face-to-face environment should be transferred to the online environment. Attention spans are more limited and the demands on learners’ time are greater in an online environment, so you have to be careful not to include so much interaction that it becomes overwhelming to learners.

If you haven’t facilitated online before, take an elearning facilitation course before you deliver for the first time. I took one before I delivered my first online training and it was worth every penny I paid. Not only did I get useful tips on how to manage participation in a virtual environment, but I also had the opportunity to practice them before going “live”.  The big surprise for me was how much I depended on participants’ body language for feedback in a F2F environment, and how lost I felt online without it. The course helped me identify other strategies for gathering and giving feedback online. Emilio wanted to take one of these courses but his travel schedule didn’t allow it.

One other recommendation I’d make is to plan for regular communication with learners. In a F2F setting, facilitators don’t have to think about how this will happen because they are in constant contact with learners, but in an elearning environment, extra effort has to be made to design and time communication in a way that helps keep participants on track and motivated to participate. Regular bulletins from the facilitator that remind participants what is happening in a given week or unit are a valuable tool for accomplishing this. These bulletins can also highlight key lessons learned or insightful contributions from participants during the previous week. The review can help re-engage those that have fallen behind, and the recognition can help motivate quality participation in the future.

Nancy: Emilio, I have done quite a bit of work with your organization around learning, facilitating and elearning. As you think about your experiences and the experiences you’ve learned from other colleagues doing elearning in FAO, what capacity is needed to do this sort of work in an organization like yours?

Emilio: We have our own elearning team at FAO doing their own projects for specific groups. Their services are relatively expensive.  If I were to do with them the same thing I did with MEDA I would have likely paid more. And they have a limited number of people. They don’t have enough capacity to be service providers to the rest of the organization. We have so many different units. Our organization is structured so that we have to provide services to each other and we have to pay for them.

Nancy: I know there is a lot of talent spread through the organization, but it is not clear that they are aware of each other, talk to each other, learn and support each other.

Emilio: You are right. I have a  colleague doing a training. She decided to work with Unitar. She is thrilled with the experience. Then she started talking about her very different needs and experiences. From what she tells me I would not be inclined to use that model. I would have to have something different.  It is hard at the end of the day to come up with a corporate, very well coordinated approach to this elearning, to cultivate that knowledge among all of FAO’s staff, or at least expand it as much as possible.

But you are right, the result is we don’t leverage, learn from each other, from a very valuable experience a colleague is having and have to go through painful process of learning myself.

Cheryl, how about you? What is your advice?

Cheryl: Don’t aim for the moon in your beta test. Aim to learn. As Emilio mentioned, only 41% of those who registered for the course actually completed it. But 100% of those who completed  it said they would recommend it to their colleagues. Learning happened, and more learning will happen the next time around because Emilio and his team are observant, open to learning, and patient with themselves and the process.

Make sure you bring together a good team of people who can cover all the bases that need to be covered when converting a F2F training into an elearning offering. Don’t expect that any one person is going to be your subject matter expert, instructional designer, programmer, learning strategist, platform troubleshooter and project manager all in one. Ultimately, a team of six people contributed to this conversion, none of us working on it full time, but all of us contributing expertise in a particular area. Make sure that someone on the team takes responsibility for organizing the work and keeping your timeline on track. And avoid the temptation to outsource everything because you’ll miss the opportunity to learn how to do it yourself. Emilio’s probably not ready to develop his next course entirely in-house, but he and Milica have built the capacity to maintain and adapt the courses that now exist.

Speaking of adaptation, one last piece of advice is to take advantage of the opportunities that elearning provides to monitor how participants are learning as they are learning and make adjustments to the course design as you go along. Emilio mentioned earlier that the feedback he received in the office hours helped him adjust the course materials, but our analysis of the quiz, final exam and evaluation results also helped us identify which concepts could be better explained, and which objectives could be better supported. We monitored how, when and where learners engaged (and did not engage) and this is helping Emilio to improve his next offering of the course. For example, we learned that participants who did not complete the course tended to follow one of two patterns: approximately one-third logged in only once or twice and did not finish even the first module; the other two-thirds participated fairly regularly and completed module 2, but then dropped out. With this information, and with feedback from participants who completed the course, Emilio is revising the design of the Module 2 group work, and he and Milica are planning to follow up more quickly with inactive participants during the first module of the course to identify if there are any barriers to participation that they might help learners address.

Here’s mine (Nancy)…

I’m really glad the decision was made to have a beta test which helps us sharpen the content, process, assessment and technology. The example of understanding how the exam was graded shows that there are always technical things to learn, and the careful attention to assessment as it relates to learning objectives helped us learn a lot.

We learned some things about the process of having a marketing partner, the importance of lead time and a very real need to  do some pre-course orientation for the learners about the technology and course expectations. We have talked about developing some short videos and having a short “week 0” prior to the actual start of the course to ensure the tech is working for learners before we dive so quickly into content and community building.

We need to get the participation rate higher because I’m convinced that is key to successful completion – look at the people who participated in the office hours — they stayed engaged and completed! I think this starts with a clearer ramp up and explicit expectations (including pre-course communications), regular emails during the course and refinement of our pre-course learner survey that would help the facilitator understand the learners a bit before the course.

That said, there were SO many things to pay attention to, it was easy to spend less time on the social aspects of learning: initial engagement with the learners, building a learning community (which is difficult in three weeks and limited expectation of learner hours), and helping learners contextualize the content to their contexts. I had warned Emilio beforehand that facilitating online learning is a bit different than teaching face to face. The learning management system delivers a lot of the content. The real role is connecting learners to the content and to each other.  

Thanks to Emilio, Cheryl, FAO and MEDA for supporting these four blog reflections!