Archive for the 'online interaction' 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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Mar 18 2015

A Webinar on Facilitating with Technology With 36 Co-Presenters

NancyAtWorkOver the past few years I have enjoyed being part of the MAFN Webinars. MAFN is the Mid Atlantic Facilitator’s Network. They offer both online and offline professional development gatherings. Last Friday, Amy Lenzo, Nancy Settle-Murphy and I were ostensibly the “presenters.” I think I want to shed that title. May I be done with presenting, please? And by the end, I realized it was a conversation with 36… so they are all presenters too!

We designed the 90 minutes to minimize the presentation and maximize the engagement. I appreciated both Amy, Nancy and the great MAFN team of Michael, Dan, Fran and Meaghan — all ready to try new things and stretch ourselves.

We each had 5 minutes, then we were, as they say, off to the races. (You can see the five questions here in the PDF –> The Edge o fOnline Facilitation MAFN March2015 4 Blog.) In this case, it was a chat race. (At least it felt that way to some folks. I love it. Maybe I was a chat racehorse in my past life?) We then finished this first section with the following question:


There were 36 participants (maybe a few less with a couple of duplicate log ins, etc.) and there was this amazing chat stream of ideas. So fertile and interesting. I wanted to share the key points.

  • How can we network our intelligence to solve the huge problems facing the world/us?
  • For on-line engagement to be as powerful and impacting as any face-to-face activity.
  • Better connect with people all over the world.
  • . . that it might be superior in some respects to face-to-face engagement
  • People feel like they are in the same room even though they are notaspirations
  • Making deeper (non-trivial) connections with people at a distance
  • For participants to feel energized and that they have had an experience
  • To “level-set” the stakeholders’ understanding of the problem or challenge that all are facing.
  • When the offline culture is not very participatory – using online/virtual to create exchange and relationships and change the culture a little bit.
  • I think work has to meet human social needs.  Online engagement is quite powerful because it can bring  people together socially around quite microspecific topics and concerns
  • People feel a sense of community, leave with  decisions and catalyze action
  • To introduce & discuss the change process in a positive energising atmosphere when some people are resistant to change
  • Participants learn, understand, and feel connected to one another
  • Superior to face-to-face in some ways because many people can “talk at once”.  Appeals to some participants who might be hesitant to speak in a standard classroom
  • Downplay power distances
  • People actually “hearing” the words others were saying; a participant once exclaimed: We were using the same words but we did NOT mean the same thing
  • People who are not technically minded can participate easily and are engaged
  • Human connection across geography with powerful problem-solving
  • Doing strategic planning for a global association on-line (different time zones, cultures, etc., in addition to all the normal human differences)
  • Online engagement feels like in-person engagement
  • Environments that are truly connected – where each of us feel deeply connected to ourselves – our own thoughts and bodies and full selves; to each other; to the natural environment and to the larger world we’re part of. Intimacy and Scale.
  • That it truly engage and lead to the desired outcomes
  • The technology is secondary – the community and results are foremost
  • Create a level playing field so all can contribute to the best of their ability
  • Speed and access to expertise
  • Every voice contributes
  • Making on-line meeting not just a one-off  — so make it a practice that folks will get comfortable with over time (it won’t happen the first time, magically)
  • The fact that the presenters can’t “keep u” means this is more participation than would be possible in person
  • The challenge with online is that the human connection is mediated and distorted by technology. My aspiration is that the technology would feel invisible, or better yet, would be a catalyst for connection.
  • Highest aspiration:  hold onto the social aspect of learning
  • My highest aspiration is connection. Task completion is secondary.
  • Shared meaning … Having folks all proclaim: “I see, hear, & feel and understand.”

These 30+ people aren’t thinking small and I was encouraged and delighted. And from there, the conversation proceeded, mostly in chat and the rest of us with mic access sprinting to keep up became a cauldron of ideas and insights. The group segued from aspirations to questions and how to’s. Within the ideas there were also the meta comments about being challenged being in a text only environment, the pace, the sense of both richness and chaos. It is interesting to read back through the chat and try and pick out some key threads, and to discern where people are “coming” from with their insights. Some are clearly self-defined as trainers, others as facilitators. Some carry the context of the type of organization they work for, and others as consultants range across contexts.

Here are a few examples:

  • What we notice and aspire too is obviously informed by WHAT we do. There were trainers in the group. People embedded in and in the context of organizations and their constraints. Consultants who ranged across contexts. This informs the type of “how-to” people sought or suggested.
  • Everyone is interested in technology, but often in very different ways. Some want to know about the latest technologies. Others are interested in the impact of technology on our interactions. This quote really drew me in after someone talked about the way technology can distort our experiences: ” The presence of technology DOES change and effect the HUMAN experience and connection.” This segued into a conversation about how technology can/might not level the playing field. We are just beginning to really dig into these issues, and move beyond thinking of technology as a tool. I confess I’m getting tired of “what is the best tool for X” conversations and am ready for deeper explorations into the impacts of our technological environments, regardless of what tool is/isn’t available/acceptable/affordable! (Not to diminish those issues.) This is a great topper to this idea that one of my 36 co-presenters shared: “The way the hammer shapes the hand” — Jackson Browne, Casino Nation.
  • We all struggle. Priceless: “My 20th century mind has been struggling to make meaning and order from the chaos of this group chat.” My observation? It is not related so much to age, but I don’t have data to support my hypothesis (says this 56 year old.) The issue for me from the stress of volume is what is lost, as one person wrote, without reflection. (Slow down, Nancy, slow down!) Clearly I’m not the only one with this issue: “I have not been building in enough reflection time in my webinars.  I think it’s because I can’t tell when people have lost interest or when they are thinking.  Could be an insecurity issue for me.  Need to work on that!”

There was a lot more and I’m attaching a file with my semi-Sorted Chat Notes.

But here is the capper:


I love my 36 co-presenters! Co-creators! Co-labborators! Thank you, one and all. You help me…


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Nov 18 2014

Good Suggestions for “Fixing the Q&A” Session

whatsyourstoryerealitiesThere is a useful post on the HBR blog by  that is a good follow-on to yesterday’s post about webinars. Thomas talks about the mismatch between the intention for interaction with the audience, and the poor design of most Q&A sessions that happen after keynotes or talks. Here is a snippet, then I have some amplifications below.

Some solutions to the Q&A dysfunction already exist. Some hire a professional moderator or use software tools to crowdsource the questions. Others experiment with radically new ways to run events, such as the unconference movement. However, those solutions are often expensive or time-consuming to deploy, making them infeasible for many types of events. Here are four techniques that I’ve used with great results, and that can be deployed without any kind of preparation:

  1. Do an inverse Q&A. An inverse Q&A is when I the speaker pose a question to the audience, asking them to discuss it with the person sitting next to them. A good question is, “For you, what was a key take-away from this session? What might you do differently going forward?” People love the opportunity to voice their thoughts to someone and unlike the traditional Q&A, this approach allows everybody to have their say. It also helps them network with each other in a natural manner, which is something many conferences don’t really cater to.
  2. Ask for reactions, not just questions. When you debrief on the small-group discussion, insisting on the question format makes it awkward for the people who just want to share something. As you open the floor, specifically say “What are your reactions to all this? Questions are great, but you are also welcome to just share an observation, it doesn’t have to be in the form of a question.”
  3. Have people vet the questions in groups. An alternative to the inverse Q&A is to ask people to find good questions in groups. Simply say, “Please spend a minute or two in small groups, and try to find a good question or a reflection you think is relevant for everybody.” Then walk around the room and listen as people talk. If you hear an interesting reflection, ask them to bring it up during the joint discussion, or bring it up yourself.
  4. Share a final story after the Q&A. Given that even the best-run Q&A session is unpredictable, it is best to have the Q&A as the second-to-last element. I always stop the Q&A part a few minutes before the end, so I have time to share one final example before getting off the stage. That way, even if the Q&A part falls flat, you can still end your session with a bang instead of a fizzle.The above methods can help you turn any keynote into a better experience. What other techniques — ideally simple ones — have you seen or used?

via 4 Ways to Fix the Q&A Session – Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg – Harvard Business Review.

The first thing I really want to amplify is the focus on questions – thinking about them and forming them more intentionally, both from the presenter and from the people formerly known as the audience.  Crap questions generate crap responses. People seeking to be heard often respond in kind with crap responses because they were so busy getting ready to speak, they weren’t listening. So we also see a relationship between crap questions and poor listening. As a speaker, it is your/mine/our job to bring value by offering good questions and to both role model good listening when we hand off the mic, and to make it easier for people to listen well.

How do we make it easier for people to listen well?

  • Present well. This is covered well other places, but if we are rambly (spell check suggested “brambly” which also fits!), unclear or just off point, we will have lost the audience well before the Q&A. Why not aim for having people SO EXCITED by the time you finish speaking…
  • that the only solution is to let them have a conversation. Start with table or pair conversations so this energy can be unleashed, rather than squelched by passing a single mic and constricting/controlling that energy?
  • Harvest. The presenter’s job is then to harvest what was generated out of all that energy, and Thomas’ suggestions are spot on. You can also do post it note harvests, capture visually, among many options. The point here is you steward, you become of service.

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Nov 17 2014

Beyond the Webinar

The earthLet me confess right up front: I really don’t like webinars. Too often they feel “done unto me.” I am powerless, at the mercy of the organizers. I may have access to a chat room (Thank Goodness!) But more often than not, these are content delivery mechanisms with token participant interaction in the form of crowded Q&A segments or polls with varying degrees of relevance. What is worse is that I have been a perpetrator of these practices so I continue to try and change my evil ways.

Changing ingrained habits requires some reflection – of self and of the state of the practice of these so-called “webinars.”  Recently I had the chance to offer feedback on a webinar I experienced as a recording.  I’ve edited/generalized my thoughts to share. In a follow up post I’ll reflect on my own practice — this is where I need to cut to the bone!
1. Us/Them: It is logical for an organizer or organizing agency to want to  appear well prepared for sharing their work. We all like folks to know we “did our homework.” We get our slides spiffed up and appropriately formatted for the webinar tool we are given. We time our remarks. We practice speaking clearly and at an appropriate pace.

The challenge this presents is that the end product puts the speaker and/or the organization at the center. We create an us/them dynamic before the event even starts. Think about set ups where the only ones who can use the voice tool to communicate are the organizers. Those who bear the presentation file are in control of the message. The tool administrator(s) control the process (i.e determining that they speak for 60 minutes, then there is Q&A.)

The use of a one way style of presentation reinforces the power dynamics of the speaker/expert/organization as central, and everyone else as “audience.” All too often, the audience is never heard. Is that a good use of precious synchronous time? Why not send out a video or narrated PowerPoint? An online gathering is time better spent as a multi-directional mode of “being together” — even online. This does NOT diminish the importance and value of content we “deliver” to others. Here are some options to consider.


  • Move away from meetings that are primarily broadcast which holds control with the presenter. Sharing information is essential, but synchronous time should always have significant multi directional interaction. For my colleagues in international development, I think everyone has values of inclusiveness and shared participation. We have to “walk this talk” in webinars as well.
  • Small things can create or break down us/them.  For example don’t just show where you are on a map at the start of a webinar, add dots for all the participants and their locations. Better yet, use a tool that allows them to add their own dots. Help the group see not only you,  but “we” – all the people working together about something we all care deeply about.
  • Because we lack body  language online, it is useful to really scrutinize our language.From the wording in the slides and by the speaker, consider changes in language so that it is more inclusive of the participants.


2. Strive for  good practices for learning/engaging online. Webinars in general run the risk of being even less engaging than a dark room face to face with a long PowerPoint. There is a saying in the online facilitation world “A bad meeting F2F is a terrible meeting online.” So we need to be even more attentive to how we structure online engagements to reflect a) how adults learn b) the high risk of losing attention (especially due to multi tasking) and c) the cultural and power diversity inherent in your group. Quality content is important, but it alone is not a reason to use an interactive platform — you can deliver content in many ways. Choosing a synchronous mode, to me,  implies interaction.


  • Consider keeping online meetings to 60 minutes. If not, do a stretch break every at 30 and 60 minutes. Say “let’s take a 60 second break.” Stand up, stretch, look away from the screen and give your body a moment of respite. We’ll call you back in 60 (90-120) seconds (sometimes a bio break is useful!)
  • A useful rule of thumb is to break up information presentation with some means of audience engagement/participation every 7-15 minutes. Use polls, chat, “red/green/yellow” feedback mechanisms, hand raising, checking for understanding, etc. This may mean you have someone facilitating these other channels if it is too distracting for the host and speakers. (Over time it does get easier, but practice is critical!)
  • Take questions approximately every 15 minutes vs holding at end. People stop listening carefully and are thus less prepared to ask questions after longer periods of time. (They are also more prone to multitasking, etc.)
  • Don’t just deliver information – use narrative. Stories hold our attention better than a series of bullet points. In fact, ditch those boring slides unless you are using the printed information to make it easier for people coming from a different first language.
  • Deliver the useful content in a different manner and use the webmeeting entirely for questions and interactions. Send a recording introducing the team. Send a narrated PowerPoint about the topic. Keep these content packages smaller. For example, if you were trying to give an overview of a portfolio of projects, you could break it up into some sub packages. 1) about the team 2) strategy, 3) project descriptions, 4) monitoring and evaluation strategy, etc.
  • Secondary tip: Do not think of these information products as polished products — don’t waste energy overproducing. That sucks the human element out of it. Imperfection is a door to engagement… seriously. Moments of uncertainty, tough questions — these engage the participants.
  • Stay relaxed as a narrator and speak at useful pace for understanding, particularly for those who have English as a second (or third, fourth) language. Keep that human touch. Add little bits of personal information and affect. Be human.
  • Let participants ask question verbally, not just in chat if possible. While there are many technical complications and sometimes the burden of accents on unclear audio channels, voice brings again brings in that human element. (Video does too, but there are bandwidth considerations. When you can, consider using it.)
  • Encourage collective note taking in the chat room or with complementary tool. When people share this task, they listen more carefully and the begin to learn about each others strengths and insights as people add additional information or annotations.
  • When someone asks a question, note who asked the question. This helps everyone see that people are heard, even if the audio option is not practical (for various reasons, no mic, etc. )  At the end of the call, specifically thank by name those who asked questions to encourage the behavior for future interactions.
  • In Q&A sections, consider a visual to help people pay attention. Use the whiteboard for noting the questions, answers, links that refer to what has been spoken about, etc.

There are a few ideas. What are yours?

Also, here are some previous posts about similar issues:

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Sep 29 2014

Liberating Structures Online

I was bummed to miss the September Liberating Structures Seattle User Group meeting as it was about using LS online.  (If you don’t know what LS is, click that first link!)

I am passionately interested in this. Today, I had a chance to see the notes and a “minimum specs” document in the works and was VERY HAPPY. (I uploaded it to GoogleDrive so we can all play with it together! I hope that is OK with Keith McCandless, Jim Best, Alex Dunne and Fisher Qua. Guys, ok?

I first want to share the notes. I’m adding my comments in bold.

User Group members got a good start on Min Specs for bringing virtual meetings back to life.

1. Distributing information must not be the purpose of convening a virtual meeting. Firmly invite participants read the material in advance–no ifs, ands, or buts.  Stop the madness of long-boring-stifling-ineffective PPT presentations. AMEN. True online and offline, but I think even more toxic online. People multitask themselves into oblivion. This is also one of the challenging points to convey to “meeting” sponsors. So thinking more about how to engage positively and proactively on this set up issue is on my mind.

2. Asking questions that invite participants to explore a shared challenge must be part of the virtual meeting purpose.  For example, if the topic is “what can we do about poor employee engagement scores?,” a set of productive questions could include:  How do you know when people are not engaged?  What do you do to maintain your own focus?  How do you help others do the same?  What makes it difficult to maintain a positive and engaged attitude? Do you know anyone or any group who is able to maintain high engagement consistently or effortlessly?  How??  Are any good ideas coming to mind? Any 15% Solutions?  What first steps could we take together? [Adapted from Discovery and Action Dialogue]  This set of questions sparks both self-discovery and action to move forward together.  Ahhhhh.  For me this is true online and offline. So the online elements are how people respond (voice, text, group size — i.e. 1-2.4-all) and what type of design and facilitation enables coherence if we cross different communication forms. Some people type. Some need to talk, etc. 

3. Contributing ideas must be very simple and safe for every participant.  More coming… This builds on my last note from an operational perspective. I also think that sometimes the anonymity or semi-anonymity of the online space can actually make it “safer” than F2F.

via Liberating Structures – User Group Startup.

I keep waffling between the approach – find and adapt a tool and grow from there the practices, or use whatever is at hand and adapt the practices. The practical me says the latter. What do you think? (See more of our collective thinking here and here.)


P.S. I know, it has been a LONG time since I blogged. Longest gap ever. And this is a fast post, but I figured better fast than never!

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