Between the unconference and the lecture
December 7, 2009 5:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a one-day seminar event. What are some good active learning strategies that I can employ for part of the day?

I've heard that phrase, "The real conference happens in the hallway," and would like to facilitate that "hallway" environment within the conference room. We can't do an all-out unconference, mostly because it just is not logistically feasible for our group size (around 30 people).

This is a one-day seminar event for practitioners in my field -- library and information science. In the morning we have panelists lecturing to the crowd, like at a typical conference. But in the afternoon we'd like to do something different and break people up into groups to talk about the conference theme as it relates to them specifically. What are some ways to structure these group discussions?

All I can think of is think-pair-share, and I know that there are other active learning techniques out there. I have a structure for the event (i.e. something for everyone to talk about specifically in their groups) but I'd like to facilitate an active, interesting discussion among the people that are attending the conference. What are some other methods that I could use to achieve an engaging environment? I want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to talk and discuss the issues that have been touched on in the morning lecture sessions as well as issues specific to their own institutions.

I realize that the details here regarding context are fairly slim, but I'm not sure that the context really matters -- I'm really just looking for ways to facilitate discussion about a particular topic that go beyond the typical lecture format that you see at most conferences.
posted by anonymous to Education (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Can you make people participate? The best events I've been to have had everyone do something in front of the group. You can have some version of lightning talks where people have three to five minutes to indtroduce.... something... and other people can at least get to know them or know what their challenges is.

Obviously lunchtime is the best way to get people to do some sort of table-talking thing and not sit with their same old buddies. If you're doing anything remotely gadget oriented often you can have a "petting zoo" situation where people actually get to USE the tools that people are talking about. Also you can lay some groundwork ahead of time. Make sure that you have a little "who is here" sheet that has people's headshots [if possible, these can be super casual] and a small description of what they are and/or what they do and where they work. I went to a networking conference and this was great... I could pick out who people were and I already knew a thing or two about them.

If time weren't of the essence I'd say have some icebreakers like powerpoint karaoke and/or some sort of game show format thing [with prizes!] but you may need to really move things along. My experience with LIS events is that there's a not-insubstatial number of people who are introverted and/or shy and/or not really into getting up in front of a whole bunch of people, so the more you could do things that allow people to participate to the level you're comfortable with, the happier they'll most likely be.

Also if you have speakers earlier in the day, if they're likely to stick around, having informal chats with them later in the day might be nice. Often the speaker [yes, this has been me] gets buttonholed right after the end of a talk but then sort of kicks around later in the day not doing much. Maybe you could do something that was more "coffee with Ms. ABC" later in the day and have 45 minutes in smaller sessions with your speakers and/or other attendees who would be willing to field questions.

I think context is a ltitle important only because it's good to know what the objectives fot the day are. Sometimes it's just networking in which case unstructured time with snacks can do this. Sometimes it's skills-based in which case practice time would be good. Sometimes it's coming back to the home library with informatoon in which case a LOT of printed materials would be worthwhile.

Best of luck, feel free to contact me privately if I can give you more LIS-specific assistance.
posted by jessamyn at 6:06 PM on December 7, 2009

First, FREQUENT breaks. An hour at most between them.

Second, groupwork can end up fun, but don't count on at least one extrovet per group. Make sure that every group has some way to engage and participate even if they would otherwise naturally sit there silently for 20 minutes before anyone even said "hi".

Third, keep in mind that some people may well attend either compulsorily, or to make it look like they've actually done something useful with their training budget. You may want to factor in a way to give such people an "out", as they will only bring others down - If you manage to turn them around in the first 15 minutes, let 'em leave at lunch and make everyone's experience better.

Oh, one more - Toys/props. People like toys. If you dump a small bucket of Legos (not meant literally) at each group's table and give them 15 minutes to do something related to your task, you'll get some snarky comments but virtually everyone will have a blast doing it.
posted by pla at 6:11 PM on December 7, 2009

pla :If you manage to turn them around in the first 15 minutes, let 'em leave at lunch and make everyone's experience better.

Sorry, if you don't manage to turn them around in the first 15 minutes. :)

jessamyn : I'd say have some icebreakers like powerpoint karaoke

Icebreakers, yes, but keep in mind that a lot of people would rather have a root canal than stand up and have to sing (or even just speak) in front of a group. I like the game-show idea, though - Whenever I've had the opportunity to participate in something like that, I've found it almost always" fun" rather than stressful.
posted by pla at 6:17 PM on December 7, 2009

Have you heard of Open Space Technology? You might be able to use some aspects of OST within the structure of your overall conference.

I used OST for a three hour segment with a large group of Optometrists at a convention. They got three hours to talk about anything they wanted regarding their vision for their field. Those who were so motivated proposed topics to talk about and everyone else self-selected which conversations they wanted to join. Complete chaos, but in a good way. And after threee hours, I debriefed the conference by having each group report out their ideas and findings.

I always follow divergent thinking exercises with something convergent, and my favorite is an "idea market." I post all the ideas on the wall and give everybody some sort of sticky "currency" like those dots you use for garage sales. Everybody gets X dots and can stick one dot on X ideas that inspire them or stick all X dots on one idea they feel is really important. Then you can look around and see the priorities of the group emerge.

I've done shorter formats where I post large papers around the room with questions/topics and had people write their ideas/ feedback/ answers/ resource leads about the topic directly on the paper using markers. (Having extra sheets around for expansion as needed.) Then I'll have them spend the last ten minutes spending sticky dots in a quick ideas market to surface the group's most intriguing/important ideas. This is great for a lunch/coffee break period of 30 minutes to a few hours.

Another thing I like to do is make a "Bulletin Board" with a "Wanted" side and an "Offered" side. Have everyone go around the circle saying something they need for free (leads on a cheap copier, advice on design, etc) and something they can provide for free. Have a recorder (or two) write the wants and offers on index cards and post on the appropriate side of the bulletin board. When everyone's done, all you have do do is say, "Let's take 30 minutes for a break." The rest will happen by itself.

Really any professional facilitator has an entire bag of such tools and tricks and can help you figure out what will work best for your group and your meeting. Recommend consulting with one if you can. Face to face meetings of large groups are enormously expensive ventures, so it is worth getting someone in who can help you make the most of it. If you are in education and/or are a non-profit, you may even be able to find one who is willing to work pro-bono or cheap.
posted by cross_impact at 9:55 AM on December 8, 2009

I'm slightly bummed that you made this anonymous, because a lot of people I know would love to strategise and help you plan this. We library people love this kind of stuff.

Make your objectives super clear right up front.
Have an excellent facilitator who is not shy to rearrange groups, get people back on track, assign work through the groups
I recently attended a session with a 'world cafe' which I quite liked. I think this will work for you. Groups pick the discussion they want to have and the table is set up with a discussion facilitator and leading questions. Good especially for diverse groups or where you need to achieve specific outcomes.

you can also set someone up as an interviewer who also takes questions from the audience and helps to keep discussions rolling.

There are endless tips on stuff like this in books like 'games trainers play'
posted by wingless_angel at 10:39 AM on December 8, 2009

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