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Posts Tagged ‘workshop

Most students do not have insights into how much work goes into designing lessons, preparing materials, and developing evaluations. Just the administrative aspects might surprise them.

Teachers-to-be and future faculty need to be aware what awaits them administratively. For a Masters course that I design and facilitate, the time between initial notification and the implementation of the first class is five months. The ICT modules for inclusive education I just facilitated had a runway of seven months. A set of workshops I conduct at another institute of higher learning prepares documentation one semester ahead. This means I have about three months of preparation time.

Why are the runways months long? Administrative offices can often be bureaucratic. Your parcel might be passed from one person to another to their own tune. Once they receive the parcel, they might sit on it or go on leave. Speaking of leave, administrative staff often work on their own calendars (for example, financial years) and not on the ebb and flow of university schedules.

The exciting part of the teaching and learning journey happens when a course or workshop takes off. But before that happens, there is a lot of taxiing on the ground.

This is a quick thought dump. Instead of hastily typing some ideas down in the Notes app, I am recording some preliminary ideas for a possible curriculum workshop.

Content design
Serial vs parallel (vs rhizomal?) plans
Continuous vs segmented curricular trains

Time considerations
Using academic terms and semesters
Redefining the “pie chart” of time

Meta design
Strategies for sensing change
Change management

Other design considerations
Alignment, Assessment, and Authenticity

While at a university campus recently, I decided to get lunch from a canteen food stall that I had not visited in about two years. The tenants were no longer there, but there was a replacement.

I decided to try their fish and chips. That is all I got: Some overcooked breaded fish and a few potato wedges. I guess I expected too much given what the previous tenant offered.

I asked if they could give me some coleslaw. The server looked offended, plonked a teaspoonful on my plate, and mumbled, “Normally we don’t give!”

Video source

This clip of Oliver asking for more came immediately came to my mind.

I quickly forgot the clip as the food not only cost more, it also tasted terrible.

It was not just me. A group of undergraduate students sat at my table and one who opted for another dish from the same stall complained about the cost, the taste, and the unpleasant service.

As I returned my plate and cutlery, I remembered what the server said: “Normally we don’t give!” Normally, I would expect better service and food.

However, what is “normal” can change. When new management takes over, they can prioritise quantity instead of quality. When they do, they go for the biggest bang for their buck. It makes the most sense on paper and it can be profitable. If the tenant gets bad reviews, they leave, and someone else runs through the revolving door to take their place.

While I ruminate on the food experience, this is really about university education. I was on campus to conduct a series of workshops to change the teaching mindsets, expectations, and behaviours of future faculty.

By sheer coincidence, one future professor/lecturer gave a blunt assessment when I asked the group what they would build on from the previous sessions:

Teaching methods at {university name removed} are TERRIBLE!! Lecturers have no interesting [sic] in eliciting an emotional response from the students.

Perhaps this was that person’s way of saying “Normally we don’t give… a damn about teaching.”

Not everyone is as candid. However, just about anyone with a current experience as a university student can probably relate.

There are a few very good university educators who stay up to date with technology and the latest developments in pedagogy. However, this is not norm.

This is why I like being part of a small group of educators that is trying to change what is normal. If we cannot change existing faculty who are too set in their ways, we will work with future faculty who are more in touch with learner expectations. When they become professors in their own right whether here or elsewhere, they might bring their new insights with them.

There is no guarantee that all will change for the better. Whatever changes that happen will also take at least a generation of instructors to turn over. However, we play the long game and we hedge our bets.

If we do nothing, nothing will happen. If we do something, something might.

I take workshops seriously. I have a reputation for making people actually work towards their learning during workshops.

I find it helps to project a timer to keep people on task and to maintain the pace of workshops. It is a visual reminder of a social expectation.

Timers come in many forms: The ones in smartphones, an assortment of online timers, setting a Google timer (e.g., Google “timer for 5 minutes” if you need a 5-minute timer), and even YouTube videos.

YouTube videos of timers are the easiest to embed in web pages and that is what I have started using in a series of workshops I am facilitating this semester.

The only disadvantage I have experienced is that YouTube keeps track of the videos I watch and recommends other timer videos for me. They make for very boring videos to watch at home!

Here is an example of a workshop page in Google Sites. I provide all the resources in plain and sequential view for my learners: Instructions, resources (e.g., links to websites, embedded videos), a timer, and a task to complete.

This not only creates an advance organizer, it also provides a scaffold for me to remember what to do!

It has been a year since I left NIE/NTU to be an independent education consultant. Last week I put myself back into an NTU tutorial room for the first of a series of workshops.

Participants in individual learning mode during a segment of the workshop.

The workshops are designed for teaching assistants and graduate students who wish to work on their teaching muscles. However, the overall course design promises to focus not primarily on teaching, but on understanding the learner of today and processes of learning. This design was what drew me in.

At the mass briefing for participants, I tweeted a question that one of them asked:

The question excited me simply because this instructor-to-be was already thinking like his learners.

As is my habit, I opted to break out of the institutional LMS whenever possible and provide resources more openly and logically in a Google Site (GS). The GS also allowed me to embed unsanctioned but simple and powerful tools like YouTube, Padlet, and AnswerGarden.

  • GS was simply a platform for organizing questions, resources, and tools logically.
  • Information was primarily delivered by YouTube videos.
  • Padlet provided spaces for individual and small group reflection.
  • AnswerGarden was useful for rising above and getting a sense of what was important to the group as a whole.

Participants in think-pair-share mode during the workshop.

As usual, I selected tools that were pedagogically neutral. For example, I used Padlet to present questions and resources, and then to collect responses for both individual reflective work and for think-pair-share.

However, a tool like AnswerGarden collects inputs and creates word clouds from them. It was better for rising above and whole-class discussions.

Note 1: I did not emphasize strongly enough to submit each idea individually. Some responses had two or more ideas despite the character limit. But it is quite obvious what the class thought about how student today learn: With Google, YouTube, online videos.

Note 2: AnswerGarden has 20-character responses that you can change to 40 characters. The tool is optimized for the desktop and not yet mobile friendly. I hope that its creators deliver on the promise it made (see tweets below).

I focused on putting my participants in their students’ shoes. For example, when watching a YouTube video together, I played the first eight-minute video at faster and faster speeds. This is what many students do because it saves time. As the video was old, speeding it up also mimicked the shorter, faster paced videos of today.

But I held back on modelling everything. For example, after the first video, I told my participants to watch the remaining two videos on their own and answer some questions. Their notes were to be transferred to a shared Padlet later.

Anyone who has watched videos and tried to take notes at the same time knows that this is not that straightforward. Here are two main strategies I observed. One was splitting the screen up based on function and purpose.

Only a handful did this as they needed systems, typically laptops, with high enough screen resolutions to do this.

The more common strategy was to watch the video in one tool, e.g., a device with a screen, and record notes in another, e.g., another device. Only one or two hand-wrote notes and at least two worked exclusively on their phones. Most of the participants opted to use two devices.

As with most learning opportunities, there are at least three elements that a facilitator can manipulate: Content, context, and connection.

Most instructors focus on content and its delivery. This does not necessarily take into account the readiness of the learner.

The context for the graduate students and teaching assistants is not immediate as they are unlikely to be teaching in a university in a full time position. Then the danger is that the concepts and experiences they had in the workshop seem theoretical.

However, it helps that the physical and social contexts are like the ones they would eventually teach in. A facilitator can toggle them between learner (current context) and instructor (future context) roles while reflecting in each state. The context strategy might be perspective-taking via these main questions:

  • How/When/Where do you learn best?
  • How were you taught?
  • How do students of today learn?
  • How might we teach?

The perspective-taking then helps participants connect with the concepts and principles that they process during the workshop. The thought process might be: This is what I do and how I was taught, but the learner of today is/is not like me. Therefore, this is how I might teach differently.

I ask participants of my seminars and workshops to complete quick exit tickets before they leave in order to find out what they are taking away from the sessions.

currywurst by thevince, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  thevince 

If I do not ask participants what they learnt, they might not ask themselves that question and therefore walk away empty from the session.

I like providing open platforms and asking simple open-ended questions instead of using overly protected spaces and rating scales.

The open platforms make learning visible and shared. This allows each person to see what others have learnt and puts some positive pressure on them to illustrate their own takeaways clearly and concisely.

Open-ended questions like “What did you learn?” instead of “What did you learn about A? How about B? Now how about C?” remove constraints from replies. If patterns start to emerge from open responses, I know that I have hit some nails on the head.

For example, here were four representative exit tickets from the seminar I conducted yesterday on flipped learning. (Click on each screencapture in the tweet to see it in entirety.)

I include only four partly because that the maximum number of images I can attach to a tweet and partly because that is all I need.

My main objective was to help teachers realize there was a difference between a flipped classroom and flipped learning. Most of the audience members who completed their exit tickets did. A bonus finding was the openness of a few to want to try something new.

How about outliers or the unexpected? I share some thoughts on those tomorrow.

Whenever I run workshops for teachers, I stick to my principle of trying something different each time.

No two “repeated” workshops are ever the same given the different needs of each set of participants. But it is easy to fall into an autopilot rut, so I try to mix things up.

I tried three main strategies at a recent workshop that did not go well.

The first was accepting the wrong type of attendees. A small group of ten wanted my services, but a larger group of about twenty decided to join in. Administratively this appealed to the number crunchers because it cost less per head on paper.

As much as I knew this was a terrible approach because I get attendees with neither buy-in nor ownership, this is a very common approach among my clients. It is the numbers game that lets administration dictate pedagogy, strategy, or anything else that should actually drive an experience.

I have little choice but to accept such a practice from time to time. But my experience tells me that it is already difficult to change the converted, so it is next to impossible to expect change among the unwilling.

My second mistake was switching a facilitation strategy midway. I typically require participants to take quick reflective pit stops. In the interest of time, I left a critical middle pit stop out.

Theoretically I was practising reflexive teaching based on a feel of how things were going. I thought participants needed more discussion and convincing than reflection. I was wrong because that detracted from the initial participant-centred personal learning to a teacher-controlled event.

My third mistake was not discussing answers to a quiz as a follow up to online work prior to the workshop. The quiz could illustrate a few things depending on context: linking the online with the offline, how learners collaborate (cheat), or showing an example of assessment as learning. The quiz answers were not important in themselves; the rising above was.

I left this out to go with the flow of discussion. However, the flow went to relatively trivial areas and I should have stuck to the plan. In my head I was hoping that a few participants would steer us back. I even seeded the main topics, when prior to discussion, I asked individuals to raise specific issues that would have kept the right flow, but they did not and I struggled to bring us back.

Like any educator worth their salt, my reflection has helped me shape the next session and strengthened my resolve to do better. I share my mistakes openly to model how mistakes are opportunities, not obstacles.

When selecting conferences to attend, I prefer to visit a city and/or country I have not been to before. If I can, I bracket the session I am involved in with a bit of time on each side to explore the city.

I prefer to be my own tour guide when I travel. I book my own flights, arrange my own transport, and customize my own itinerary.

Map and Compass by Inky Bob, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Inky Bob 

When I help schools with educational technology or managing ICT-mediated change, I try to do the same as a tour guide or shepherd.

The courses, workshops, or experiences I provide are like custom tours. I ask school leaders and teachers where they want to go and what they want to see. I suggest an itinerary and we negotiate.

Alternatively, I operate as a shepherd who is called in to monitor progress at strategic intervals. I help to plan, observe, critique, or evaluate. Then I nudge my flock to places they need to go.

I will share a strategy on how I design learning experiences and professional development opportunities for teachers and educators.

I appeal to the heart, head, and hands.

Teachers need to know why there is a need for a particular change at the beginning and it must be reinforced at the end. In between, there must be opportunity for sense-making and negotiating, and there are few substitutes for these outside of working with others and reflecting deeply.

Thoughts and feelings are fleeting so they must be recorded by hands-on activities. Such activities are also the most obvious to participants when it comes to recall and providing feedback. They serve as anchors to which a-ha or connect-the-dots moments are tethered.


I am planning on offering free workshops for Singapore educators on Fridays in February 2015. If all goes to according to plan, the workshops will be sponsored by and hosted at Google, Singapore.

Depending on demand and funding, there might be anywhere between one to three sessions. I am planning for 15-20 educators to attend each session. The sessions are likely to be similar, but might be tweaked for improvements. Each session will last about three hours.

The workshops will focus on the designing of flipped learning with videos. The two main learning gains are pedagogical and technical in nature.

That is all I can share for now. I need to get information from potential participants. Please complete this 12-question survey by 11.59pm, Sunday, 21 Dec 2014.

The first seven questions are about the workshop, the next two questions are about a conference and an unconference in Singapore (both with foci on flipping), and the last three collect demographic information.

In question 3, I ask if participants would like a “fixed menu” or a “buffet” of learning options. Both will have flipped components, but the fixed menu will have fewer options which will be determined by other questions in the survey. The buffet will provide a larger variety of resources, but this will require much more independent work.

Click to see all the nominees!

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