I've had a few people ask me about this so I thought I'd share something I've been doing recently.
Having done my share of workshops, I recognize it's challenging to spend a half day or full day with strangers and provide a meaningful learning experience. Most workshops I've attended usually consist of someone giving some type of initial presentation followed by a series of table talks from handouts; read this and respond, think, pair share, and so on. Often embedded in these events are things I call "cutesy activities". Something like, find someone you don't know and interview them about blah, blah, blah. I might not be articulating this well but all I know is that half the people in the room hate it. I'm usually the one that hates it. I'm not invested in the conversation and it always seems contrived.
Not that I've figured it all out but I've been extremely cognizant of not doing those things at my workshops. If I think I'm close to broaching the "cutesy" zone, I'll make participants fully aware of my concerns and invite them to pass if it seems like that to them.
I have a pretty simple formula I try to use in my workshops.
1. Give participants early success. Particularly if it involves technology, which obviously mine are, insure people can leave with a new skill or idea. Even if it's small.
2. Allow for deep conversation and storytelling. I'm not interested in spending 2 or more hours if all we do is talk tools. There has to be an opportunity for people to tell their own stories and push themselves with new ideas and insights from me and from each other
3. Wrap it all in fun. Set a tone early that laughing and joyful learner is going to be embedded in everything.
So with that premise, here's a wonderful learning activity that uses all those pieces. I call it the Karaoke Presentation.
One question I've used that is useful for any educator is to delve deep into the question, "What is Learning?". Based on my recent project with my students, I ask participants to take a recent concept or skill they are learning and to examine various facets of the experience. I'll offer them these questions as prompts:
How do you learn? Use specific examples
- What’s the most difficult thing you learned?
- Are you modeling or sharing your learning in any way?
- Do your students see you learn?
- How is learning a skill different than abstract learning or personal growth
- Was it a lot of reading, was it largely practicing?
- Where am I finding resources?
- What specific things do I find easy, what is more difficult?
- What do I think I might be able to accomplish before my next reflection?
- What or who provides me with the best instruction?
- Does it remind you of a past learning experience?
- Where and when is the best time for me to learn? Describe and consider environment.
- What do I admire about those who have mastered this skill? Who are these people?
- Is there a particular learning style I use more than another?
Depending on the room configuration and participants, this conversation can happen in various ways. The key is that everyone is asked to think deeply about what it means to learn. As educators it's kind of essential we have a better handle on this question. I know that Will Richardson has been asking and collecting responses of folks in his workshops. My efforts here is to have everyone take the conversation to a place they don't often go.
At some point, usually before hand we discuss the power of using visuals to tell stories. After the conversation about learning, I'll have participants find an image using compfight that illustrates a attitude or feeling around their personal learning. We explore the dynamics of searching for images as opposed to a google search. For many, finding images that are not literal is a new experience. Add to that a little introduction to Creative Commons and this itself is a great learning opportunity.
I've had many participants of late with ipads so I've used software like Fotolr or PhotoPad to bring in images and add text. If they're using their laptop we use Picnik or any software they prefer as long as they can add text. This is also a great opportunity to discuss design.
After they create their images i have the email their work to me. Inside these apps or with Picnik, it's a straightforward process. The simplicity and the ability to create something meaningful and useful accomplishes my first goal of easy success. I open their images on my ipad and simply choose "Save Images". They are automatically placed in my photostream. I have my slideshow settings to last for 20 seconds. As the emails are coming in I tell participants that they we will be building a joint presentation and the each person will be responsible for a 20 second presentation on "What is Learning?" I've done this with up to 50 people. As long as you have reasonable wireless, this works extremely well.
Once you have all or most of the submissions, you simply start the slideshow. It's interesting how some people prepare by writing out a word for word script, some write out a few key points, others just do it off the cuff. Either way, it's a great experience. Laughing at the silence, rushing through your 20 seconds or listening in awe of someone's lucid thoughts, it's a powerful way to synthesize the group's thinking as well as give them a tangible experience using visuals and their technology to tell stories. And up until this point, I've watched carefully to insure this doesn't turn into cutesy. If I cross that line, I'll scrap it.
This is a clip from some administrators I worked with in Edmonton.
If the video doesn't play in your browser, try this.