Monthly Archives: September 2013

Who’s Passion Do We Seek to Explore? Are We Sharing Our Own or Building on Theirs?

As I read the assigned chapters in our Vella text, I was struck by the idea of structureless teaching.  Not so much from the standpoint of walking into a classroom with no agenda or framework for your session, but perhaps structured – yet, without involvement.  While the examples she gave on pages 13 and 14 were relatable, it also brought me to realize that at times perhaps the structure I create is based on what I think I want or should tell them.  But do I always consider what they may be bringing to the table already?  What drove them to come in the first place?  And how does that feel to those students that have been lead by their passions or situations to attend, but yet the structure does not speak to what it is that they were hoping to come to know?

I consider a conversation I had just today as a fellow instructor set up for a class; an all day course that includes difficult conversation and multiple opportunities for students to begin to change (or decide to change) their behavior.  Learning opportunities perhaps that could be even more so enhanced simply with a little pre-knowledge of your audience.  A fact that was recognized as we discussed two of the attendees and what we knew of them as she considered the best group assignment for them, and perhaps ensuring that they did not end up together.  While this speaks perhaps more to knowing their personalities, we also considered their knowledge, experience and individual needs in hopefully ensuring the best learning environment for them and those around them…..And yet, how often do we truly get to know our participants like this?  But how beneficial can it be when we do?

And I’m not saying that we should begin to host a spaghetti dinner at our house before each class, but even a simple email to reach out when we send out our reminders?  Or when they call to sign up, ask them a few questions to really see what they are bringing to the table and what they are hoping for.  As I contemplate these thoughts, I find myself more eager to discover what these “seven design steps” are as I turn the page to chapter three.  How often am I truly living up to the structured design that Vella speaks of, or am I instead structuring it more based on myself  and what I think they need instead of simply…asking?  After all, asking does not form the course – as Vella points out- it really only informs (and perhaps enhances:) it.

“Designing means preparing a flexible structure for inviting and enhancing learning by explicitly naming who is present, what the situation is that calls for this learning, the time frame and the site for the event, the comprehensive content and learning objectives (…) and finally, the learning tasks and necessary materials.” (Vella, pg 31)


Is it Dialogue Education as Vella Would Describe It?

This blog post is written as more of a question than a statement….a question of whether or not a session I have been facilitating on team building is perhaps structured in a format that is more conducive to what Jane Vella has described in her text, On Teaching and Learning, as ‘dialogue education’ without perhaps having the label to place upon it at the time I began to try it out.

Vella points out in her preface (page xv) that we tend to “teach the way we have been taught until we stop long enough to examine how we are teaching and decide to do otherwise.” I went back to this quote in reflection later on in my reading. So often I had structured and conducted my sessions or classes following the guideline of creation or design that I had been shown when I first took the position. It was not a bad way to design, and in fact appeared to often very effective. But over time I noticed, especially in the topics that I facilitate, that discussion could be very powerful when time was allowed for it in the design. I found people would become passionate about the subject, would seemingly connect or question the concepts more as they felt validated perhaps, and would often cite on their evaluations that the dialogue was the most helpful portion of the class.

So perhaps it is with these findings in mind that I decided to try something different with my Team Building bi-weekly session. Or perhaps it was also more about not wanting to do the same old thing? Regardless I thought about the power of the discussion in other classes and my own VCU based learning centered on the learner and what they already bring to the table. And I decided, why not see what they know? Why not ask them the questions about how each concept may relate to their world, why not attempt to lead them to the link between the ideas that we’d like to present to them while helping them make that connection to what they already know?

So as I cleaned up the game I now use one day after the session, I reveled in what connections they had made that others had not brought up, what new things I had learned from them and the concepts that they nodded in agreement to as I shared with them my piece of the puzzle. “Thank you for letting us share what we know and what we think for once instead of just telling us” someone said as I closed the box. I smiled understanding that while the message at the end of the day was the same, I did still cover all of the important things in my ‘lesson plan’, perhaps the learning was so much more than it used to be simply because I asked them instead of telling. Is this what Vella means? I’d like to think so. Because if it is, I can absolutely see why she emphasizes its power and importance in our field.

Put Down the Hammer

As you read the title I would imagine the first image that comes to mind is someone with a hammer driving a nail into a board or some sort of something. And with that image I now ask you to consider, have you ever felt that way when an organization you were a part of began to institute a change?

This is not to imply that change is always forced or that your organization does not attempt to get your input, but after reading the fourth chapter of the text The Organizational Learning Cycle by Nancy Dixon, I cannot help but wonder about missed opportunities in the way changes are instituted and why they may at times end up failing.

As we’ve learned in our reading, experiences shape a significant part of our belief system. And, as a result, trying to reshape that belief system, especially when it’s on a grander scale like the whole organization, can prove difficult when you neglect to include them or consider the variety of experiences, perceptions, opinions, etc. that shape the beliefs that you are trying to revamp. Changes in our tacit knowledge cannot, or should not, be hammered in, they should be learned instead.

Take for example how Dixon relates the Kolb learning cycle to Organizational learning on the collective scale. While Kolb’s theory speaks of individual experiences and how a change in our action can change our experiences, thus resulting in learning; we sometimes forget the impact of the organization as a whole on that individual’s ability to apply the necessary action that results in change. It is becoming more and more evident that in order for change and learning to occur, the environment that the individual is in must be open and/or supportive of that change. As Dixon cites on page 66, “everyone needs all of the information everyone else has. The task is one of integrating newly generated information into the organizational context.”

And in this process known as the Organizational Learning cycle, one must remember to appreciate each member’s perspective, background and experience level (etc.) as they are brought to the table. For, “without difference learning does not occur.” (pg 66) And yet the ability to consider the importance of these varied perspectives is frequently forgotten. Further still, “because there are many potential solutions, it is less critical that the collective come to a right answer and more critical that collective meaning is made, so that those that must act upon the meaning (and often that is everyone) can support their actions with their own reasoning.” (pg 55) So if we fail to involve all at the very start, or fail to encourage a variety of perspectives, how can we truly expect learning or the investment of all in a change that we seek? H0w can we truly expect to be successful?