Scaffolding versus externally imposed internalised rules

I am beginning the see the idea of “scaffolding” as providing an alternative to the idea of externally imposed rules that are internalised by participants in a workshop or learning experience. Read more of this post

disConferencing, a five-and-a-third-hour model: Session 1

Hour ? to 1.00

Session 1, Getting Here & Exposing Diverse Points of Potential Interaction

This activity emphasizes Respect—for yourself and others—from the outset, making it more comfortable for you to Risk talking about your personal journey.  You may gain insights—Revelations—from what you hear yourself include in your stories.

A circle gets going as soon as it has filled:

  • Welcome from circle coordinator (=an organizer or a volunteer arranged by the organizer)
  • Initial 7-minute activity (guided freewriting on hopes for the dis/Conference)
  • 30-second introductions (= name or handle & hopes for the workshop)
  • Autobiographical Introductions: “How I came to be someone who would end up at a dis/Conference on this topic” –equal time for everyone (=5 minutes or less if the group starts late).
    • Gives participants an opportunity to introduce themselves in narrative depth, their current and emerging work, and learn more about each other
    • Coordinator goes first to model
    • Everyone encouraged to take notes on points of intersection, interest, curiosity. After the first four introductions stop to draw connections and discuss with a neighbor what is emerging.
  • Last 5 minutes: Decide as a group and print on large PostIts one common thread and one tension among the participants.  Print these on large PostIts (Blue for commonality and Red for tension).  Coordinator collects these and posts them on the board for Session 1.

(Page 1 of the handout has the instructions above plus instructions, http://bit.ly/Freewrite, & space for guided freewriting.)

(continued in next post)

Effective collaborators: Skills and dispositions (Re-engagement)

Re-engagement— Respect, risk, and revelation combine so that participants’ gears are re-engaged (to use a machine metaphor), allowing us to mobilize and sustain quite a high level of energy during the collaboration. But re-engagement goes beyond an individual’s enhanced enthusiasm. It is a collective or emergent result of the activities that bring people who have generative differences into meaningful interactions that can catalyze transformations. In other words, meaningful social engagement and opportunities for personal introspection contribute to participants discovering new possibilities for work with others on ideas they brought to the collaboration.
We:

  • inquire further on the issues that arise in our own projects.
  • select and focus on a subset of the specific plans or knowledge generated during the collaboration in our subsequent work.
  • engage actively with others.
  • inquire further into how we can support the work of others.
  • are reminded of our aspirations to work in supportive communities.
  • make the experiences of the collaboration a basis for subsequent efforts to cultivate collaborators.
  • arrange to assist or apprentice with the facilitator in a future collaboration.

(Of course, what we state in the end-of-collaboration evaluations cannot show that we will follow through on intentions to stay connected or to make shifts in our own projects and work relations. A need or desire for periodic re-charging of our ideas and intentions is evident when past participants return to subsequent collaborations.)
[See Introduction to this series of posts.]

Effective collaborators: Skills and dispositions (Revelation)

Revelation—A space is created by respect and risk in which participants bring thoughts and feelings to the surface so as to articulate, clarify and complicate our ideas, relationships, and aspirations—in short, our identities. (Recall the principle that we know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge.) Our own self-understandings are extended when we are respectful partners with others in the risky business of self-exploration. In this spirit, we:

  • do not fill up quiet spaces that occur.
  • take time to reflect on and digest our experiences.
  • gain insight into our present place and direction by hearing what we happen to mention and omit in telling our own stories.
  • bring to the surface knowledge that we were not able, at first, to acknowledge.
  • “re-mark” the various ways we understand ourselves, others, and the world, together with the understandings and expectations—some welcome, some not—that are pressed back upon us.
  • integrate experience from the collaboration with our own concerns.
  • make our entire thought process visible, including tacit assumptions.
  • invite others to add new dimensions to what we are thinking.
  • strive to find ways to make un(der)expressed voices articulate.
  • examine decisions we had made in advance about what the other people are like, what they are and are not capable of.
  • take notice of who exposes their ideas and questions in one-on-one interaction with us.
  • limit advocacy—making a statement—in favor of inquiry—seeking clarifications and deeper understanding; we do not impose our opinion or use questions to expose weakness.
  • generate new possibilities for knowing and being through activities that bring participants into revelatory relationships, that is, actively implicated us in one another’s revelations.
  • reflect on each phase—together or individually—leading to a tangible product to take into next phase.

[See Introduction to this series of posts.]

Effective collaborators: Skills and dispositions (Respect)

Respect—Effective participants in a collaboration (or workshop, groups process, etc.) draw on the skill or disposition to:

  • listen attentively to others as commonalities and differences are brought to light
  • take an interest in points of view and work and life experiences that are distant from our own.
  • suspend judgment and listen empathetically.
  • have repeated exchanges that are meaningful and generative with participants who differ from us (which is enhanced by small size and mixed composition of the collaboration).
  • notice the experience of being listened to.
  • hear ourselves better as a result of being heard.
  • bring to the surface and into play knowledge we already have about the topic of any meeting or session.
  • recognize that there is insight in every response—there are no wrong answers.
  • recognize that each participant, regardless of background or previous experience has something valuable to contribute to the process and outcomes—we need everyone’s insight for the wisest result.
  • develop relationships that will enable us to keep getting help and support when the collaboration is over.
  • find opportunities to affirm what is working well.

In all these ways, Respect is not simply stated as a ground rule, but is enacted.

[See Introduction to this series of posts.]

Four R's of developing as a collaborator

Group processes not only need skillful and effective facilitators; they also need participants or collaborators who are skilled and effective in contributing to the desired outcomes. To develop skills and dispositions of collaboration requires researchers (and researchers-in-training) to make opportunities for practicing what they have been introduced to and to persist even when they encounter resistance. What moves them to pursue such development?

I have had an opportunity to address this issue since 2004 through an annual series of experimental, interaction-intensive, interdisciplinary workshops “to foster collaboration among those who teach, study, and engage with the public about scientific developments and social change.” The workshops are documented in detail on their websites, but a thumbnail sketch would be: They are small, with international, interdisciplinary participants of mixed “rank” (i.e., from students, to professors). There is no delivery of papers; instead participants lead each other in activities, designed before or developed during the workshops, that can be adapted to college classrooms and other contexts and participate in group processes that are regular features of the workshops. The group processes are also offered as models or tools to be adapted or adopted in other contexts. The themes vary from year to year, but each workshop lasts four days and moves through four broad, overlapping phases—exposing diverse points of potential interaction; focusing on detailed case study; activities to engage participants in each other’s projects; and taking stock. The informal and guided opportunities to reflect on hopes and experiences during the workshop produce feedback that shapes the days ahead as well as changes to the design of subsequent workshops.

The ongoing evolution of the workshops has been stimulated not only by written and spoken evaluations, but also by an extended debriefing immediately following each workshop and advisory group discussions, such as one in 2008 that addressed the question of what moves people develop themselves as collaborators. Our conjecture was that this development happens when participants see an experience or training as transformative. After reviewing the evaluations we identified four “R’s”—respect, risk, revelation, and re-engagement—as conditions that make interactions among participants transformative (see below and Taylor et al. 2010 for elaboration and supporting quotations from the evaluations). A larger set of R’s for personal and professional development will be presented in a later post (indeed, the larger set pre-dated and had some influence on the formulation of these 4R’s).
——
Four R’s that make interactions among researchers transformative

1. Respect. The small number and mixed composition of the workshop participants means that participants have repeated exchanges with those who differ from them. Many group processes promote listening to others and provide the experience of being listened to. Participation in the activities emphasizes that each participant, regardless of background or previous experience has something valuable to contribute to the process and outcomes. In these and other ways, respect is not simply stated as a ground rule, but is enacted.
2. Risk. Respect creates a space with enough safety for participants to take risks of various kinds, such as, speaking personally during the autobiographical introductions, taking an interest in points of view distant in terms of discipline and experience, participating—sometimes quite playfully—during unfamiliar processes, and staying with the process as the workshop unfolds or “self-organizes” without an explicit agreement on where it is headed and without certainty about how to achieve desired outcomes.
3. Revelation. A space is created by respect and risk in which participants bring thoughts and feelings to the surface that articulate, clarify and complicate their ideas, relationships, and aspirations—in short, their identities. In the words of one participant: “The various activities do not simply build connections with others, but they necessitate the discovery of the identity of others through their own self-articulations. But since those articulations follow their own path, one sees them not as simple reports of some static truth but as new explorations of self, in each case. Then one discovers this has happened to oneself as much as to others-one discovers oneself anew in the surprising revelations that emerge in the process of self-revelation.”
4. Re-engagement. Respect, risk, and revelation combine so that participants’ “gears” engage allowing them to sustain quite a high level of energy during throughout the workshop. The participants engage actively with others, and, equally importantly, are reminded of their aspirations to work in supportive communities. Participants say they discover new possibilities for work with others on ideas they brought to the workshop.

Adapted from Taylor, P., S. Fifield and C. Young (2010) “Cultivating Collaborators: Concepts and Questions Emerging Interactively From An Evolving, Interdisciplinary Workshop,” Science as Culture, forthcoming.

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