Developing competencies to facilitate (on-line) teamwork

Vision

To develop in students the capacity to help their peers with their thinking about complex problems and decisions, and to generate new ideas, both in face-to-face and on-line meetings.

Background motivation statement

In professional live, meetings are a pivotal means for deliberation, planning, decision-making, capacity development, and community building. However, meetings are often badly prepared and conducted, even in professional contexts. This is even more the case for on-line meetings (e.g, via Skype or other video-conferencing tools), which require special skills and careful preparation. And while students in K-16 spend increasingly time in groups for learning purposes, rarely is that kind of work used to also foster teamwork skills systematically. This activity allows students to make experiences with the kind of activities that are required for facilitating a team’s work, thereby developing a set of competencies that are useful for the life in school, and beyond.

Narrative

I charge my students with the task of preparing (face-to-face and/or on-line) group meetings for 5-7 of their peers, to conduct meetings, and to document and communicate meeting outcomes. Sometimes I determine the meeting topic, sometimes I leave it to the students to decide what they want to achieve during a group meeting. In general, a meeting will be focusing on idea generation and problem solving, not on learning as such. The students who are charged with preparing and conducting the meeting do not have a ‘teaching’ role; instead, they act as facilitators: they help their peers to do their best thinking in the team in a limited amount of time.

 

A facilitator prepares the meeting agenda and discusses it with me before conducting the meeting. I provide feedback and guidance on how to improve the meeting agenda. Then, the facilitator ‘runs’ the meeting, with 3-7 peers. If the meeting is face-to-face, I provide a device for audio-recording, and sometimes video-recording of the meeting. If the meeting is conducted on-line, I prepare the conferencing technology (usually Skype), and a documentation tool (usually one of the Google Apps: Document/Spreadsheet/Presentation) that everybody in the group can access. If Skype or such is used, I request that the session is recorded from one of the screens with tools such as Camtasia or Audacity. Even if the meeting is conducted face-to-face in the classroom, I make the documentation tool (usually Google Apps) available in class so that the team members and the facilitator can record process and outcomes of the meeting. After the meeting (usually 40-60 minutes length) is conducted, I request form the facilitator to document meeting outcomes and to reflect on the process, using the audio- and video recordings. Time allowing, the facilitator prepares and communicates the outcomes in a short formal presentation for the whole class, using Google Presentation or equivalent. When the situation allows it, I let my students practice a meeting in a virtual immersive environment (SecondLife, OpenSim), in particular for creative group tasks. My students enjoy the opportunity to experiment with various identities via their avatars.

 

Throughout the activity my role is on advising the facilitators rather than on managing the various groups. Only in case of conflicts or sustained non-activity do I intervene directly in a group. I found that the activity works particularly well when during a certain period of time the facilitator role can rotate so that every student in the class takes on that role at least once. If students have a second opportunity to practice facilitation activities, they show usually strong improvements compared to the first time. Furthermore, I found students learn a lot from comparing an on-line with a face-to-face experience.

Trends

Knowledge is constructed collaboratively

Technology-mediated communication is increasing

 

Key Concepts21st Century skills, authentic learning, collaboration skills, communication skills, planning skills, team leadership Environment

  • In the classroom: Initial practice in a ‘save’ and guided environment
  • Outside of the classroom: apply facilitation skills in various settings where deliberating is important.
People & Roles

  • Facilitators: Students charged with the task to prepare, conduct, and document team meetings;
  • Students: In the role of team members, addressing a problem, an issue.
  • Teachers: Act as advisors to facilitators, and as stakeholders who want teams to produce valuable outcomes.

 

Interactions

  • Group-based activities
  • Can be cross-curriculum
  • Complex problem solving, decision making, creativity (idea generation)
  • Leadership development
Activities

  • Face-to-face, classroom based
  • Online, classroom based
  • Online, outside of classroom (e.g., from home)
  • Planning activities
  • Communication, including communication in difficult situations; conflict resolution.
  • Visualization, documentation, and presentation activities

 

Resources

  • Audio/Video recorders
  • Screen-recorders (video&sound, such as Camtasia, or sound only, such as Audacity)
  • Shared notation/graphing tools such as Google Apps (Docs, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Draw)
  • Audio/video-conferencing such as Skype; optionally fully immersive environments, such as SecondLife

 


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