Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Organizing workshops for participants who differ in needs, excitement, ...

The TLT Group is well-known for its faculty and staff workshops. Here's one technique we've used to organize workshops for faculty who differ in many ways: in skills, in degree of excitement, and in reasons for attending.

Several years ago, the Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences decided to plan a laptop requirement for its entering students. In the 18 months leading up to the entry of the first laptop cohort, faculty would redesign their courses in order to take advantage of the new technology. The University subscribed to The TLT Group to get some help for those 50 or so faculty. We planned a day-long workshop for Butler staff. As part of that workshop, we wanted faculty to learn from the findings and experience of an expert at another university.

Usually, a workshop has to pick one of two strategies to help participants learn from an expert. The expensive option is to bring the expert to campus to be a featured speaker in the workshop. The inexpensive alternative is to have participants read an article written by the expert.

We used a technique that combines virtues of those two approaches, while also doing better than either at meeting the needs of a diverse group of faculty.

  1. Before arriving at the workshop, participating faculty read an article by the expert.
  2. At the workshop, we spent about 10 minutes planning questions to ask the expert. As they read this long and provocativ research report, our faculty had noticed different things, liked different things, and objected to different things. So there were lots of questions and comments. (At the time we had picked the article, we had asked the author if he would be willing to take our call at the time of the workshop so that our faculty could ask him questions. He was delighted to do so.)
  3. Then we called him and began with the questions we'd planned, as faculty handed a microphone from one questioner to the next. We could hear our expert over a speaker. He didn't give a talk; he just responded to our questions and comments about his article. We actually spent far more time quizzing the expert then if he had given a talk.

Cost: just the price of the phone call.

Time-saving: People were able to read the article (which was quite long- 15 or 20 pages) in far less time than a speech would have taken. Even with the time for discussion, it was a great time-saver. : each person could focus just on those points that had excited or provoked them the most.