Workshopping Workshops

The efficacy of asking people to attend workshops so often is debatable. In my own opinion, it is actually counterproductive to what we want to do. With so much information being channeled to people on so many different digital platforms, most of it, I think, cannot be take up and absorbed. It mostly becomes exercises in bureaucratic to-do lists. Just a way for us to make ourselves feel better – we think we are doing something – and thereby be more comfortable with what we are facing in Fall.

Nonetheless I have been parts of several workshops this summer that have been helpful and effective. They did add value to the people who attended and subsequent correspondence with the attendees have shown that they have developed considerably in their digital and culturally sensitive pedagogical skill set.I think the reason this has happened is because the efficacious workshop does three things:

  1. Limits itself to about 3-4 specific things to cover: Good workshops know that the attendees are professionals who are not there for instruction on theories and abstract ideas. They either have already thought about such things or their interests lie elsewere. Rather they want specific tools and activities that they can implment in given sessions and these should be limited to a few things. Workshop designers believe in the chunking-principle of curriculum design and cognitive load theories, and deliver their workshops around that principle. The takeaways should be short enough that people could list the points verbatim a few days after the workshop. Sort of like “person, woman, man, camera, tv.”
  2. Provides models of activities recommended: Good workshops have to provide the exact thing they are proposing faculty do in their classes. This is communicated to them as being contextualized in certain situations. But it is imperative that attendees see what exactly is being espoused and what it looks like on the ground. Such models also provide excellent ways for them to draw the general strategies they want to take for their situations, and then through Q&A learn how they might adapt those strategies for their specific situations.
  3. Good workshops are short and stick to an agenda: This was something I had learned from the best workshops I attended. I saw that the organizers kept to their agenda and controlled the types of discussions and questions faculty might have. Like any meeting or conference, there is the type that will go off on their own and talk at length about the concerns and views they hold about the topic. It is important to develop the skill of not letting the workshop be hijacked by these speakers, and do so efficiently and courteously. No one wants to feel slighted and it is simply more effective to have all attendees feel listened to. At the same time, it is key to maintain the focus on the topics the workshops came to discuss.
  4. Good workshops provide a list of resources and follow-up: There is so much people are absorbing in the given workshops that it does not register. So one good idea I learned was to follow up with an email with a general recording of the session and list of resources, and where they can be found. This also has the added benefit of creating channels of communication between attendees and the presenters. That channel, if properly used, can lead to real change in the ways instructors might implement their courses.

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