ECIS InspirED: Unexpected Learning

Digging into the problem of practice.

This year’s ECIS InspirED Conference was definitely an unexpected learning opportunity. The traditional conference structure was reimagined to create an experience that would offer participants a chance to explore a ‘problem of practice’ (POP) with the help of facilitators. The goal was for the groups to walk away with a clear path and an action plan.

The Technology, Innovation and Design team volunteered to facilitate the two POPs involving technology integration. Our two teams felt confident in our knowledge but were unsure how or if the format would work. We didn’t want plan out every second, but rather allowed time for the teams to work, think, inquire and dig into the problem as it manifested itself in their context.

Would it work? Would the teams be open to the process? How do we keep the two days (which is a really long time, by the way) focused and productive? What would the group dynamics be like and how can we help create an environment where groups were willing to share, be honest and work together? These were the challenges that our teams discussed prior to leaving for Vienna.

The two Problems of Practice were: (each POP had different groups signed up for the two day sessions)

  1. How do we integrate technology and digital literacy into our curriculum?
  2. How might we create a framework for piloting and evaluating emerging technologies without disrupting overall student learning?

Will Kirkwood, Aaron Tyo-Dickerson and I facilitated the first POP. Sarah Woods and Stephen Reiach facilitated the second POP. We were very lucky to have Will leading group. Will is trained in School Reform Initiative protocols. I had seen Will use these to facilitate our cohort at Learning2 and I knew how successful they can be which proved to be true in this new context. The teams quickly developed a rapport with us and each other and were ready to dig in and work. The protocols really help to set the tone, break the ice and also to figure out what the real problem is. They also are excellent for giving everyone a voice and not letting one person drive the conversation.

Providing feedback to the teams.

The hardest part for me as a co-facilitator was to not provide all the answers. Much like parenting, we were there to guide and not tell them what to do. Will kept saying, ‘Trust the protocols.’ And he was right. Having spent time building community, the groups were excellent at providing feedback to one another as the schools pitched their ideas and plans. As facilitators, we aided groups in the adjustments they wanted to make and helped focus them on what was realistic and do-able. Both days we were so engaged in our work together that we stayed on well past the end of the sessions. All of the groups walked away feeling like they had really accomplished something together.

The next part of the journey is for us as facilitators to keep in touch with the groups over the next 3-6 months. We’ll check in, offer support, answer questions either through a discussion forum, Hangouts and/or direct communication. We are all looking forward to finding out how the groups are doing. The protocols really helped to create a vested interest so we’re all engaged one another’s problem of practice and the goals they have set.

Overall, I think the idea behind InspirED is fantastic. Having two days with a team from your school to really hash out a solution and action plan for a problem has a tremendous impact. This is where the traditional conference model often fails– great ideas but no time and no team to implement them. InspirED aims to change the conference norm and offer something different that can truly impact teaching and learning. We were happy to be a part of it and look forward to watching it evolve and improve.

Thinking is messy work sometimes!

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