I attended a one-day session at the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning, University of Warwick, to find out about using ‘open-space learning‘ techniques in workshops. Nick Monk and Jonathan Heron, who lead the session and have authored a book on Open-space Learning, were fantastic to work with.
The idea is that if you teach in large spaces you can be a lot more creative in the variety of activities that you use to engage your students. This is linked to the theory that different students have varied learning styles – such as auditory, kinesthetic and visual are the three main types.
A circle was used throughout the session to signal that we were all there to talk with each other, not to be talked at.
There is an excellent resource for people looking for fun activities available on their website; we tried lots of them out during the day.
In the afternoon we were given a group of students to run our workshop with. I had six people to engage in a discussion about blogging for fifteen minutes. I decided to cram in a few different activities:
- 4 mins to draw ‘A Blogger’
- 4 mins discussing and sharing our results in a circle, sitting on the floor. I pinned the pictures on the board and labelled them.
- 2 mins to write down physical equivalents to ‘A Blog’ on pink post-its.
- 4 mins to discuss in groups what activities were involved in producing the blog posts of the Bloggers/Blogs we had identified (I split the group into two and one group worked on the board with the pictures, and the other worked on another board with the post-its).
- Ideally 5 mins to discuss together to discuss what activities were involved but we ran out of time.
I was trying to make the point that blogging is really a very varied practice. A blog is just the outcome of a whole range of activities, including:
- Attending Events
I got to sit in on the other workshops that were tested out. We all agreed it was a taxing, but illuminating exercise. Constructive feedback included:
- Time-keeping needs to be tightly managed. Activities need to be assigned a time so participants are clear about how long they should spend thinking
- Even though the space is ‘unstructured’, the session still needs a clear structure. Think about ‘scaffolding’ activities so that there are levels of sophistication for certain games. Don’t bore them with an outline at the beginning but signpost throughout what they are doing and why. Link activities together and display products of various activities on the wall.
- Keep it fast-moving and engaging, don’t stay on activities for too long.
- Use ‘openness and clarity’ as a guiding principle
- Don’t be scared of the space. Push activities into the corners of the room.
- Be aware that certain activities might alienate individuals for various reasons (I had someone who ‘didn’t like to draw’). Watch out for this, reassure them. If people are particularly resistant, getting them to work in pairs is one-way to open them up.
They gave positive feedback too:
- They like it when first names are used
- Good to be inclusive and enthusiastic
- They loved ‘embodied activities’, where they were asked to visualise abstract ideas through acting.
- They liked being asked to employ empathy, thinking about things from a different perspective
- Debate really got them going, so why not push this device? Set up a game show or a trial.
- Role-play can be very illuminating
They had some specific ideas for how I could develop my sessions which have got me thinking:
- Project on the walls interesting examples of blogs
- Link the types of ‘Blogger’ identified through the drawing activity to the examples projected on the walls
- Act out different ‘Blogger’ personalities (the broadcaster, digital native, IT girl/columnist)
The whole day was a pretty intense learning experience, which kind of proved their point. I was definitely engaged throughout!
The students shared some of their thoughts about lecturers using their techniques and why they liked it:
- Creative, fun and active
- The information ‘sinks in deeper’
- Encourages pro-activity
- Sharing thoughts student-to-student can be reassuring and empowering
- More space, literally. Which means you can separate ideas, thoughts and arguments out when dealing with complex topics
- Collaborative and social in contrast to loneliness of bookwork
- Dialogic, which is important