Monday, March 25, 2013

Feng Shui and Instructional Design

"The way the room is set up effects how people learn," says Beth Kanter, who makes much of her living doing training for nonprofits. "I strongly believe that a workshop, panel, master class, or even a keynote that is interactive is more engaging, people pay attention, they make connections to what they already know and are far more likely to apply it. Certain room set ups encourage interaction between the participants and the workshop leader, others do not."

When I teach, I usually don't have much say in how my room is set up, and sometimes don't know until I arrive. If it's a workshop conference, it's usually theater style or sometimes classroom. When it's a Perspectives class, they nearly always go with "banquet."

If asked what I prefer, my request usually depends on the size of the group. Theater-style doesn't lend itself to interaction, and I don't like banquet-style for a small group - it pushes people away from me and each other, and they end up by sitting in twos and threes at tables too large for them. When we fewer than 20 people I ask for something more like "boardroom" or "U-shape."

A bad experience in January reminded me how difficult it can be to provide anything like instruction when you're giving a presentation or teaching a workshop - one a bazillion - at a large conference. And part of that has to do with these issues of room setup and group size. What will the room be like? How many people will come, and who? You don't know until it's too late; you have to think on your feet and adjust.

Beth doesn't mention group size, just describes her ideal room set up for effective instruction as "round tables in a room with space to move around, projection, the ability to move the group outside for some of the sessions, and wall space to showcase the products of learning." And if she doesn't get it, she "hacks" the space to accomplish what she intends.

This year I made strides in moving away from the lecture format (often expected in environments where I teach) and toward greater participant engagement. I think I still have a way to go. I still do more of the talking than anyone else.

And the wall space requirement? Haven't even begun to go that direction. In reading Beth's post, I realized I'm still balking at including exercises that require learners to write things out in magic marker and put them up on the wall. It's partly due to fears of letting go of control and running out of time. But it's also because those giant sticky note pads that you can just tear off and stick on the wall seem too expensive, and I don't have a good way to carry them in my luggage.

Well, looks like Amazon will sell you a two-pack for US$40. That isn't so bad. Or how about this simple solution:

1. Ordinary butcher paper or easel pad paper (which I can just ask my hosts to provide, or pack in a cardboard tube), and
2. Masking tape. Or duct tape to be a little more playful.

Maybe next time!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Motivating volunteers with meaningful work.

These days Hubs' fire district is talking about what to do about the low turn-out rate. Many of the volunteers are not making the minimum standards in terms of showing up for calls. Too often, the dispatcher makes a "second tap out," paging everyone again when the trucks don't leave the station within five minutes of the first call. Previous leadership was a bit more hard-nosed about that kind of thing, willing to put pressure on and, if necessary, dismiss those who did not measure up -- and somehow also able to inspire a level of loyalty and comradeship that have since declined. But it's hard to dismiss people when you don't have enough to start with.

I shouldn't go into more than that ... but it got Hubs and I talking about how to motivate volunteers. And doing research on it, too. More than 70 percent of all firefighters serve as volunteers. When your workforce is made up of volunteers, it does change dynamics a bit. Your hands are somewhat tied. Both in terms of sticks and of carrots. One of the sources we found mentioned gimmicks like free pizza and prizes offered at training sessions and business meetings, as well as organizing social events, making the firehouse a pleasant place to hang out, and giving public recognition to members for various accomplishments.

Another source recommended tapping more into the intrinsic motivations that bring in volunteers in the first place. Why do people become volunteer firefighters anyway? Most of them want to make a difference for their community. The calls that make it "all worth it" to them are the ones that involve putting out fires and rescuing or resuscitating people. They want to be heroes, yes. But they really just want to make a difference; what they want is to do the job. So creating meaningful training sessions, raising the bar, and equipping them to be increasingly competent in doing that job, that's what keeps volunteers motivated. Being clear and consistent about expectations also helps. Some seek opportunities for promotion. 

But if what we need is people that are "all in," how to you get there from begging people to join up and hoping a few will say yes? Even the self-described expert in maximizing volunteer power, who said "recruiting is like dating: don't ask for marriage on a first date" was clear that volunteers, even if they haven't made any long-term commitment, are motivated by projects and experiences that they recognize as meaningful. They have to see that their being there, matters.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spiritual Formation and Extroverts

I while back I wrote a post about a conversation with my friend Lisa. Through our local seminary she was enrolled in a study program in the area of Spiritual Formation. And she was putting the finishing touches on a dissertation exploring spiritual formation practices designed for extroverts.

American culture as a whole and American churches in particular tend to cater to and reward extroversion and ignore or punish introversion. Except, that is, in the key areas of personal growth and spiritual formation. This is where introverts shine. They write books and lead sessions on how, if you want to become a mature Christian, you have to go off by yourself alone with a journal and be silent and listen to God.

Sounds like a good idea, but is that the way it has to be? Are there ways to tweak the traditional spiritual disciplines in a way that they are not such a struggle, and actually work, for those who are extroverts?

For more about Lisa's research, what motivated it, and what she discovered, read her summary Spiritual Formation and Extroverts.

By the way, I am an extrovert, but the way I prefer to "talk" is on paper (or, more accurately, computer screen) and in public. I don't want a private journal, I want to communicate. In a soul-searching season around the time I turned 30 I wrote a 40-page autobiography. Very personal stuff, but fairly well organized and processed and in search of a plot. I didn't lock it up with instructions that it was to be burned after my death, as I have a hunch a true introvert might do. Instead I chose some highly trustworthy friends and asked them to read it and tell me what they thought it meant.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Learning by expressing ignorance, teaching by example

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day! I first learned about this celebration as a young woman visiting Turkmenistan, now almost 20 years ago. How time flies. As part of our research into social structures and events, we asked university students about holidays and celebrations. "You mentioned New Year's, and Korban Bairam (the Muslim festival of sacrifice)... are there others?" They were surprised we did not know about International Women's Day. "It is international day!" one girl exclaimed. (In her country it's a popular national holiday, complete with a day off of work or school.)

Ah, Americans. I felt the same sense of being ignorant and out of touch spending a summer in Mexico City a few years earlier. Everyone was talking about the NAFTA agreement then being put together and expected to have a dramatic affect on the economies of both our countries. NAF-what?

I am not sure how much this strategy works well because I'm a woman, and how much it's just a matter of personal preference ... but whether I'm in Asia, Latin America, or closer to home, expressing my ignorance of and interest in what others have to say is an effective strategy for building relational bridges.

I learn so much that way, too. Knowledge is power. Sometimes it is best to downplay one's own and seek out another's. Is that part of "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care"? At any rate, life is just more fun and I enjoy it more when I draw other people out and find out where they're coming from.

Women in Missions

The more I learn, though, the more I want to pass it on to others. Recently I taught missions history for a couple of Perspectives classes. Sometimes I'm the only woman speaker they will have. One of the lessons really lends itself well to a discussion of women's lives and contributions to the world mission. I threw out some questions for the students to wrestle with and told a number of the women in missions stories I started to collect when writing Through Her Eyes.  If you are interested in that topic - or speak on it yourself - look through the collection of blog posts to see if there's something you can use.

All this seemed to really hit the spot for the students in a class in Anchorage, Alaska:
"This lesson was very informative. I like history and had never thought to look at the women in missions. I look forward to reading your book."

"Love the women's perspective on their involvement in missions. I had only ever heard 'about the guys' and was unaware of the great sacrifice and powerful role women played in missions."
I'll admit it, I like it when people's response is to like me better. Like the student who wrote,
"You are fun. You are spunky. You laugh a lot and say things quietly to the side, as an afterthought, almost to yourself. I caught a lot of those things. I laughed a lot when I don't think others understood your jokes. Thank you so much for giving your time. Jesus is shining through you and some of him fell on top of me tonight. You rock."
But what's best of all is when people respond to the material by taking to heart, for themselves:
"I was at a point in this course where I was feeling very inadequate. Marti changed that - she is an engaging presenter with a sincere desire to help the learner see the picture that life as a missionary might present. She did not sugarcoat it, and she did not minimize the fact that God has a plan for each one of us if we are willing to pray and step out in faith. Thank you for taking the time to help us."

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Blogger Elsewhere

So, I whole month went by without me blogging - or sending a personal newsletter out either.

That's not to say I didn't write. I fed Facebook and Twitter, wrote resource reviews, put out four editions of Missions Catalyst, published newsletters for AskAMissionary and Propel, prepared materials for teaching at Perspectives and Encountering the World of Islam classes, and answered emails (some of them quite overdue).

I guess I just didn't have any words left for Telling Secrets.

Am hoping this month will be different. Certainly need to touch base with the ol' support team. And blogging is good for my mental health - right up there with my Don't Fight with Your Husband pills. Have I mentioned those? But grad school has started up again as well, so blogging may not happen much. Stay tuned. I'll be back.