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!


Megan Noel said...

C studio was a huge fan of butcher paper. it covered walls and tables and got used. some tables had drawings on them leftover from before the use of paper. brown kraft paper is even easier to locate (since it can be found w/ shipping supplies at the drug store.) that + a sharpie and you are good to go.

Beth Kanter said...

Hi Marti,

Thanks so much for linking to my post and sharing your thoughts about the room layout for training and teaching. Also, for the reminder about thinking of the number of participants.

I've used roundtables with 30 to 500 participants. Smaller numbers a circle with chairs or large roundtable.

I love using a lot of butcher paper on the walls, sticky notes, and other materials -- because it helps learners talk to one another and for tactical learners. Here's some photos from a recent training and you'll see lots of on the walls

Marti said...

Meg, the brown paper idea sounds great! I am teaching a Perspectives class in Redmond (OR) in a few weeks and will give that a try. Brown paper, sharpies, and masking tape will probably do just as well as Post-it-brand sticky sheets and fancy markers :-)

Marti said...

Beth, glad you caught my post. Sometimes I end up with a group of a dozen or less. They seem to really want tables when it's a long-ish class and they are carrying books/notebooks, coffee/water. I'd rather not have tables get in the way but can sometimes minimize the "problem" but moving 2-3 tables together and then we sit around them. Or they sit and I stand, or some of each. For a long time my rule was no PowerPoint for groups under 10, but I feel like I'm cheating them out of the visual aspect so I'm not so sure now, what to do. I'll take a look at your flikr folder. Thanks!

Ed @ Lexicolatry said...

Rather oddly, I've never read any books on feng shui, I'm not sure I know how to pronounce it properly, and no one has ever explained even the basic concepts of it, but whenever I rearrange a piece of furniture in my house, I wonder what position would be best for feng shui. Hmm.