"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Getting Some Juice from the Data Chart

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Numbers have a whole world of information beneath them. Making decisions on numbers alone can get you into trouble.

At a recent meeting to evaluate and adapt the pilot of a six-week online course, my colleague Jeanette Romkema and I shared the numbers about level of completion and typical number of comments participants made each week. We used a simple line chart and recreated the chart on the wall using yarn and push pins. One participant suggested we add more data — the amount of time each person dedicated to the course work (both online and on the job). Each team estimated their time and we added a new line to our chart. That led to new comparisons and insights.

The group annotated the chart, filling in what was going on for each person in their work world, and in the course itself.

Some things, we already knew. We knew that Week 3, which had low levels of completion, was a shorter week. We did not know that for some people, that was the week where they invested a much larger amount of time offline, with their agency partners debating the direction they would take.

We knew that the closing face-to-face gathering created a pressure for participants to move through their assignments and be ready to share their work. We did not know that this meant they would minimize their “comment time” and that they did not feel ready to post their assignments online before the meeting.

Participants learned too. They said that some aspects of the work had not been fully explained. As they analyzed their own work in the course, they learned that they really had not done all the reading in the first weeks, and that created more confusion for them than others experienced.

As people described their own experiences, and annotated our wall chart, we ended up standing around the chart, and digging into the story that was emerging. The chart, which started as numbers on a wall, became a much fuller story and provided a rich backdrop to the decisions we took that afternoon.

What techniques do you use to fill in the story around your data?

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Christine Little is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

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Participatory Decision-Making* :  Dot-mocracy

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Often when you are faced with a number of good ideas in a meeting, it is impossible or even undesirable to choose just one from a list of brainstormed options. Multi-voting is one way to poll the support that group members have for multiple options. To facilitate it, do the following:

  1. List the various choices on separate wall charts.
  2. Ask people to express their relative preferences by placing stickers or dots (hence “Dot-ocracy”) next to their preferred choices. Each person can choose to put all of their votes on one option or spread their votes over several options.
  3. Tally the number of dots that each option received to get a sense of the group’s combined preferences.

Multi-voting is good for taking a “quick read” of where the group is at, but take care to provide enough time for discussion in situations where understanding differences of opinion is important. Two further cautions:

  • Pay careful attention to how many votes each person gets. Generally, the number of votes per person can be calculated by dividing the number of choices by 3 (n/3).
  • Be careful not to assume that the “winning” option is automatically the group’s preference since the difference between two competing options may not be statistically significant. For example, if Option A received 39 votes, and Option B received 37, for all intents and purposes, it is a tie and the group would do well to acknowledge that choosing one over the other is really only meeting the preference of about half of the group.

 

Where/when may this tool be helpful?

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Jeanette Romkema is a Global Learning Partners (GLP) co-owner and Managing Partner of Communications and Marketing, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

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Re-igniting a Passion for Teaching (and learning!)

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It’s been a year since I was introduced to the principles and practices of Dialogue Education. When I think about the four days I spent at the cozy Stowehof Inn in Vermont during the Foundations of Dialogue Education course, one memory in particular stands out to me. The topic was the teacher as a learner.

 

When Peter Perkins, our facilitator, made the statement “we as teachers deserve to be changed as a result of the learning events. There’s got to be something in it for us too.” I actually got tears in my eyes. That’s it! I remember thinking. That’s what I’ve been missing! You see, I’m a student at heart. You know the type… makes straight A’s, takes extra credit hours, and attends multiple conferences a year… a real school dork! But, my career had progressed to the point where I was spending hours a week training others. And by “training” I mean standing in front of the room spewing my infamous wisdom to those sitting in the seats. Sure, I was funny and likeable, and included “hands on activities” which people always seemed to enjoy, but let’s face it… I was talking and they were listening. And, we were both suffering as a result. It had gotten to the point where I could have delivered those trainings in my sleep. I was on autopilot and it didn’t matter who was in the seats on a given day, the training was pretty much the same. 

Since returning from Vermont, my colleagues and I have embarked on an amazing journey to bring Dialogue Education into our work. We’ve designed and facilitated a number of learning events using these principles and practices and I’ve been changed from each and everyone one of them. I’ve learned so much from the people who have joined me in the various learning events over the last 12 months and I’ve learned about myself too. Sure, it was scary to step off my high horse, take a seat alongside the learners, and open myself up to what they brought to share with me but I’ve found my passion for teaching again. More than anything I’ve learned to model inquiry and a desire to learn. Listen more, talk less, and remember that doubt doesn’t need to be resolved… these are the things I chant to myself during every event. As the facilitator, it’s not my role to convince everyone in the room of my point of view but rather to facilitate respectful dialogue around the expression of doubt so we can all learn from the experience. We are all giving up our time to be in that room and we all deserve to be changed as a result of the learning event. Yes, even the teacher.

What have you learned along the way that has inspired you?

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Susie Kantz (skantz@unm.edu) lives and works in New Mexico where she designs and facilitates learning events for Early Childhood Educators.

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From Head to Heart

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I was working with a small group of women executives in a peer exchange leadership development program. They had moved through two tumultuous and revealing days together, and had generated some real insights about their unique leadership styles. A capstone activity of the program was to meet with emerging women leaders from one of their institutions to share their learning. 

I walked into the room and was disappointed to see a microphone, a podium and 50 women sitting in rows. 

My disappointment grew as each of the executives walked to the podium to deliver a technical, formal and impersonal speech. It was so different from the authentic and informal exchange they had been having. 

From the podium came descriptions, numbers, and advice. From the chairs came polite attention, fidgeting, and silence. 

My quiet disappointment turned to panic when I heard my own name come from that podium. One of the executives, perhaps reading the room (or perhaps irritated at me for including this exercise in the design) was introducing me and inviting me to take the podium. I had nothing planned and about 20 seconds to figure it out. 

A phrase from Jane Vella’s Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, came to me: “I have to get them out of their heads and into their hearts.”

Here is what I did:  I said, “You have just heard leadership examples -- women who met considerable obstacles, and figured out how to move beyond those, to make big changes. Think about a time in your own life, when you exercised that kind of leadership. You met with a considerable obstacle, and you figured out how to move beyond that, and make a big change.”

I had no plan, and there was not much time, so I suggested they write a note to themselves and to share the story with partner. I predicted — and I was right — that the polite attention would turn into engagement. I did not predict what came next. 

For the next 20 minutes, one woman after another stood to tell a powerful story of personal leadership, stories that their CEO could not have known. Stories that inspired tears and laughter. For that 20 minutes, the women in the “audience” were not talking about leadership, they were leading. The podium — that symbol of power that suggests there is but one leader in the room — remained empty. The learning space was being led from those chairs. 

We don’t often deal in heart issues in business settings but they are always operating and leaders, facilitators, presenters, teachers do well to figure out how to get people “out of their heads” and into their hearts.

Three ideas for helping groups to “get out of their heads” and into their hearts:

  1. Use stories. A story contains so much more than mere statistics, advice and descriptions. The most powerful moments of that leadership exchange centered around the stories they shared. Stories convey information and they evoke emotion.
  2. Find a way for people to be seen, and to see themselves in the story. Change rarely comes anonymously. Organizations create too many opportunities for anonymity.
  3. Look for, and study, moments of accomplishment, triumph, and perseverance. Problems are interesting. Positive stories are powerful. They illuminate the assets we have with which to change the world. 

 

What stories do you have about getting groups out of their heads and into their hearts?

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Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

 

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The Use of Dialogue Education in Community College STEM Courses

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As a meteorology professor at a community college in southern California, I have students struggling with abstract, but important, concepts of the physical processes and impacts of weather and climate. Students at community colleges often lack skills and motivation to learn fundamental STEM-related principles. Because of global warming, it has never been more imperative to understand the mechanisms behind weather and climate, even in southern California where the weather is generally mild and not so exciting. I wanted to find a better way for students to learn the basic concepts of the atmosphere and become engaged with the implications of global climate change. Therefore, as part of my dissertation research, I investigated the impact of dialogue-based group instruction on student learning and engagement in community college meteorology courses. I compared one part of a course that used Dialogue Education (dialogue-based group learning) to another course that only used lecture methods. The main student learning objectives were extreme weather (e.g., California’s multi-year drought) and the effects of climate change. For both courses and groups of students, I used pre/post tests and surveys to collect quantitative and qualitative data. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My main findings are summarized below:

  • Higher test scores for the dialogue students. Each question that assessed learning had a higher score for the dialogue group that was statistically significant (95% confidence interval) compared to the lecture group. 
  • Enhanced perceived learning and application of knowledge for the dialogue students. The survey questions about perceived learning and application of content also exhibited higher scores that were statistically significant for the dialogue group.
  • Comments from dialogue students supported the quantitative results. The qualitative portion of the survey questions supported the quantitative results and showed that the dialogue students could remember more concepts and apply these concepts to their lives.
  • Dialogue students were more engaged. Three out of the five engagement-related survey questions revealed statistically significantly higher scores for the dialogue students. The qualitative data also supported increased engagement for these students. 
  • Dialogue students were more interested in learning about the weather. Interest in specific meteorological topics did not change significantly for either group of students; however, dialogue students exhibited a higher interest in learning about meteorology.
  • Dialogue students found more meaning in applying meteorology to their lives. Neither group found the learning events markedly meaningful, although more students from the dialogue group found pronounced meaning centered on applying meteorological knowledge to their lives. 

Overall, active engagement in the dialogue approach allowed students to become absorbed and interested in learning about the weather. This enhanced engagement most likely contributed to the resulting higher learning. These results indicate that dialogue education has a great potential for helping students learn meteorology and other STEM disciplines. Dialogue education can help students become better-informed citizens in a world with a changing climate.

For more details, check out my dissertation titled: “Exploring Meteorology Education in Community College: Lecture-Based Instruction and Dialogue-Based Group Learning.”

What research have you done or read that other readers may be interested in reading and knowing about?

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Jason P. Finley (FinleyJP@piercecollege.edu) is an Associate Professor of Geography and Meteorology at Los Angeles Pierce College in Woodland Hills, CA. He received his Ph.D. in Adult Learning and Development from Lesley University in 2016. 

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