Steven Chang, La Trobe University
Beth Price, La Trobe University
Jane Humphreys, La Trobe University
Angie Williamson, Deakin University
Jennifer Hurley, RMIT University
Dr Elham Sayyad Abdi, La Trobe University
In September 2022, we ran the Melbourne leg of face-to-face workshops for the CAUL Enabling a Modern Curriculum Conference 2022. The workshop in the morning, facilitated by Steven, Angie and Jennifer, was about incorporating Open Education Resources into the curriculum. In the afternoon, the workshop focused on learning experience design and its relevance in academic libraries, and was facilitated by Ellie, Beth and Jane.
Once the workshops were over, we had many observations on how things went and how it felt to get back to face-to-face presentations. We got together in our teams and reflected on our experiences – as we usually do – and we had a number of ideas for how things could be improved for the future, just in case we would want to run our workshops again!
We did something different this time, though: we decided to share our reflections and experiences with our LIS community in a short blog post just in case it helps those who are planning to run a workshop in the near future. Enjoy reading our reflections.
Mitigating time pressures
For any workshop you have a limited amount of time. You have a lot to share, people have other commitments (so they might not be able to stay in your workshop if it goes over time), and the workshop venue might be booked for another event. So timing of the workshop is super critical – here is our advice:
- Don’t underestimate the amount of time participants need for tasks. This is particularly important for tasks that involve any level of complexity, e.g., completing templates, or using toolkits. Five minutes is rarely going to be sufficient for anything involving discussion, writing, or thoughtful contemplation.
- Allow sufficient time for participant report-backs on activities, as this can be time-consuming. Also provide a speaking time limit for each table/group for this to avoid rambling.
- Real-time identification of post-it note themes can be challenging: allow generous time, revisit these during breaks, or forget doing it in real-time and instead do this after the workshop.
- Minimise the race against time by a) assigning dedicated timekeeping responsibilities to one facilitator, and b) building flexibility into the run sheet so you can recoup time by shortening activities as needed.
- Ease participants out of activities smoothly and clearly
- Use a bell. Ding dong! (or ding a glass cup with a spoon).
- Enact a clear visual countdown on the screen (use an online tool for this) and give participants notice that this will happen (to ease count down anxiety).
- Warn participants when 2 minutes left, and at 1 minute left say “start wrapping up”.
Any experience design can benefit from an iterative approach where each round of implementation will be informed by lessons from the previous round. There’s a good chance that you would want to reshape and further develop a conference workshop to use it in other different or similar settings. As a result, it would be good to take notes about your workshop and reflect on it after the delivery is over. Here are our suggestions:
- Scribble down ad-hoc notes when encountering notable challenges. It’s hard to remember “things you would improve next time” when you’re concentrating on solving them in the moment and keeping the workshop running smoothly. It’s usually easier to take notes if the workshop is co-facilitated (so one of the co-facilitators can take notes while others are running the session).
- After all is said and done, share your reflections. In particular, organise a dedicated debrief with your co-presenters to discuss the challenges, barriers, and things you would do differently in the future. Even better – write up these shared reflections and publish them in a concise way on an accessible platform where people in the industry will read and learn from it (like we’re doing now on this excellent blog!).
The online vs F2F nexus
For most of us, this was our first face-to-face workshop after two and a half years of online-only workshops in lockdown. This experience reminded us of the nature of in-person conference workshops and the challenges of coordinating these types of learning experiences. Here are a few reminders from us:
- Help participants cut down on distractions. Always print out enough worksheets on the assumption that everyone will need one, so participants can minimise digital noise from their devices. However, equally it is crucial to prevent physical clutter, so ensure these print worksheets are visually signposted and explicitly chunked. For example:
- organised into clear numbered headings
- stapled together or at least page numbered
- verbally referenced by headings/page numbers by presenter instructions.
Otherwise the digital distractions will simply migrate into physical form and participants will spend more time fluttering paper sheets than focusing on the exercise.
- Assume half the room cannot get into Eduroam. This is frustratingly the norm – If you need people to do something online, act accordingly by providing USB copies and print copies for these people so they can access toolkits and worksheets.
- Plan how you will capture physical data from the workshop. In the moment it can seem that a smartphone photo snap of post-it notes will efficiently capture all the written information. Often the content of the post-it notes will be unreadable or too low-res to be useful post-workshop. You may want to consider digital methods instead such as Padlet or Popplet.
The golden lesson
Last but definitely not least, there’s one thing we cannot emphasise enough: Practice, practice, practice. Test as many aspects of your workshop as possible before your live version. So here’s our golden lesson:
- Plan and deliver “mock” workshops with trusted colleagues. These are absolutely invaluable because, as workshop designers and presenters, we are often too close to our own material and struggle to inhabit the learner’s perspective. Test workshops solve this problem by providing a second “outside” perspective. Think of these mock runs as a stress test of your run sheet to identify what will or won’t work in the real world – both in terms of technology and the human elements (e.g., microphones dropping out, insufficient time for participant tasks, lack of clarity for activity instructions, too much paper, etc.).
While running conference workshops and sharing knowledge with one’s community of practice helps to connect with others in the sector, presenting to large rooms of attendees can be scary and exhausting, especially if you are back to physical conference sessions after a long time of being online. Hopefully the tips we shared in this blog post will enable you as a future presenter to enjoy the experience as much as your workshop attendees.