Summer Institute – Plenaries

I’ve got about an hour until dinner, so I’ll take this opportunity to let you know what I’ve been up to at Summer Institute.

I’ve attended three sessions, one “collective-intelligence” gathering, and two plenaries.

I’ll start by talking about the plenaries.  They were in the banquet hall and were always scheduled directly after a meal.  As a result, there were always plates, food, and other stuff on them that precluded comfortable (therefore any) note-taking.  So my take-away is not very detailed.  Here it is:

The first plenary presenter was by Dr. Irwin Kirsch from ETS.  He talked about America’s Perfect Storm.  The report is here.  They also have a 9-minute video that didn’t really come up on Google, which I think is an oversight on their part.  The talk was based on that video, which was about how three factors are happening in America at the same time and are leading slowly but surely to a crisis: the changing economy, changing demographics, and the nonresponsive education system.  Interesting.  Some of my questions include how ETS’s interests as a company factor into this and how things are changing as the recession continues.

The second plenary presenter was Barry Shaffer from the Minnesota Department of Education and talked about the economic climate in Minnesota and the amazing accomplishments we’ve all made this year in Adult Basic Education (ABE).  We rock, and he proved it with numbers.  Thanks, Barry.

It was great that these very important people (who I couldn’t help but notice were men talking to a room that was comprised of at least 85% women) came to talk to us about very important issues.  They were effective speakers who had a lot to share.  It struck me as strange that there wasn’t a bigger effort to up the environment so that people’s backs weren’t toward the speaker and there were clean, or at least cleared off tables to write or type on.

It’s funny how much the little things impact the big things.

I’ll talk about the sessions and collective intelligence gathering in near-future posts!

Please Close Your Laptop

I have to go to bed soon, but I wanted to quick note a challenge that I faced in my diligent note-taking that surprised me.

I was at a presentation at which laptops were provided because part of the agenda was to have us explore a particular online course. I decided to just use that computer for my notes instead of the one I brought.

So I popped it open and started myself a word document. I happily took notes for a few minutes, then we did an interactive activity. When we came back and were regrouping, I opened up the laptop to get ready to take more notes. The presenter came over and very kindly and with no edge at all asked me to keep it closed because they were going to start again.

When I said I was using it to take notes, she thought for a beat or two and then said ok. I kept it closed anyway though. I thought that despite whatever assumptions she had made about what I was doing on the computer that she treated me with respect, and the best way I could think to repay that respect was to not be on the computer while she was talking.

But as a result, my notes are less detailed and much less accessible to me. I’ll need to spend some time keying them in.

Is this a common phenomenon? And how do you feel when you’re presenting to people while they are actively using laptops?

Summer Institute!

Summer Institute 2009 Program Cover
Summer Institute 2009 Program Cover

This is a place-holder just to let you know that I’m planning on blogging about Summer Institute, a major Minnesota conference in Adult Basic Education, that runs this afternoon through Friday afternoon.

It’s my first time ever at this annual conference, and I’m very excited about the people I’ll meet and the ideas I’ll come back with.

My plan is to type my notes, blog, and be on Twitter during the conference.  I’ve never done this before either, but at other conferences I either sit there thinking about paying attention and therefore not really paying attention, or I take great notes and promptly lose them.

I’m planning to put links to related blog posts and other materials in this post for readers’ bookmarking convenience, and because I like information hubs.

Here’s to trying new things, and let’s get started!

Entries:

Please Close Your Laptop
Summer Institute: Plenaries
Summer Institute: Teaching Personal Finance

Summer Institute: Quick Reflection

Sharing The Power

My thoughts on today’s conference are actually pretty brief:

The best presentations align their content, structure, and facilitation.  In other words, they demonstrate what they teach.

A corollary:

Saying “Don’t say things over and over again in the same way!” over and over again in the same way is a little ridiculous.

That is all.

Lunch at the Volunteer Management Conference

I posted yesterday about the sessions at the Volunteer Management Conference.

Another really great aspect of the conference was lunch.  The organizers picked a wide variety of discussion topics and assigned each a lunch table.  When people signed in in the morning, they picked a lunch table based on what they wanted to chat about.

Lunch by LOC on Flickr
"Lunch" by LOC on Flickr

About a week before the conference, one of the organizers asked me if I would lead the Web 2.0 table.  Naturally, I said “sure!”

The attendees ranged from Gen Y to Baby Boomers.  We had about 8 people at the table.  About three of them were new to web 2.0, and the others have adopted it at least somewhat.  We had a great discussion – I loved that I was not the source of all answers!

It was a really nice setting for people to ask questions they’d been embarassed to ask.

  • what is web 2.0?
  • is it a separate web from the first one?  Did they build another internet?
  • blog and wiki what now?
  • how do people have time to do this stuff?

I found that giving concrete examples of web 2.0 technology in action was effective for showing people what it could do and for illustrating that the idea was to do things differently, not in addition. This is what worked for our conversation:

Example 1: My Family’s Christmas Wiki

I’m in MN, my sister’s away at college, and my parents are in New York.  We all come home for Christmas.  But a lot of planning has to happen before then: food, who’s traveling where when, cards, wish lists, decorating, and dividing tasks.

Instead of having 10 separate 2-person phonecalls about these things, or a huge confusing email thread, my family made a wiki.  It’s private – only our family can see it.  We have a separate page for each of the categories I mentioned, and any of us can update it at any time.  You can have the wiki email you after every update or just once a day with a summary.

One of the ladies in particular really liked the idea and is thinking that she wants a year-round family wiki so that her large, spread-out family can stay caught up on whatever’s happening.

This example led people to ask how to start a wiki, and I recommended http://pbwiki.com.  This way I wasn’t just dumping information on them.  I told a story and they asked how they could get involved.  Good stuff.

Example 2: The Curriculum Team and Google Docs

We have seven different learning center staff spread across five learning centers working on curriculum for our centers.  In the past, we’d have to email documents back and forth and the versions got confused.

This time, we’re trying out Google Docs.  They live online (in “the cloud”).  This means that there are no versions – we can all access the one document right where it lives instead of having it live in seven different places.  Google Docs tells you who is updating the document in real-time, and also tracks all the changes ever made.

That seemed like enough information for them on that – they didn’t ask more questions about it.  But now they have that story, and if they’re finding themselves in a similar or parallel situation, I hope they’ll think of Google Docs as a potential solution.

 

It was so valuable to have a casual forum for people to ask their questions!  I had a great time talking with the ladies at my table, and I think we all walked away with some new ideas.

Volunteer Management Conference

I attended the MLC’s Volunteer Management Conference on Friday, 11/21.

Can I just say that as someone who doesn’t get home from work till at least 9:15 PM, it’s excruciating to be at a conference across town at 8:00 AM.

Luckily, it was worth it.  It wasn’t one of those overwhelming conferences with so many people that you don’t get a chance to meet anyone.  I made some great connections with community partners and potential volunteers.  I also enjoyed the concurrent sessions immensely.

The first session I attended was Preparing and Supporting Volunteers Who Work with Victims of Torture. The presenter, Jane, a volunteer with CVT, was fantastic.  Key takeaway:

  • it’s best for teachers and volunteers to not ask about it; students will talk about it when/if they want to.
  • remember that Teacher is a powerful position – students may feel obligated to answer the Teacher even if it’s not something they want to talk about.
  • if it comes up in class, it’s ok to say something like “I’m so sorry to hear that.  It must have been very difficult,” pause, and then gently move the class back to topic.
  • it can be powerful for the students just to have someone believe them when they say that terrible things that happened to them.  They don’t necessarily need or want follow-up questions.
  • need-to-know: if volunteers ask what happened to so-and-so, you can give them general, pertinent information focused on the student’s abilities without going into details.  They don’t need to know what guerrilla army used what implements to beat the student for how long.  They need to know that the student has an old head injury from the war that makes his hands shake, so he needs someone to write for him.
  • volunteers can do great presentations for your organization

The second session was Cross-Cultural Training Activities for Volunteers. The presenter, Claudia, was knowledgable and funny.  I didn’t get as much take-away from this session as I’d hoped.  It was more of an overview than a bunch of concrete activities as I’d hoped, but it was still valuable.

  • what kind of cultural awareness training do you provide your volunteers?  Is nothing enough?
  • the DIE model: basically description, then subjective inference, and then judgment.  Especially when there’s conflict, anger, frustration, etc., try to take it back to the “description” stage of what actually happened. It helps diffuse and untangle.

The third session was Positioning Your Volunteer Program for Success. Heather is one of those extremely motivated, high-energy, “I can do anything and have probably done it already” people who also somehow manages to make it seem possible for you to do anything also.  I highly recommend going to any presentation she gives.  Ever.  On anything.

  • give presentations about your program’s stories to stakeholders in and out of the organization any time you can.  Even just a 10-minute presentation can be really powerful.
  • don’t forget about the board.  Do they know you?
  • give more information than was asked for, creatively.  For example, she submitted pictures along with her end of year stats, and they loved it!
  • she had fantastic, thorough presentation materials that will probably take me another hour or two to go through.  They’re conversation starters, self-audits, top ten tips, further training resources, etc.  She handed me the tools to make my program better over time.  Fantastic.