Running A Cohort For The First Time
So, I went to the second ITL Masterclass conference here in Adelaide on the Friday and Saturday just gone. I was fortunate enough to be one of the Cohort leaders for this smaller, more focussed conference after submitting my suggested Cohort Session. The website describes the difference between running a cohort and running a more traditional workshop or presentation:
A Cohort Session, in 4 blocks of time totalling 5.5 hours over two days. Prior to the conference, delegates choose one topic of interest only, from several available topics (see topics below). All participants who choose the same topic will form a cohort and work together to discuss and reflect on the topic for the duration of the Cohort Session. Delegates in each cohort will be able to have deep, meaningful, conversations about the chosen topic. They will sit together, to brainstorm, hypothesize, and then create a product as a result of these conversations. The product will also assist participants to recall their thinking and ideas after the conference. Each cohort session topic will be led and facilitated by a talented hand picked Australian educator. The educators are considered by their peers to be the ‘cream of the crop” in terms of their educational and classroom practice and the ways they embed digital technology into their teaching and learning practice. They do not necessarily use digital technology 100% of the time, but when they use it they use it for a sound educational purpose. In this conference format, participants will leave the conference with a highly valuable Personal Learning Network (PLN).
My cohort theme was “Putting Meaning Into The 21 Century Learning Buzz Phrase” and I had no idea how many of the conference participants would even sign up for it. What I did find that thinking about how to lead a cohort of educators became a very daunting prospect and it wasn’t until about a month ago that the possible pathway of how to engage with the topic started to shape up in my brain. I thought that was an important topic to be discussing as there are plenty of papers and lists out there in the world stating what 21st century skills or learners should look like – but they were all heavily North American and I wondered if thinking about things from an Australian perspective might be a worthwhile concept to tackle. I also thought teaming the discussion with the development of a Tumblr site might also blend in the use of a contemporary tool to draw together the resources and ideas in one place. The concept of reblogging that is at the heart of Tumblr appealed to me as a way of pulling out the best parts of what others had already posted out on the web in our quest.
But the cohort leadership was a hard gig for me personally. I had twenty people come along for the first session, which then shrunk to twelve for the second as delegates voted with their feet to go to other cohorts that promised a better deal (which was encouraged as part of the conference culture), down to ten for the third and then a dedicated nine for the final session. I had issues with Tumblr in the first session that took up a lot of time initially – signing people up to the shared Tumblr site proved to be a hassle, then posting content on iPads was tricky for some – and I could feel the opportunity for discussion slipping away. I was happy with what I had as stimulus material but how I imagined things would stream out didn’t really pan out. My ego felt a bit bruised when the numbers dwindled – but the people who stayed were really great at engaging in discussing around what learning should look like today from varying perspectives.
Still, I am glad that I took on this challenge. It has given a greater appreciation of what needs to happen to create meaningful learning for adults – and I really did plan without really knowing how this cohort thing should or could work. I was envious of a couple of the other cohorts. Simon Crook in particular looked like he had his participants eating out of the palm of his hand and they were enjoying themselves too! (I saw some of the refugees from my session one there as well – but enough about my insecurities!) But I underestimated the power of hands on activity, and left the creation of the final product too much in the take up and learning curve of Tumblr which was steeper than I imagined for the beginner. My new favourite Twitter friends, Jenny Ashby and Lois Smethurst were much wiser than me in this regard and gave their participants plenty of opportunity to create in their cohort. It might just be that my ambition (a huge topic) was bigger than my ability.
But thank you to Val and Margo of IWBNet for giving me this wonderful and challenging opportunity.
It was really great to catch up with John Pearce again, and going out to dinner with him, Jenny and Lois was the highlight of the conference for me. All three are not only amazing educators with heaps to share but are all tremendously great people who I felt really comfortable with. We had a fun time walking down Rundle Mall, having a bite of Italian food and watching Jen haggle with the sales rep in Myer for a new iPad!
We had Laurie Lawrence on Day One and Greg Gebhardt on Day Two. Greg was outstanding in his keynote about the future of technology in learning while Laurie was entertaining but far less useful for my learning.
Running a cohort left very little brain energy to go to or participate in other sessions, so I can only recall an interesting chat session around social media and a very thorough Twitter presentation from Lib Howe. Now it is back to the reality of report proofreading and focussing on getting ICT really happening at my school.