Facilitating discussion is one side of being an expert participant. This post will deal with this theme.
A facilitator’s job is to help to manage a process of discussion. While an expert’s role is to offer advice, particularly about the content of a discussion, the facilitator’s role is to help with how the discussion is proceeding. The facilitator’s responsibility is to address the journey, rather than the destination. I found some excellent guides in the web pages of Stephen Brookfield and use them here. What can be said about facilitating discussions?
Participating in discussion does not necessarily mean talking a lot or showing everyone else that you know or have studied a lot. Good discussion participation involves people trying to build on, and synthesize, comments from others, and on showing appreciation for others’ contributions. It also involves inviting others to say more about what they are thinking. This is the same message as Cris Crissman gave in Twitter: the video clip of Diana Laurilland. One of the main messages every teacher should be conscious of. The teacher is a learner, from year to year.
Brookfield gives some advice for quiet moments in discussions:
- Ask a question or make a comment that shows you are interested in what another person says.
- Ask a question or make a comment that encourages another person to elaborate on something they have already said.
- Bring in a resource (a reading, web link, video) not covered in the syllabus but adds new information or perspectives to our learning.
- Make a comment that underscores the link between two people’s contributions & make this link explicit in your comment.
- Post a comment on the course forum that summarizes the conversations so far and/or suggests new directions and questions to be explored in the future.
- Make a comment online indicating that you found another person’s ideas interesting or useful. Be specific as to why this was the case.
- Contribute something that builds on, or springs from, what someone else has said. Be explicit about the way you are building on the other person’s thoughts.
- Make a comment that prompts the participants to examine discussion dynamics.
- Find a way to express appreciation for the enlightenment you have gained from the discussion. Try to be specific about what it was that helped you understand something better.
This last advice is my favorite: When you think it’s appropriate, ask the group for a moment’s silence to slow the pace of conversation to give you, and others, time to think. – I always miss this in synchronous sessions. I am too slow to participate in them.
Is it possible to act using these guides without being an expert of the subject? Could we plan a robot which acts like a good facilitator? I don’t believe we could. A robot could make one question but it would not understand the answer and the thread could stop. Facilitating discussions on a high level of expertise, it does not mean following advices blindly. To become an expert takes 10 000 hours or ten years of experience with reflective practice.
I have to forget the hypothesis about expertise based on social motivation to networking, or should I? Is it something else than these thoughts which I borrowed from Stephen Brookfield?