Connect:In workshops

STATS

Level of Difficulty
Medium
Unit Size Evaluated
Medium, Large
Scope
Single activity
Delivery
Online, hybrid, on-campus
Resources Needed
Whiteboard
Brainstorming tools
Related Patterns
DESIGN THINKING ONLINE

This pattern is concerned with connecting and engaging stakeholders such as teachers, students, educational developers, learning designers, and industry partners in the process of course design. This is achieved through a Connect:In workshop where participants share perspectives and feedback and collaboratively ideate potential solutions to educational challenges.

Key aspects of the workshop involve building rapport between participants, promoting an environment conducive to creativity, and providing processes and tools to support design thinking and the development of potential designs. Consistent with McKenney and Reeves’ (2018) model of educational design research, the workshop also provides opportunities for “clarifying the problem and shaping understanding of constraints within which a design will have to operate … [including] anticipating how the design will align with the needs and wishes of practitioners and other stakeholders, as well as gaining a sense of important system factors related to the problem” (p. 87).

Problem

Although the involvement of transdisciplinary teams and diverse stakeholders in the course design process is beneficial, empirical evidence suggests that such projects can struggle with the initiation and sustainability of these initiatives. In the Connected Learning at Scale project we work in transdisciplinary teams for multiple semesters, and there is a need for a safe, inclusive and generative environment where the perspectives of those involved are heard, respected and integrated. Understanding different priorities, goals and values is essential, however there should be a clear strategy and space for them to be communicated and collated.

Solution

Connect:In workshops offer a collaborative space for stakeholders to connect with each other and purposefully explore common issues, strategies, methodologies, and solutions in relation to the development of a course. The participants may include a variety of stakeholders such as teachers, students, industry partners, alumni, educational developers, learning designers, and educational technologists. Depending on the identified need for the workshop, it can involve as few as four or as many as 20+ stakeholders. A Connect:In workshop is particularly valuable at the commencement of a project, but may also be valuable at the end of a significant phase of development when there is a need to reflect on progress, and evaluate emerging ideas, concepts and interventions.

Implementation

01 > Clarify the need for, and purpose of, the Connect:In workshop. For example, it could be about blue sky thinking, connecting a new team, looking back (at previous data, findings, experiences) or looking forward (to solutions, innovations, possibilities). A Connect:In workshop is highly beneficial at the commencement of an educational development project, but could also be implemented in the middle or at the end of a project.

02 > Consider the stakeholders whose input/viewpoint would be beneficial in the workshop, e.g. course coordinators, other members of the teaching team, students, alumni, industry partners, educational developers, learning designers, and educational technologists.

03 > Optional step: Prior to the workshop, a Connect:In survey can be run with past students. This crowdsourcing exercise invites students who have completed the unit at some time in the past (for example over the past six semesters) to rethink how the course could be delivered. A summary of responses can be shared in the Connect:In workshop as prompts for discussion. This brief survey (1-2 questions) is distinguished from other formal feedback channels, as it is deliberately aspirational and asks students to ‘think big’.

04 > Consider the required time, mode and space for the Connect:In workshop. The workshop typically requires several hours to allow enough time for people to connect with each other and achieve the workshop objectives. We recommend face-to-face attendance; if this is not possible, online and hybrid modes will suffice with the support of online collaboration tools.

05 > Consider a designated facilitator, who can be someone from within or outside the course design team.

06 > Set the collaborative tone for the workshop in the week prior. This might involve helping participants understand the way the group will be thinking, learning and working together in the session.

Examples of pattern in use

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Example 1: Business Analytics (undergraduate)

This example describes a Connect:In workshop that was run at the beginning of a large educational development project for BUSS1020: Quantitative Business Analysis, a core first-year undergraduate unit in the Bachelor of Commerce Program.

The workshop was co-developed with the unit coordinators involved from the Business Analytics discipline, including Bern Conlon and Laurent Pauwels.

Description

While incremental changes had been made to this unit of study over time, coordinators often changed hands from semester to semester, and conversations with a wider range of stakeholders had not been conducted for some time.

The workshop provided an opportunity for course coordinators, lecturers, tutors, students, industry representatives (who were also alumni), and educational developers to come together to share perspectives in the early stages of the development process. The workshop outcomes included to:

  1. identify and share educational challenges and aspirations associated with the unit
  2. generate preliminary ideas about how to address some of the specific ‘dreams’ and ‘gripes’ (IDEO, 2013) identified 
  3. sketch some more detailed design solutions to inform the development of a prototype (a draft version of the unit design) for further feedback
BUSS1020 Connect:In workshop

The first part of the workshop was devoted to introductions. It was considered particularly important for participants to get to know each other before working together. They were reminded that the workshop was about ‘dreaming’, reserving judgement on the ideas put forward, listening, not jumping to solutions too quickly, holding options open, and it was reinforced that all participants were equal partners in the process. We! Connect cards were used to support this process.

The first activity was completed in ‘role’ groups, that is, a student group, a teacher group, and an industry group. Groups were asked to identify issues with the current course, what currently works well, and what could be done to improve learning and connection. In the second activity, mixed groups were asked to sketch an initial redesign of BUSS1020 that would help to support information engagement, connected participation and authentic assessment in the unit.

The outcomes of the workshop were revisited at every subsequent stage of the unit’s development to ensure that stakeholder perspectives were reflected in the designs being tested. Key areas identified in the workshop such as: the importance of using authentic data sets associated with issues of local and global importance; the need for greater emphasis on data visualisation; providing more interactive ways for students to engage in content; and providing students with further opportunities to take an ‘investigative’ approach to learning statistics were all carried forward into the iterative design process.

While a smaller core team were responsible for taking the ideas forward into the build, implementation and evaluation stages of the project, some participants made further contributions at different stages. For example, one of the industry representatives collaborated on a video to introduce students to the importance of data visualisation in business.

Findings

The ideas generated by participants in the workshop resonated strongly with the literature on strategies for effective learning in introductory statistics, in particular, the GAISE Report (2016). The combination of the workshop outcomes, literature, and other data sources used to gather information on the unit provided a solid platform from which to progress the redesign of the unit. Feedback from workshop participants suggested that the combination of perspectives allowed a more comprehensive view of issues and potential solutions relevant to the unit and the profession.

Example 2: Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This pattern was tested in newly designed undergraduate units: SIEN1000: Innovation and Entrepreneurship Foundation and SIEN1001: Innovators’ Skills and Actions.

This workshop was co-developed with the unit coordinators Steven Maguire, Bernhard Resch and Paul Finn from the Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship discipline.

Description

In early 2021, the development of two new units was initiated with the aim to commence them in the following year. The plan was to codesign the two units together due to their links to the major and expected student journey from unit to unit.

A 3-hour Connect:In workshop was organised with an aim to bring together a new team and stakeholders. The workshop involved five participants: two unit coordinators, a teacher in the discipline, an educational developer and a learning designer. All participants, except one, participated face-to-face in a campus classroom. One of the unit coordinators joined the team online from Europe via Microsoft Hub (a TV-size interactive screen) due to travel restrictions during the pandemic.

The Connect:In workshop involved post-it notes, flipcharts and markers as well as Zoom (on one Microsoft Hub screen) and Jamboard (on another Microsoft Hub screen) – an interactive whiteboard to connect on-campus and online participants. The educational developer was both the facilitator and a participant of the workshop. The setup supported a sense that everyone was in the room together.

The workshop duration (3 hours) allowed the team to connect as individuals and provided enough time for the co-design process to be effective. This was important as team members were unfamiliar with each other and would be working collaboratively on the unit design for the following 9 months.

This Connect:In workshop had multiple objectives: to meaningfully connect the team and offer a space for ‘blue sky thinking’ with a focus on linking past, present and future experiences. Both were brand new units that were part of a new major, which meant that no similar units were taught in the school, and there was a need to start the design process at a macro level.

This workshop highlighted two key aspects to keep in mind when designing Connect:In workshops:

  1. Although preparation is crucial, it is important to allow the group to organise itself. Communicating the agenda and opening it up to flexible working environments and practices is a good starting point. Co-design can be a risky process, especially if it involves people who have not worked together before. Providing a space to align expectations and working practices should be part of the process.
  2. It is useful to allow time to be spent where it is needed. Some may see facilitation to be linked to timekeeping and ensuring the agenda items are addressed, however time in Connect:In workshops should be approached as a fluid measurement. At times, the group should stay in the flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997) if the outputs are relevant to the workshop objectives. It means that not everything on the agenda will be covered, and there is nothing wrong with that. Each group dynamic differs; allowing the group to progress at its unique pace is essential for a successful workshop.

Findings

The workshop was a success; our expectations were shared, working strategies aligned, and the early artefacts of the unit design produced. One coordinator stated that this way of working had been thought-provoking and beneficial, and proposed to continue working in this format – less frequent, yet longer workshops – from then on. Similar feedback on format and timing was echoed by others in follow-up emails, and as a result the next co-design meetings took place every three weeks for 3 hours using the same technology setup.

Example 3: Business Analytics (postgraduate)

This example describes a Connect:In workshop that was run at the beginning of a large educational development project for QBUS5001: Foundation in Data Analytics for Business, a core first-year postgraduate unit in the Master of Commerce Program.

The workshop was co-developed with the unit coordinators involved from the Business Analytics discipline, including Andrey Vasnev and Artem Prokhorov.

Description

A 2-hour Connect:In workshop was run at the beginning of a second phase of our co-design development process. Some exploratory work and relationship-building had taken place between members of the co-design team in the preceding semester. With a new Unit Coordinator joining the co-design team and commencing a more intensive development phase, the aims of the workshop were both to generate outcomes to inform the design process and to build team relationships and shift thinking to a ‘co-design mindset’.

The aims were formally stated as:

  1. Connect student and staff experience together in a positive way as part of the co-design process;
  2. Identify what currently works well, and what doesn’t work well in QBUS5001;
  3. Capture high-level initial ideas to inform the design and development of QBUS5001 for further feedback . 

Our focus is on approaches to learning and teaching, rather than content – how we learn best together… 

The workshop participants were current students in the unit, members of the core teaching team and members of the Business Co-Design team, including an Educational Developer and Learning Designer. Efforts were made to also invite alumni from the discipline although unfortunately none could attend on the day.

Firstly, we sought to identify issues/problems by reflecting on individual experiences of the unit and also to undertake ideation and “blue sky thinking” in order to generate potential solutions to key issues. The secondary aim was to open up the co-design process to multiple perspectives in order to catalyse the collaborative approach and to create a shared experience to act as a launchpad for the coming development process. This was particularly important in shifting mindsets of Unit Coordinators to a more team-based approach required for managing very large units.

The workshop structure was as follows:

01 > Icebreaker / introductions

02 > What works? What doesn’t work? Brainstorm challenges and opportunities.

03 > How might we do it better? Generate potential solutions/approaches to address the challenges and opportunities.

04 > Reflection. Refine and prioritise initial ideas.

Technology / resources used

The Connect:In workshop was held on Zoom due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Ideally the workshop would be run face-to-face. Google Jamboard was used as a virtual whiteboard to capture brainstorming outcomes. 

Findings

The core co-design team met to distill and debrief on the workshop findings in order to identify key themes. These informed the creation of the project scope/briefing document where all parties agreed to desired outcomes.

One key theme that emerged was that students felt they were learning statistics – but not statistical thinking. They wanted more opportunities to apply the theory into business contexts. Prior to the educational development project commencing, the assessments were all either quizzes or exams. As part of the new developments we introduced a new authentic data project with an individual component that fed forward into a group component. 

About the author

Dr Sandris Zeivots is a Lecturer - Educational Development with Business Co-Design at the University of Sydney Business School. He investigates how to design and implement innovative learning experiences that are engaging, meaningful and purposeful. With a professional background in experiential learning, Sandris explores how to design impactful educational events to strategically improve the experiences of learners through learning spaces, experiential education and emotional engagement.

Stephanie is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director (CLaS) with the Business Co-design team at Sydney University and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA). She enjoys working with others to explore new approaches to learning and teaching inspired by design practice and the arts.

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