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Invite people to participate

Make the invite to participate welcome

When I was an external examiner recently for a PhD viva I was reminded during the discussion that there are two aspects to teaching and training. One the one hand, we provide the situation and context in which the learning hopefully takes place. On the other hand, the participants have the decision whether to take part or not. We mostly control our side, and can seek to make the invite welcome for participants, but they might still decline our offer.

We can do a number of things to improve the likelihood that the participants will take part, and therefore leave knowing more than if they hadn’t taken part. We’ll start with the attributes mostly in our control, before we look at how we might influence what the participants decide. 

Students playing a Jenga testing game

The venue is possibly the most important attribute

Unfortunately, as an academic, I don’t always have control over the venue, or the time. Classes are often managed centrally by others. This means we don’t always have an ideal venue.

If you’re provided with a poor location, then you should always at least ask if there is an alternative available. I’ve done this before so that I can move from fixed tables and benches in a lecture theatre, to a room with movable tables and chairs, which proved more flexible to suit my needs. This doesn’t always work, and then you have to use what you’re given and adapt the session as best as you can. Maybe you can modify the free chairs and any spare tables to make the space better for your purposes.

The activities you choose are also important

The default lecture is a boring option. There is so much more that you can do in the time you have for a lecture. Now that students are used to watching videos you can also use the ‘flipped classroom’ approach so that the video is watched before the session. This leaves you space to create experiential sessions in the time slot. If you’re able to move lecture slots so that two sit together, then you have a larger time slot to use. I was able to do this with one course, which opened up many more options for what could be done in that two hour session. 

Instead of lectures, you can facilitate workshops, have the students talk to each other and compare answers to questions, which you then discuss too. I’ve also used short games and improv activities to illustrate issues too. My goal is always to create activities, which provide memorable experiences, which hopefully stick around longer.

The order of the activities matters

You have to sequence what you do so that the students are led in the optimal manner to reach the outcome you intend. I know that I’ve sometimes found that by swapping the order of things that I thought was ‘obvious’ has worked better than expected. It could also be the debrief of an activity, or the introduction was done better too. Experiment, talk to colleagues, or students who did the session in the past, perhaps too. I follow the 4Cs of training from the back of the room by Sharon Bowman as this works well to provide discussion, and keeps my talking parts short too.

Make the invite to participate friendly

You’ll notice that I wrote ‘invite’. Always invite people to participate. Yes, they are probably students and are supposed to take part. Never force participation of activities in a lecture period. However, they can choose to be absent, or to leave the session. Invite them and explain why participation is a good choice. Tell them what’s in it for them.

These are things that are in your control. However, you’ll always find that people have the option to not engage too. Your role is to make them want to participate. If they do, then they are likely to learn. Even if they stay and watch, they might realise later why the session was relevant. This happened to me once when I used Lego Serious Play materials for a session. The student said he didn’t come to university to play with Lego bricks. He later realised that it was much more than Lego, and that the focus was clarifying the user personas. We just happened to use Lego bricks to model the personas instead of drawing them out.

Next time you’re teaching look to see what you can change to improve participation:

Can you change the venue, or would moving things around help?

What other activities could you do in the session?

What happens if you swap the order of activities?

How might you make the invite more friendly so people can see what’s in it for them?

This post is part of a project pulling together my materials and ideas about Teaching Team Collaboration: the Human-Side of Software Development for software development to students. If you’d like to be notified of future posts, then please sign up for more using the adjacent form.

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