ONL221 is an online course on open networked learning. These reflections are part of the course assignment. This one is on topic three– Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning

Suggested topics for reflection

-An occasion when real collaborative learning took place, that moved your own thinking forward

My own thinking on collaborative learning was moved forward by experiencing and co-creating a couple of online art of hosting events during the pandemic. There are enough resources online to dive into the framework of art of hosting (AoH) or participatory leadership and getting in touch with this global network of practitioners so I will only mention some things I found helpful:

The fourfold practice is a way of summarizing what is needed for meaningful conversations: To be present, to participate, to host and to co-create something. Especially, the focus on having all those practices together and the wording of practice made this valuable to me. It needs to be practiced, you never stop doing it. Especially, the host yourself to become present part felt important. To me it contains the questions of how do I feel, what do I need, what can I contribute, what do I assume whenever I enter a conversation as participant or host. These ideas seem to resonate with the ONL community approach as well, participation is one practice, facilitation another and sharing as a third. It is not clear, though, if each ONL groups self organisation of their tasks is seen as practicing the facilitation role. This on the other hand is an explicit design feature of art of hosting workshops.

The Cynefin framework is another corner stone in art of hosting and it can help to take the focus away from mere problem solving to asking instead: What kind of system are we working in? This is especially important when we think of conversational spaces and learning spaces as complex systems rather than mere simple or complicated systems. There might not be best practices and we might therefore want to try other approaches then we are used to.

The principles of process design put forward by the art of hosting community is expressed as a series of breaths, which, I think, is a nice way of saying that aliveness could be seen as a key quality for conversational design. They also emphasize the role of harvest and the underlying purpose of convening as the invisible leader in the room.

The real life experience then came during the pandemic that brought a group of very experienced practitioners online where I had been for ten years and more. It became a wonderful experience to learn from each other what is needed for good conversations to emerge and how it could be accomplished online. The difference in experience and a shared purpose made it easy to stay in a constant practice, in an ongoing exchange on our learning journey. So for the ONL course I wanted to both see what could be brought from AoH to ONL and also vice versa, i.e. what could ONL mean for the AoH community. The latter may not be evident before after the course, tough.

Bringing som AoH to ONL

For this weeks topic it is Michelas and my turn to invite pbl group 7 into collaboration space. Our idea is to make our online meetings a hosted space where we can experiment safely with a couple of formats and ideas that are influenced by the art of hosting and liberating structures communities. The idea is to have all members included and engaged and to be part of decision making. If you’d like a scaffolding for the fish model in conversational space. The challenge is of course to convey some of the principles and experiences to carry over from what is a longer process to something as short as four one hour meetings.

We also felt that the asynchronous task in between meetings is put way too much work load on everybody, given twice a week synchronous meetings and a couple of other meeting and webinar offerings in the course, not to talk of blog requirements.

Another principle for our planning was to ask what is the minimal requirement to fullfil a given purpose with regards to technology. In plain words, no new tools to stress members of the group that already were busy keeping up with what has been introduced unless it provides some extra benefit.

As a principle for planning we use a variant of design storyboards as described in a liberating structure as a means of arriving at the never host alone principle in online settings.

Meeting one – the divergent opening

Here we invite our group to the playground – come as you are no need to prepare. We start the meeting with a check in, the circle way. Even though we think, we already had something of that shared responsibility that is intended by this method in the group, we thought it might be a good idea to point to a body of knowledge and experience that gives easy access to a design that fosters a change of perspective, a couple of principles and guidelines that create a structure around a shared responsibility for holding the conversational space between ourselves. The questions we invited to check in with was twofold: How do I feel today and what am I curious about in today’s meeting?

The wicked question game enters the space by having everyone write down a question that comes to their mind from reading the scenario of this topic. Hopefully it is something that really matters to them. In the game you are to help each other finding an even deeper, more helpful, clearer, improved version of one’s questions. By design, you practice also your hosting capabilities, i.e. to sense what is needed in conversation space where only questions are allowed, no propositions or good advice. The only questions allowed part normally triggers other parts of you brains and opens up for new and different perspectives. It is also intented to learn that using everyones’ experience and knowledge may help us in our quests.

A debriefing and lookout concludes the meeting.

Meeting two – the emergent groan zone

We think from the end: What is it that I and we want to harvest from our work during this topic? This is much like the fish concept – you bring in both individual and collective outcome possibilities. Everyone is asked to think of possible outcomes that are relevant to them and bring one idea to this meeting.

Established in meeting one we will start with our ritual of a check in to invite everyone into the presence of the conversation.

We then do a trojka coaching format to experience another variant of tapping into the collective wisdom of our group based on the ideas each of us brings to the table. In itself, we believe this format is highly collaborative and adds to the repertoire of conversational design tools we all can make us of in our meetings. In our specific context the purpose is to also use it to see if there are emerging patterns that we can focus on for the remaining two sessions. We thus leave it open for the group process to make sense, individually and collectively, to decide on the intended harvest. Harvest is another art of hosting term that means something more than documentation or report. It implies that it is something that has to be sown, watered and taken care of and also that it helps us to grow further in our understanding and in our taking next steps.

To help harvesting the results from our trio conversations we suggest a harvesting template to remind us of two different dimensions of individual/collective and tangible/intangible possible outcomes.

Meeting three and four – converging

The collective story harvest we arrived at in session three is a format that corresponded well to both scenario suggestions in this topic , i.e. the one on personal learning experience and also to stimulate listening and giving back gifts to the story teller as a means of strengthening relationships in our group. The listening perspectives we drew from the previous meetings’ harvest and adding some open free form to it. The choice of collective story harvest seemed therefore also motivated by the larger process perspective.

By this time, we felt we had offered very much structure and simply wanted to invite the group to a collective visual harvest much as in our topic two but this time more focussing on the process. This is standard procedure in AoH visual harvest practices and it had already emerged earlier on so it may have served the purpose of ritualizing our group practices .

Personal learning

I found the practices of the AoH and liberating structures formats suited the topic fairly well. Maybe more care could be given to not trying to squeeze formats and concepts into a shorter time frame than what is recommended by experience. The ‘art’ part lies presumably in making the choices that suit the whole learning process. This may amount to not choosing certain formats or activities whenever the time is not available. So maybe to paraphrase

God, grant me the serenity to accept the constraints I cannot change,
courage to chose and adapt the formats I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.[1]

Lack of time may also explain the popularity of tiny structures like chatterfall, or the unicorn scale of greatness that are self explaining, need less contextual adaptation and can thus be reused easily. And as with studies of reuse of open educational resources it would be interesting to investigate further into reuse of these open conversational practices in order to if other than time constrains may present obstacles.

So maybe for course organizers it could be interesting to investigate

How a participatory framework like the Art of Hosting could be a valuable resource in providing open conversational practices to ONL?
The Art of Hosting