Creating Workshops with Enough Time to Learn

Note to the reader: This post will probably only be interesting for you if you’re a facilitator or educator.

One of my driving goals in data literacy workshops I facilitate is to create space to play.  I try to create that space by introducing fun materials, designing creative small group activities, introducing playful datasets, and more.  But a recent workshop by Cédric Lombion from School of Data at the Data Literacy Conference got me wondering: am I leaving enough time to learn?

Cédric prompted those of us in the room to write down in stickies all the activities we do that are intended to improve data literacy.  We then collaboratively grouped them on the wall.  Nothing too surprising there, though I did learn about some cool activities that I should steal from Charles Népote of Fing and Samuel Huron.  However, then we added a time axis, to note which activities were less than a day, which took a few days, and which were longer. The vast majority of activities we all did were less than one day.

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All the stickies clustered at the top, indicating they were short ones.  Only the few at the bottom were longer than a day.

The question for Cédric, and the rest of us, is whether that means we are doing a disservice to the learners we work with.  Can we have real sustainable impact if we only string together short experiences into longer ones?  Do we need to reconsider how we structure longer learning experiences to create more impact?

Here’s the question this left me with – am I leaving enough time to fully flesh out these concepts in my workshops?  Am I cramming too much in to short 3 hours sessions with learners?  What would my activities look like if I left them with space to breathe?  There are numerous pressures that push me to keep activities short in workshops settings:

  • getting professionals to take time off from work for professional development is always hard
  • “once a week” style programs have significant drop-off over time
  • there’s tons to cover when learning how to go from data to story, so it’s hard to concentrate on just one piece.

So should I change my workshops to be more about going deep into one facet of data literacy? Hard to say.  However Samuel and Pauline’s “Let’s Get Physical” talk the day before gave me an idea of what that might look like.  Let’s take the idea of “data sculptures” as an example.  They have created a day long workshop, with great materials, prompts, and constraints, that lets participants really explore what it means to make data physical.  It is exactly what my 5 minute data sculpture should be when it grows up!  

Of course, I DO have one setting where I create lots of time to learn… the semester-long Data Storytelling Studio class I teach here at MIT. I do these quick activities with my students, but then they get a week to turn them into real projects.

The reflections from this great workshop make me think I should try a workshop for professionals that is focused on one piece of the data puzzle.  I’m curious now – in your teaching are you leaving enough time to learn?