Tag Archives: Communication

Writing Great Discussion Questions

I’m currently finishing up writing a class for the Adventist Virtual Learning Network that starts on February 27: Integrating Technology with Pathways: Themes 5-9.

One of my strong beliefs about online learning is the power of interaction. And most great interaction happens in an asynchronous discussion area IF the questions are well designed.

I’ve seen many boring, stilted, uninviting discussion areas. Have you?

Photo by Open Knowledge Foundation

What makes them engaging?

  1. Connections to experience. We all know students learn best when they connect new knowledge to prior knowledge (Presseisen, 1995). Include questions that invite students to connect the new learning / reading / articles to their previous experience. My class is for teachers, so I ask questions that connect their experience to the required reading articles.
  2. Choice & Variety. Nothing is worse that having one question with a correct answer. What a discussion killer! I build at least three question sets to start the discussion, and then require two. This allows choice and builds in variety to the initial responses to the questions (Stilborne & Williams, 1996).
  3. Substance. To get substance in the conversation, I require the participants to reference the reading, reflect on their own experience, and react to each other (for more, see Akin & Neal, 2007). This usually generates a substantive conversation. If not, I nudge the conversation further by asking more questions.

What about you? What works for your online discussion areas?

Leading Through Collaboration Book Review

Continuing work on my 5th competency:  Servant Leadership in Technology Facilitation and Collaboration.

Glaser, J. (2005). Leading through collaboration: Guiding groups to productive solutions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Glaser (2005) sees a leader not as a head of an organization, but anyone who watns to help bring solutions to problems. His book is written to give leaders the tools to develop attitudes and skills to “align the organization around learning” (p. ix). In part 1 Glaser emphasizes attitudes. While some may be tempted to skip to the part 2 skills section, his writing on attitudes about coherence, the self, shared meaning, and groupthink lay an important foundation. From there, the skills section teaches the fundamentals of aligning the team, focusing on the vision, finding solutions, and agreeing to the solution. Filled with stories and real-life examples, this book will inspire you to improve collaboration skills beginning with the next problem you have to solve!

Initial Reaction
I didn’t get very far into this book before I was surprised at the focus on conflict, conflict management, and listening for agreement and disagreement. I’m not sure what I expected, since I collaborate with others daily. But I was not prepared for the focus on getting past disagreement and conflict. But on reflection, clearly you can’t have collaboration without strategies to address conflict and disagreement appropriately. After reading the book, I feel that I have very few, if any, of the skills listed, yet I do collaborate with others. I believe that as I am able to implement what I’ve learned, my collaborations will be stronger and more respectful of others’ views. Not just respect, but actually incorporating all the views and needs of others into the solution. I wonder if sometimes my Strategic strength jumps to a solution without full participation from the group.

What is Collaboration?
Glaser (2005) begins with a definition of collaboration: “to work together to solve a problem or create something new” (p. 3). In addition, he defines coherence as “the condition that exists when individuals are aligned on a given subject or task, and are ready to harness their collective energy to move forward on a common ground solution” (p. 3). As I consider these definitions, I am evaluating my own collaborations.  Just for reference, here are a few of them:

Glaser (2005) suggests that effective teams have the following qualities:

  • joint commitment to shared goals
  • trust of all members to understand their roles and get the job done
  • shifting leadership based on task and circumstances
  • excellent communications
  • understanding each other’s needs and perspectives
  • a sense of humor
  • willingness to set aside differences and to work together for the greater good (p. 4).

The Jazz workshop certainly has this. The one area where we have to work hard to make it happen is the communications, because of the physical and technical distance between us.

Things to Learn

  • The first and main lesson for me from this book is listening. Not just listening to understand, but listening to detect coherence. Glaser told a story of hearing a group discussing who thought they had disagreement, and he asked permission to summarize what he heard, and everyone agreed (p. 9). I want to fine tune my ear to hear like that! In addition, Glaser describes a teacher listening “openly and attentively” to a complaining parent, even when the complaint is presented emotionally (p. 114). I want to be able to listen openly and attentively instead of getting “riled up” along with the other person! “A power leader and problem solver should cultivate an ability to inquire deeply into the nature of what motivates people” (p. 118). This means being able to understand an issue as others see it. Again, later in the book, Glaser (2005) emphasizes listening for the common ground… listening carefully and constructively. “A powerful, consensus oriented leader will develop an ear for how different perspectives fit together, focusing on areas of agreement versus separateness” (p. 143).
  • Another important lesson is to pick up the phone and “call each other before small organizational rubs become huge conflicts” (p. 16). It’s too easy to write an email or Skype message when a phone or VC would resolve the issue and maintain the relationship.
  • Define the problem is another principle from the book. Information needs to be shared so that all understand the ramifications and have shared their perspectives. The work needs to be addressed against the problem, not against each other.
  • Aligning the team includes setting up the meeting to focus on the problem, not on fighting each other. The book includes several suggestions on chair placement, focus of the room, etc. to help with them.
  • Be firm and flexible at the same time! I need to learn to be firm in “articulating and identifying the nature of our interests, while remaining flexible about how those needs get met” (p. 112). This is an important key to true collaboration – meeting the needs/interests of everyone in a creative way. The book has several suggestions for clearly communicating interests, as it is so important to understand the “why” behind the person’s position.
  • Knowing when to push for agreement. Glaser describes several techniques and tools for bringing a group to a solution and/or closure on an issue. These helpful tips include asking each person to articulate that they can support the solution.

Leading by Consensus

Page 175 has a nice little chart with the checklist for what it takes to lead by consensus:

  • Demonstrate leadership commitment
  • Develop a vision and keep it in focus
  • Attend to relationships
  • Maintain open and collaborative communications and problem-solving mechanisms
  • Structure the organization to deliver what is promised
  • Remain mindful of the learning

The book ends with a detailed summary on how to accomplish each of these goals. I found this book very helpful and inspiring and will definitely refer to it as I continue to collaborate with others.

Cross References

  • Learning from this book can be used in my reflection paper for the Communication competency, as well as the Ethics competency.

Roundtable 2007

I’ve been spending my blogging time this week over at the Andrews University Leadership Roundtable Blog. Here are the posts that I wrote this week:

    Here are the posts that I want to review again and again:

    My big take-away from this year’s round table is the concept of laying a foundation of theory & reflection under everything we do.