A few weeks ago I was facilitating a conference in a downtown Chicago hotel. An early riser, I looked at my clock before dawn and noticed that the face was dark. Quickly checking the lights, I realized with dread that the electricity was out. I checked in with the front desk and found that electricity was out for the entire hotel and not expected to be fixed for at least 8 hours.
Scrambling to figure out what to do with 180 conference participants was an adrenaline inducing way to start the morning. Thank goodness I had spent time nurturing my relationship with the hotel and banquet staff. They were extremely responsive, helping to problem solve and follow through with the necessary adjustments. I am convinced that their level of service was, in part, because of the respect I had shown during our initial communications.
Time after time, I have found it extremely beneficial, not to mention smart, to do the following 3 things when presenting in a hotel or conference space.
1. Introduce yourself to the banquet manager and staff and memorize their first names. These individuals form a team that will have an enormous impact on the success of your day.
2. Say “please” and “thank you” when interacting with the banquet team. Unfortunately, I have witnessed other presenters treating these important team members rudely. There is no excuse for poor manners, and, in the long run, you will pay a price.
3. Offer sincere compliments to the banquet team members. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts and realize how important they were to the success of your day. If someone goes above and beyond, be sure to let his or her supervisor know about it. If your conference is finished you may not experience a direct benefit, but the next presenter will.
Presenters face all types of unexpected events, especially when in unfamiliar places. A little niceness to your support team can pay off in big ways!
My morning setup for a professional learning class always includes putting a handful of playing cards on each table. While I have purchased some full decks over the years, this is also a great way to repurpose decks you have at home that are missing a few cards. (Tip: Ask your friends and co-workers to keep you in mind before they discard a partial deck.)
As participants arrive, the see the cards on the table and begin wondering how they will be used. This activates their attention and sets a climate that feels creative and stimulating.
At several moments during the class I will need one person at each table to facilitate (or share, or be a time-keeper, etc.) I ask everyone to grab a card and then announce that the person with the high card will be the facilitator. By randomly selecting the individual, I ensure that no single person dominates the table discussion.
For more easy ideas, check out Caffeinated Learning: How to Design and Conduct Rich, Robust Professional Learning.
Adult learning theory states that adults need control and respect in their learning programs. One of the ways that I have applied this theory in classes is to allow adults to use their cellphones throughout the day for texting, as long as they are not disturbing others.
My thinking about this has been intentional and twofold:
1. Adults should be mature enough to make sensible decisions for themselves.
2. Adults will resist the learning if they feel they are being controlled like children.
But Matt Richtel’s “A Deadly Wandering: A Mystery, a Landmark Investigation, and the Astonishing Science of Attention in the Digital Age,” has changed my mind. The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist explores indepth one of the critical questions of our time – what is easy access to texting doing to us? While his book focuses primarily on research proving the dangers of texting while driving, I found clear applications to attendees at professional learning programs.
The 3 Dangers
1. The science is clear - attention is a finite resource. “Focusing on one source (a mobile device) comes at the cost of lost awareness of everything else.” In addition, Dr. David Strayer, an expert on attention, says that “it may take fifteen seconds or more after you’ve pushed ‘send’ before you’re fully back in an unimpaired state.” In a classroom or conference, this means that texting translates to much more lost learning that just the moments it takes to type a message. Over the course of an hour or a day, these moments can add up to a significant loss.
2. Most adults in your audience, but especially digital natives, receive dopamine reinforcement every time they text. Internet addiction expert Dr. David Greenfield explains, “When it’s not firing, they feel dull, dead.” These dopamine bursts become addictive and withdrawal is difficult. Dr. Michael Rich of Harvard Medical School adds, “Their brains are rewarded for not staying on task but for jumping to the next thing.” In other words, one text will most likely lead to another, and another and another. Texting becomes compulsive – quite challenging to ignore the little ding that signals another message.
3. When brains are overloaded with information, our ability to make decisions is compromised. The capacity of the brain’s frontal lobe, responsible for impulse control and long-term planning, is diminished. This constant access to texts and emails on mobile devices will affect learners’ abilities to make the best decisions during important classes. Obviously this impacts a learner’s decision about what is, and is not, important new information. But if small groups are working in class to create action plans for the company, design new safety protocols or decide on optimal time utilization, the implications for business can be enormous and dangerous.
With a much more thorough understanding of the research related to texting and attention, I have decided to change my approach to texting in my classes, while still honoring adult learning principles. Here are 3 strategies to diminish the dangers.
3 Strategies for Diminishing the Dangers
1. Place text on your welcome slide that reminds participants to turn off their cell phones. They might choose to place them on vibrate instead, but you have not proposed that option. Your message is clear that the best solution is to turn them off until the break.
2. While reviewing the logistics for your session (agenda, questions, etc.) be sure to discuss cell phone use. It is easy to find a non-threatening approach that fits your style. Examples include:
· “If a situation arises where you need to use your cell phone, please feel free to quietly exit the room so to not disturb the colleagues seated around you.”
· “Research tells us that texting and driving can be deadly. While you aren’t driving a car in class today, you are driving your learning. Research is clear that texting will distract your attention from learning our critical content.”
· “Did you know that it takes 15 seconds after hitting “send” for your brain to return to a state of unimpaired attention? One text plus 15 seconds won’t impact you too negatively. But… (pause). So please try to minimize your cell phone usage today.”
· “Please be aware of the impact your texting will have on your attention today, but more importantly, the attention of those around you.”
· “Today is a day for you to immerse yourself in learning. Treat yourself by turning you cell phone to Do Not Disturb mode and enjoy some time without distractions.”
3. Actively engage your audience. When adults are interested and involved with the content, they are less likely to be drawn to their cell phones. Provide alternative dopamine bursts through humor, movement and structured social interactions that support your learning objectives. If lecture is required (no more than 15 minutes), provide partially completed note taking guides so that participants will feel a compulsion to fill in the blanks. This is a much more productive compulsion that texting!
100% participation - always an instructional goal of mine - happened today thanks to TodaysMeet.com. TodaysMeet allows anyone to set up a temporary chat room (free!) where participants can share their ideas and questions with each other. Quick and easy to set up, and just as quick and easy to join in, a presenter or facilitator could decide to use this website without any advance preparation.
Today I used the site to have participants use their personal devices to share examples of a concept that we were exploring. Some quickly entered their examples. This allowed others to see ideas that sparked their thinking. Because everyone knew that their work would be visible, they were motivated to create innovative and valuable ideas. As a group, we went through the examples and discussed which worked and which needed tweaking, making sure that everyone's voice was heard.
A variety of features are available, including the ability to print a transcript of the conversation.
For more ideas on how to integrate technology into your professional learning activities, check out my new book, Caffeinated Learning, also available on Amazon and in iBooks.
For even more ideas...
Anne Beninghof is passionate about teaching and learning.
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