June 2, 2015
Our colleague Romy Ruukel, Associate Director of the Digital Learning Initiatives at Boston University, has a great post about the relationship between changes in how we think about learning and how we design our conferences.
In On Professional Educational Conferences & Practicing What We Preach, Romy writes:
“In embracing alternative conferencing models and shifting importance to the "hallway conversations" we always knew mattered, we seem to have internalized what educational research has sought to show us for decades: the participatory social nature of learning and the ways that knowledge is cultivated and integrated through communities and connections."
Romy’s essay has gotten me thinking about the report out. You know the report out. It is when the person running the program breaks us into small groups. The groups are given a task to complete. Usually, this task involves one person writing down the notes from the discussion, and then that same person (usually) or someone else reporting out to the larger group.
I’d like to offer a modest proposal: LET’S GET RID OF THE REPORT OUT.
Keep the small group discussions. Keep small groups doing some work. Skip the reporting out to the big group.
Here are 8 reasons why I think we should end the report out:
1. Early Reporting Out Groups Take All the Time Allocated: The iron law of reporting out is that the first couple of groups take too long, and the last few groups have no time.
2. The Person Having to Report Out Was Unlucky Enough to Sit By the Flip Chart: The seat by the flip chart is to be avoided like the electric chair.
3. The Person Taking Notes for the Report Out Can’t Fully Participate in the Discussion: It is very hard to create meaningful notes while also being fully in the conversation.
4. The Real Purpose of the Discussion is the Discussion - Not the Product: We should feel good that the best result of a meeting where groups do any work is the conversation amongst the group members.
5. We Only Really Take Away Thoughts From the Conversation - Not the Report Out: How much do we ever really remember the synthesis from someone elses group?
6. The Conversation Is More Relaxed If The Pressure to Report Out is Eliminated: Reporting out structures the conversation in bullet points and sound bites - and takes away from the normal conversational flow.
7. The Goal of the Group Conversation Should be Inclusiveness and Listening - Not Reporting: Unless we are explicit that everyone in the group should have a say, only a few voices will dominate. Reporting out adds to the pressure to have one’s ideas take precedence.
8. Report Outs Take Way Too Much Time - Time That Could Be Spent Talking to Each Other: We think we need to have some product - the report out - for the conversation to be seen as valuable. This is too bad, as the opportunity to have conversations with colleagues at peer institutions is the whole reason we are at the conference to begin with.
Be bold! Be subversive! Be different!
The next time you are running a group discussion, try just saying no to the report out.
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