Ia Natsvlishvili was a participant in the 50-Hour Training Course in the IF Discussion Process that IF Fellows Mark Notturno and Ieva Notturno conducted in Washington DC last Spring for Junior Faculty Development Program (JFDP) scholars. After successfully completing the course, Ia won a grant from IF to support her use of the IF Discussion Process to teach a course in her home country. The following is a composite of two of her recent reports about her experiences teaching that course.
Promoting IF Discussion Methodology in Georgia through Teaching
by Ia Natsvlishvili
I recently taught the course “EU Social Policy and Multicultural Processes” at the Institute for European Studies, Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi, Georgia. It was the first time that I taught this course using the IF process. The course aimed to introduce graduate students to social policy as the use of political power to supersede, supplement, or modify operations of economic systems in order to achieve results which the economic system would not achieve on its own. While I was teaching the course using the IF discussion process, I received advice and recommendations from IF instructors Mark Notturno and Ieva Notturno in conversations via Skype. I found these conversations very helpful, especially since I was teaching a course using the IF discussion process for the first time.
The course and the discussions were conducted in English and the discussion summaries were produced in English too. It seems to me that the discussions flowed very smoothly, despite the fact that English was not the native language of the students. All of the students found the facilitation sessions very useful. They told me that the discussion and facilitation sessions helped them to improve their communication skills and to feel much more self-confident and self- directed. Even when the discussants were tired, because we had very intensive discussion sessions almost every day, they participated with the interest. I noticed that sometimes the sessions tended to transform in a general debate rather than a facilitation on a specific issue. Below are some comments from the discussion summaries that they developed after their facilitation sessions:
“…..The discussion was very fruitful. From the beginning I thought that it would be difficult to facilitate the discussion and I thought that I could not find the topic to concentrate on. However, after 5 minutes I already found out the right way and the discussion topics were flowing endless from the participants. I tried to be as relaxed as I could in order to create a friendly and free atmosphere for the participants of the group. However, I felt that I could not catch up with their discussion and have underrepresented Flip Charts.”
“…….First I thought that I could not manage to facilitate well, but piece by piece everything was put in order. I would say that the participants were totally involved in our discussion. They were contributing their ideas and helped me to concentrate on our not so interesting topic. …….I would proudly say that we managed to come up from the situation and, which is very important, we exchanged our skills and knowledge, and each of us learnt a lot about this issue.”
“………The process of facilitation was interesting. The participants came up with useful ideas regarding our area of concern… The participants were very productive, however I think that a skilled facilitator could get more ideas from them than I did.”
“……….There were just 4 participants in the discussion group, but in spite of this they all contributed actively and made a huge work. Firstly they were a bit unconfident, but during the discussion this problem was eliminated. ”
I think that the IF discussion process revealed the peculiarities in content and process of discussion about social issues in Georgia. First of all, the students found it easier to think about policy possibilities and the ways of their implementation rather than to identify the major area of concern. Why did this happen? To my mind, it happened because people in transitional countries like Georgia are much more concerned about social issues than people in developed countries, and it is very hard for them to identify which one is “the major” and which one is “the minor” concern. The discussion process revealed one of the “hottest” political issues in Georgia: existence of refugees from the conflict regions of Georgia. Because of political reasons there are several hundred thousand Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from two breakaway regions of Georgia. One of our major concerns was the protection of human rights of IDPs.
I have learned several lessons from reflecting on the course I conducted using the IF process. First of all, I believe that discussants should have a least one week between each facilitation session. Students should have time to reflect on the previous facilitation session and to write their discussion summaries. Otherwise they might find the IF discussion sessions tiring. The course was quite demanding for my students, despite the fact that they were interested to learn the IF process, because we were conducting IF discussions almost every day. The course itself required a lot of reading and writing (discussion summaries and discussion notes) every day. To give to the students “a little bit rest,” I decided that each student would facilitate only once a week.
Secondly, to my mind it would be much more useful to devote more time to explaining the IF Mission and IF discussion process than I did during the course. Otherwise students might not understand the goals of facilitation sessions correctly. I found they enjoyed being a facilitator more than being a contributor of ideas. I think that they did not at first understand the role of a facilitator. They thought that their job was to record the ideas on the flip-charts (especially during their first facilitation sessions). The situation changed for the second facilitation session: they enjoyed being a contributor of ideas more.
I also believe that it would be much more useful for students if I were to lecture to them first on the topics that are directly related to their discussion. I was lecturing on assigned topics from the syllabus that were not directly connected with the topic of discussion. Of course it was about the social policy, but not about the concern areas that were discussed during the particular discussion.
In general, teaching by using the IF discussion process was helpful for me. I would like to admit that I personally gained a lot of knowledge from the students and from the teaching process itself, because the IF discussion process improved my communication skills and enriched my understanding of teaching methods and the content of the course I teach.