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Our Activities at the Summer Institute

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been walking you through the different stages of our discussion process. Now I’d like to focus on how we’ll work on this in our upcoming Summer Institute. Recently my colleague Pete Shively posted a program schedule that shows what we’ll be working on each day. Let me spell out what some of these activities will be.  We’ll have 3 major focal areas: 1) learning the discussion process from the inside (how to facilitate exploratory and collaborative discussions–and how to guide your students to do so), 2) course development and connecting the discussion process to the classroom, and 3) citizen discussions–or engaging discussions beyond the classroom walls.  In this entry I’ll focus on #1, how we’ll work on the discussion process and learning discussion facilitation; I’ll follow up on the other major topics in the near future.

  • Demonstration Discussions on The Future of Civil Rights?

For the first 5 mornings we’ll have “Demonstration Discussions” where I or one of my colleagues will facilitate the discussion to demonstrate our approach to facilitation and show you how the discussion process works at different stages. For these sessions (roughly an hour with another hour for a debriefing discussion) you’ll be the discussion participants. We’ll meet as a whole group. You won’t need to do any advance reading or study–just show up ready each day to explore what the future of civil rights could be. I, or one of my colleagues, will work up the discussion notes for each day, so you’ll be able to build on your material from session to session. We’ll basically move through the 3 stages of the IF discussion process in those 5 sessions.  These discussions won’t be complete–just enough to show you what it’s all about. These sessions should serve as a kind of model for you to guide your own facilitation in the afternoon “Developmental Discussions.”

  • Developmental Discussions on Intellectual Property and Public Policy

Starting on Monday (August 3rd), we’ll have 5 afternoon sessions where each of you will get to take a turn as discussion facilitator. These sessions will take part in small groups of 5 (we have 15 participants, so that’s 3 groups of 5). We’ll set up these groups and the order of your facilitation in advance (we’ll try to make a mix so you’re not with people all from the same field or same school). As one person facilitates, the rest of the group will be the discussion participants. The facilitator will rotate from day to day. The facilitator will handoff any flip-chart notes generated in the session to the next day’s facilitator so that person can work up the discussion notes for the following day’s session. We call these “developmental sessions” since we’re leaving it up to you to work as thinking groups to develop your own thinking about public policy possibilities for intellectual property.  The facilitator will have a good bit of work to do in developing the material generated in the previous day’s session and thinking about the approach to take in the upcoming session. We’ll help the first session get started by providing a starting point for these discussions.  You’ll have the basic agendas from each day’s Demonstration Discussion, which you’ll be able to use to guide your facilitation efforts in the afternoons. And of course we’ll be around for consultations and guidance. Several of my colleagues and I will sit in as observers on these sessions in order to give you feedback on your facilitation.  The Developmental sessions will last about an hour, with a half-hour for debriefing discussion. We’re hoping that you’ll be able to come up with some really creative ideas in your groups, something that we might eventually be able to craft into a report to feed into citizen discussions.

  • Lightning Round Discussions

We’ll start the afternoons when you have “Developmental Discussions” with hour-long practice rounds of discussion facilitation. We’ve taken to calling these “lightning rounds” since they’re intended to be quick-start discussions based on a topic that’s designed to get people talking. These sessions don’t build on each other; they are simple one session discussions on an interesting topic. This should help you focus on practicing your discussion facilitation, which is different from leading a discussion (your focus will be to help the group to think collaboratively–not to steer the group to destinations of your choosing). This will also function as a warm-up for your afternoon Developmental Discussions. You’ll work on these Lightning Rounds in your small breakout groups. You’ll rotate the facilitator from day to day, so overall you’ll each get 2 chances to facilitate (which means 2 chances to get feedback from us).  We’ll set the order in advance, and we’ll make it so you’ll never be facilitating both a Developmental session and a Lightning Round on the same day (giving you time to adjust to the feedback we give you). We’ll choose topics that relate broadly to education and civic engagement and we’ll set these in advance. I bet we’ll find that your groups will come up with some really interesting ideas in these sessions. I wouldn’t be surprise if these Lightning Rounds lead to material we could build on in the future, whether in a project or a thought-piece.

As you can see, a good bit of our focus will be on “learning-by-doing”: experiencing the discussion process from the inside and jumping right in to practice discussion facilitation. From the first Sunday through Friday, there will be a kind of rhythm between the mornings and afternoons: you’ll be discussion participants in the morning Demonstration sessions and have a more active role in the afternoon Lightning Rounds and Developmental sessions. In the other time slots, we’ll work on the other 2 focal areas: course development and educational topics, and facilitating citizen discussions outside the classroom.  I’ll tell you more about those in my next posting.

–Jeff Prudhomme