Tuesday, November 11, 2008

CPSquare Dissertation Fest

Last week I was host/facilitator for Alice MacGillivray's session: Perceptions and Uses of Boundaries by Respected Leaders — a Trans-disciplinary Inquiry, one of several teleconference and asynchronous discussions organized as part of the the fall 2008 CPSquare.org Research and Dissertation Fest.

As a community coordinator I'm always amazed at how readily members say YES when I ask them to volunteer. I think I understand why they do. There are several reasons why I agreed to host Alice's session:
  1. John Smith asked me. A personal invitation counts for a lot!
  2. I have gained so much from this community that I am willing to give back.
  3. I was flattered to be asked. Do they really think I'm capable?
  4. I need PRACTICE with synchronous facilitation.
  5. I need the challenge.
  6. I admire Alice and have learned a lot from her over the years.
  7. The title of Alice's dissertation caught my attention. When I read the announcement I immediately posted a message in the conversations area of CPSquare (members only space) to indicate my interest.
  8. I was fairly clear on my role. An R&D wiki outlines the event logic and the roles for the event. This information continues to be fine-tuned by members. I have also participated in the R&D fest as a presenter and participant, so I was familiar with the format.
I spent several hours preparing for the event. I:
  • read parts of the dissertation and skimmed the rest.
  • reviewed the event logic and roles wiki to make sure I understood what was expected of me, and that somebody else would be responsible for recording the Skype call.
  • reviewed past dissertation fest discussions
  • prepared a script of sorts: welcome, review of logistics (where to find presentation slides, location of chat room, notetaking), introduce Alice, round of introductions, presentation, discussion of focus topic, general questions, wrap.
  • posted a message in the forum to show Alice and others that I was present.
Closer to the time I:
  • tested my microphone
  • printed my "script"
  • opened browser tabs to the pages I would be needing to refer to
  • filled my water glass to have handy for that inevitable dry cough that I get in teleconference meetings
  • gave my dog a chew toy to keep him from barking (it didn't work!) :-)
During the teleconference I felt fairly calm. Even if it's not obvious to others how much effort you put into preparing, taking the time to get organized in advance really helps with jitters! Also, I knew that I was in good company.

We had a total of 11 people on the call, some arriving late because of confusion with the recent time change to daylight savings time. I assumed that most participants were already acquainted so rather than a typical round of introductions I decided to start with an icebreaker that would help to draw out some information about individuals and keep the conversation light. I also like to have a little tid bit of information about each participant because it helps me to keep track of who is who in the absence of physical presence.

I asked: What are you wearing on your feet?

We had a few laughs over the responses. Most of us were in slippers or black socks. Alice MacGillivray told the story of her "black sheep" slippers, discovering that they were not really made from black sheep because the dye came off on her feet. John Smith reported wearing "clown" shoes -- brand new Keens with box toes. After several people mentioned that they were wearing black socks, Etienne Wenger removed his shoes so that he could also be in black socks.

Over time members of CPSquare have established and interesting event practice, which we used in the dissertation fest discussion:
  • An asynchronous forum is set up in advance for the presenter and host to post welcome messages, bios, background reading, and an overview of the event. All members are encouraged to ask questions in advance, or at least indicate that they are interested in the topic and plan to attend the synchronous session.
  • We use a teleconference phone bridge service that can also be accessed through Skype. That way participants have a choice based on quality, cost, location, and internet access.
  • Presentation slides are distributed in advance. Rather than use a virtual meeting room to display slides we each have a copy and refer to them (slide 1, slide 2, etc) during the presentation. Again, this is convenient for those who are not connected to the internet, or prefer paper for notetaking.
  • We all gather in a text chat, either on Skype or in the CP2 conversation space. Occasionally guests are invited to these events, in which case Skype is a more practical for chat because passwords are not required.
  • Notetaking is done by all, and in the chat area. So as we are speaking there there is a flurry of posts to the text chat. Often the same information is posted several times, but that's okay because there might be slight variations that help to tell the story better than the last post. Occasionally you lose track of who said what. The main thing is to remember that it was likely not person who typed it. :-)
  • The audio is recorded and posted to the asynchronous forum immediately after the session in mp3 format, along with the text transcript.
  • There is a follow-on asynchronous discussion. Often questions from the teleconference are brought forward.
  • There is an understanding among CP2 members that these group artefacts (recordings, transcripts, etc) stay within the community.
Overall, I felt that the session went well. Of course the job of the host is easy when the presenter speaks so eloquently and the participants pose such interesting questions! I appreciate having access to this community to to practice these skills, and I've connected with new and interesting people as a result of this event.

I do feel like I left the asynchronous discussion in limbo though. There is no scheduled end date, so it's difficult to know if any more participants will be returning. Perhaps I'll pop in there to let everyone know that I've posted about the experience here as a way to bring closure.


  1. Nice summary of this type of event, Sylvia. Might link it to my website.

  2. Sylvia - I enjoyed reading your detailed resumé and reflections over your facilitator role and the whole process of having these dissertation fests. I smiled at your precise way of describing our shared responsibility as collaborative note takers in the chat during these calls. For those who are new to this style, it muust be hard to follow the ongoing chat - but they would also be listening in the call ahich would help to read as fast as possible what is jotted down by one or more "pen names". Even when there is redundancy of multiple entries of almost same sentences, they can easily be understood in a post session reading to catch up, such as in this case, for me. I was invited to help doordination the festive seson, but was caught by a flu and had to slow down. Also, I was one of those unlucky participants who missed part of the call, because of the typical biannual time zone confusion (daylight savings happen a week earlier in Europe). And to my surprise I was immediately asked what Iwas wearing on my feet!Made me think of your Webbed Feat name :-)

  3. Thanks for your feedback Alice and Sus.

    Like you, Sus, I just went through a period of "slow down". It seems to be the season!

  4. Fascinating Sylvia. I saw some out of context reference to this with "Webbed Feat" but no mention of you. But this name I had associated with you and it was only a click away.

    An art, this faciliation business is. You are right: the effort is not obvious to others. :)

  5. @Derek Glad you followed the 'feat' steps here! :-)