Last month I finished a “Group meetings” course, and now I would like to share some thoughts with you. One of the main goals of this course was to learn and practice group management skills. Course participants were asked to make a proposal for a real group meeting where they could practice particular methods and techniques for organizing an effective, efficient and joyful meeting.
As all BKO courses are mentioned for teachers, we were asked to organize a meeting with a group of students that was quite problematic for me because my teaching tasks do not include meetings with students. So, I had to look for an alternative, and found it in the PhD student’s group at TELI! At one of our biweekly meetings I presented my PhD proposal “Personal data and informed consent in e-assessment” and made a discussion on it. My focus was on organizational aspects of the meeting as well as quality of the discussion. In this blog I will only highlight what I have learned from organization of this meeting.
To be well prepared is a half of success! As I planned in the beginning to have a short interactive session with the participants, it was necessary to think about type of interaction. I decided to ask participants a few questions from a survey that I found on the Internet a few months ago and compare their answers with the survey results. It was not only an introduction into the topic but also a learning moment for them raising even more interest to the topic and upcoming discussion. Totally there were three questions followed up by the survey results.
Then it was decided to have a presentation highlighting the main milestones of the PhD project and task description for a group brainstorm session. So, I had to think about this task and its practical implementation. Due some practical reasons It was not possible to split into smaller groups and let smaller groups work separately which was my initial idea. But it was possible to let people work individually with the paper and contribute through giving their comments to this paper.
Know your group
But even if you are well-prepared a success of the meeting largely depends on a group setting like a number of people, their background, their willingness and motivation to participate in a discussion, and their needs. I was lucky with my group because all participants were very active (there was no need to activate them) and gave a great feedback to me, so, now I can make a step further with my research.
Although I can imagine when you meet people for the first time, and still need to learn each other, there is a risk that your expectations will not come true, and methods and techniques primarily chosen for work with this group will not work to some reason (that you still need to discover and analyze). So, know your group and their needs! And be ready to respond to these needs!
Start the meeting
Starting the meeting it is important to be clear about the agenda and expected outcomes. It is even not enough to have them written on the presentation slides , it should be explicitly said to the group and make people feel positive about next few hours. This is exactly what I have not done, but now I am more aware about the importance of announcing the meeting agenda and outcomes. It also provides a presenting person with a good feeling that everything is in order and going according to the plan.
Being confident is an important thing when you are presenting and leading a discussion. But self-confidence is a complex characteristic depending on many different things. I believe that self-confidence during presentation can be partly achieved through multiple exercising. Only way to learn something is to start doing it! Only way to learn to present very well is to present in real life situation for a real audience as much as possible!
Know your topic
Presentation of the topic and discussion on this topic are influencing each other. At least I felt that conducting a good group discussion needs not only strong managerial skills but also knowledge of the topic. Even if you are not expert but already have some knowledge and own view on a particular problem (even more important!), then it is already a bit easier for you to put a discussion in a right direction, and you feel yourself quite confident to interrupt or start to improvise if necessary.
Unexpected situations can always happen and can be overcome through improvisation and humor. The most important here is not to allow unexpected situations to lead to undesirable results!
Evaluation is highly important in order to analyze what happened during the meeting. Evaluation should be done from different perspectives: from perspective of the teacher / organizer of the meeting; and from perspective of the students / meeting participants. For me personally some time is needed to understand what went successful and less successful. But it seems that very often people are more responsive in giving a feedback if it is asked directly after the meeting. Asking them to give a feedback later is risky if they do not feel themselves very involved in this process.