Practice Sharing Circles

When we first brainstormed ideas of how to infuse the Special Interest Group with energy and activities that would stimulate ECP lecturers’ interests, Bernie Millar stressed the importance of creating more authentic opportunities for practitioners to share their practices associated with ECP.

However we lamented about how the structure of conferences and seminars – that place the ‘presenter’ at the centre of attention tended to encourage mostly one-way conversations and rarely stimulated real dialogue. So we thought, “what if we could use these conference slots but deconstruct the how practice sharing took place so that more participation, dialogue, mutual understanding and conversation could be encouraged?”

Introducing: Practice Sharing Circles

In association with the Foundation SIG associated with HELTASA we are introducing a new way for ECP practitioners to connect and engage in some authentic discussions about their teaching and learning practice.

Essentially the practice-sharing circles are an attempt to ensure that within the formal conference and seminar environments we can create a setting that:

Aims to be a less formal space that encourages deep and authentic conversation between academic practitioners about their academic practice….

How do sharing circles work?

Practice –sharing circles are organised to organically and intuitively encourage participation and dialogue:

  1. All participants sit around a table together;
  2. A presenter shares a short practice of their own using notes or a laptop;
  3. This serves as a catalyst for conversation amongst the circle members;
  4. Other participants then add to the conversation by asking questions, sharing about their own practices and contexts, and so forth;
  5. Participants can also pose problems from their own contexts that the group can brainstorm solutions to.

The benefits of sharing circles:

  • Informal;
  • Dialogic in nature, encouraging both dialogue and listening;
  • Presenter and participants are engaging as equals across a table – Like fellow colleagues having a discussion;
  • Colleagues can explore the complexities of their own practice contexts together;
  • Insight and guidance can be offered with regards to integrating practices into different contexts;
  • Ideas, problems, and solutions can be shared and discovered together.

Pilot feedback

In August 2016 we piloted the practice sharing circles at an inter-institutional ECP symposium in Cape Town. Here is what some of the participants had to say about their experiences of the circles:

Circle participants

“I think it was great, especially because it was from different institutions and getting ideas from other colleagues with regards to the ways they teach. There’s a lot of things I can take back to my department and implement.”

“I appreciate the fact that it was more informal, and that it was dialogue driven. And that people were speaking across one another. But it was good for networking, for skills sharing, and just for gaining knowledge.”

“Its such a great idea. Its really creative because you get to hear what people are doing,  and people’s different approaches, and there’s not enough of that going on.”

“It’s interesting because colleagues from different universities come together to share what they do in their different units with respect to supporting students at various levels. It’s interesting to hear what others are doing and how we can also contribute to what they are doing.”

Circle presenters

“It was a different feel. It was definitely more relaxed; focused on a more practical way of sharing ideas; enabling one to listen to other colleagues, and listen to how they could make use of the concepts that we are sharing practically.; and also learn how we could improve.”

“I loved the sharing circles. It’s a lot less intimidating for participants and presenters than the formal presentation setting. And what was really lovely for me is that when we shared our practices it seemed like the attendees felt very free and welcome to share their own practices, and maybe some nice initiatives that they have started.”

“We are moving very fast and quickly away from presenter up there and the crowd down here. Where as actually this session I think is a lot more effective because as the presenters and authors of the papers, we got a lot more information from the participants that we will be able to use to improve our paper and our understanding of  the paper.”

With the help of Renegade Pictures, we made a short promotional video to give you a feel of what sharing circles are, how they work, and how both participants and presenters feel about them (see above).

As a SIG we hope to promote the inclusion of such sessions at  ECP conferences in the future to further encourage the value gained from practice sharing in higher education.

Please contact Lynn Coleman or Dylan Cromhout if you would like any assistance in running a sharing circle at your upcoming ECP event. [colemanl@cput.ac.za; cromhoutd@cput.ac.za]

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