Visualising What Was Important

As I have written before, I tend not to believe that much in traditional evaluation forms any more. The information you receive is to a large extent not usable for you as trainer or facilitator. For instance if it concerns issues you have no influence on like who is invited or able to come and who is not.

But what’s worse, providing the feedback is mostly not very useful for the participants. That in itself renders evaluations less useful – if there is nothing to gain from spending some brain space on answering evaluation questions in earnest I think it is fair to assume that most participants will just jot something down quickly in order to be off sooner rather than later.

If you can connect the evaluation to the participants’ feelings and to the steps they plan to take in future using the things they learned and developed during the training, you may have a better chance of getting quality feedback that they have actually spent some time on formulating.

In a recent training assignment I asked participants at the end of the training to take a picture of something that for them symbolised the most significant moment or insight of the training and to send this to me with one sentence of explanation. Here is what I got:

From these pictures and texts I conclude that

  • the training was lively and participatory, which was much appreciated
  • participants felt engaged in the team, as they all got tasks for steps to be taken after the training
  • participants gained more insight into the topic of the training and jointly developed an image of what they want to achieve together
  • participants felt hopeful because of the shared vision for the future

and thus that me and my co-trainer Gusztáv Nemes succeeded in creating a shared knowledge base on the topic (including new knowledge provided also by us), in supporting the group to use this knowledge as a basis for a common vision for the future, in mobilising the group to work as a team towards the shared goals and in creating an open atmosphere in which everyone could and did take part actively.

And so these simple statements and picture made me very happy about our performance – much more than a traditional happy sheet could have done, where I would have to guess what could be the reasons for the scores given.

But the main source of happiness was due to the fact that participants actually spent time looking around themselves and considering this and that item as a suitable symbol all the while thinking about what the main moment had been in the last two and a half days of work. Looking at the pictures sent, most participants selected a moment that connected the training to their future actions and work as a team. For me, those two things show the true value of this exercise.

rural development vision for Bosnia and Herzegovina

A picture is worth a thousand words

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Things My Mobile Saw This Year

It happened almost imperceptibly. But there it is. I seem to have started using my phone to take pictures. Initially, I did not see the point of having a camera on my phone. After all, I did have a real camera and I hardly used it.

But as I was looking through my phone gallery just now I found I have loads of visual reminders of moments that have turned into nice memories – and that I somehow caught with my phone.

Below you can see a short impression of Things My Mobile Saw This Year, made with PhotoSnack. You can also view 2013 in mobile photos here.

Of course this is just fooling around and a major way of procrastinating online. After all, who apart from myself would care what things my phone caught in pictures.

However, this very easy way of collecting photos into a slide show with the option of adding text and descriptions – I did this in 10 minutes tops – can be a powerful tool when used for educational purposes. Why not ask your participants to make a PhotoSnack of their impressions of your training or workshop? Why not ask them to prepare for their learning process by showing you as trainer their day-to-day environment in which they will have to apply their new knowledge or skills? Why not ask them to show some of their routines, annoyances, or challenges? Why not ask them to show you their highlights and moments of glory after the training?

Why not, indeed. No reason why they cannot spend for instance half an hour reflecting on what they need to change or what they have learned. Such investment of time and attention is peanuts compared to whatever it is they will have to do to integrate their new knowledge and skills and insights into their daily practice. And it may well make that bumpy road ahead of them easier: it can help them focus and it can help them stay motivated if they can look back at their own visual reminders of what it is they wanted to tackle and what tools they got from the training to deal with those challenges.

As for me, it feels good to see some of the things I did and experienced so far this year. There have been a lot of good moments and I feel good to have captured them. If nothing else, that fact shows me I am still developing myself and that I am still building new habits. It is really inspirational to realise that there are always new things to be learned and applied – and this is so easily done!

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Instagram as a Tool for your Learning Process?!

This summer I was finally forced to try Instagram. Until then, I must confess I had not bothered to. I do like photos, but I always seem to forget to take pictures even if that is nowadays as easy as not forgetting to bring your phone.

I first became more engaged with Instagram when the Dutch LOSmakers community organised a joint trial of it. The LOSmakers are interested in how social media can be used in processes of learning and change and the community members are focused on practical use of tools and exchange about experiences and best practices. True to form, the trial was practice-oriented: everyone who wanted to join was requested to post one photo each day during three consecutive days. The photos were to introduce yourself to the others. On the fourth day, a joint Skype session was held to share experiences and discuss how Instagram might be used in real life.

I was unable to join the Skype session, but did join the three-day photo posting preparation of it. And became hooked almost immediately. Why?

  • It turned out to be really very easy to take a quick snapshot of something around the house and to share this on Instagram
  • It turned out to be very nice to see how people reacted to this with comments and through their own photos – suddenly many of us started sharing pictures of our bookcases

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  • Some really nice conversations came about with people that I’d never met before, online or face-to-face
  • It was very easy to follow all posted pictures and conversations using Webstagram with a hashtag (web.stagram.com/tag/hashtag)

Webstagram picture

  • As a bonus, we discovered the InstaCollage app that enables you to make a collage out of pictures (whether Instagram or not) including text, frames and effects

collage_4

 

So how could Instagram be used in a learning situation?

  • As an online introduction exercise – ask participants to share pictures of something they did, of something that is important to them, of their kitchen, bookcase, etc. Keep in mind to connect the focus question for the introduction to the theme of the work to be done later on
  • As tool for reflection or evaluation – ask participants to share a picture that represents what they learned, how they feel, what was the most important insight to them, etc.
  • As a tool to take stock of a situation – ask participants to share a picture of their desk, of an annoyance in their daily work or life, of an internal notice board, etc. The focus question will of course depend on what you will be working on

As said, the easy part is taking snapshots with a phone or tablet. Most everyone can do this nowadays.

However, there are some hurdles to be taken. While Instagram allows you to like and comment, it does not send notifications when someone comments on your photo or on a comment of yours. This means you would need to regularly check to stay on top of ongoing discussions.

Webstagram does help, because you can search on the basis of agreed hashtag, and then just visit the search page (web.stagram.com/tag/hashtag) online and browse through. As long as there are not too many photos this is easy to do. It is also possible to comment and like via Webstagram directly, without needing to go to Instagram.

A practical issue is that some people prefer to have a private status on Instagram, meaning that only their Instagram friends can see their pictures. That could lead to a situation where people are posting, but not all participants can see these pictures, more or less forcing that person to change their privacy settings if they really want to take full part.

The main reason why I might be hesitant to use Instagram as a platform is that it requires an account. If you are going to work online with a group, you will already have a platform for which people need an account (Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikispaces, etc) and to ask people to create an account on yet another platform and to have part of the discussion going on there might be too much. Especially, but not only, if the group is averse towards online tools in the first place. Replacing any of the other platforms would in my opinion not do, as Instagram does not have all the features needed for work in a closed group.

What the exercise did give me was a confirmation of the power of visuals, and the unexpected and interesting conversations that can come out of using photos and photo assignments. This is something I will certainly make use of. Those that have an Instagram account could then use that, while those that would not like to create an account on a new platform could for instance easily use Fotor, which can do much the same as InstaCollage, without account.

collage_10That does not mean that I would discard Instagram as a platform for learning and exchange altogether. I have experienced its power on the occasion of Croatia joining the EU as its 28th Member State, 1 July 2013. For many reasons this country has a firm place in my heart and I was very sorry that I was unable to be there at the magic moment. Instead, I became a Twitter junkie and followed whatever and whoever I could to stay updated in the days leading up to the 1st of July and on the night of 30 June. One of my new Twitter friends invited me to link also on Instagram, and that’s when I discovered a wealth of picture posts. And it wasn’t just enthusiastic Croatian citizens posting pictures of the main square, the Croatian government was really very active as well in sharing the atmosphere of these days, combined with information about Croatia and its accession process.

This unlimited sharing of information across borders is what, in my opinion, really shows the value of Instagram. After all, learning is based on being confronted with new information, reflecting on it and engaging about it, and embedding the new insights into your life somehow. Precisely that is what Instagram offered me in the lead-up to Croatia’s accession and in the introduction picture round with the LOSmakers.

wwwvladahr on Instagram

wwwvladahr on Instagram

 

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Playful Visualisation Tools

If you want to spend 5 minutes and have some fun with a twist, then you should try BigHugeLabs, ReciteThis or Picture2Life. All you need is a picture or a quote. And a plan. And in a few minutes you will have an inspiring poster or a picture with a caption.

BigHugeLabs: Captioner

BigHugeLabs: Captioner

If you haven’t got inspiration, ReciteThis has a wide range of quotes you can choose from and make a nice poster-type picture of.

Uplifting! ReciteThis

Uplifting! ReciteThis

All this is of course a nice break away from work.

But you could also use these tools for work-related messages.

You could make a ReciteThis out of a quote of one of your participants.

Participants defining the aim of a shadow report. ReciteThis

Participants defining the aim of a shadow report. ReciteThis

Or you could use the Motivator tool of BigHugeLabs to add a message to a photo of an activity.

BigHugeLabs: Motivator

BigHugeLabs: Motivator

Or you could personalise a message to someone using Captioner in BigHugeLabs.

Or, if you want others to do the dirty work, you could invite your participants to share a picture with a quote or message by way of introduction or as an assignment related to the topic of your workshop.

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So even a bit of fooling around with tools like these can give you tons of ideas for your work – justifying those 5 minutes break in a heartbeat! Have fun!

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