When conversations over coffee lead to more than planned…

Facilitating CPD by Knowledge Cafes

Have you ever mused to yourself that time spent in the pub after a conference or teachmeet was somehow more valuable to your own CPD than spending time listening to a presentation in a lecture hall? Or that a random chat you had over coffee between sessions led to greater things than half an hour of chalk and talk? You have to confess that space for unstructured conversation with people who share professional interests is often productive. I’m not suggesting this as a way of learning per se (traditionalists, shoot me now), but as a well needed add-on that emphasises the importance of conversation and what can emerge from that, in addition to other classroom or conference based learning you might engage in.

In line with this, a way to facilitate a CPD style peer group learning session might be with a Knowledge Café – if you are not working with a group of fellow professional learners, see what you can do to arrange a Knowledge Café in your educational establishment for people interested in a particular topic of concern. For example, it could be on a problem such as “Should we make more time for research alongside our teaching, and if so, how?” or, “What about lesson study instead of lesson observation?”

Knowledge Café’s have been made famous in the UK by David Gurteen (@DavidGurteen on Twitter). You can find more information on Knowledge Cafes at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Cafe and also details of how to run one at http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/run-kcafe, where David suggests a simple Knowledge Café could go as follows:
“Optionally, the facilitator gives a presentation on what knowledge-cafes are all about and the role of conversation in (organisational/educational) life. (anywhere between 5 mins and 1 hr with a few conversational exercises). I usually only do this at a conference where people are not already familiar with the concepts and turn the whole event effectively into a half-day workshop. The facilitator welcomes people to the café – about 5 mins. The facilitator spends 10 – 15 minutes outlining the subject or theme of the cafe and poses one or two key open-ended questions. E.g. if the theme is knowledge-sharing then the question for the group might be ‘what are the barriers to knowledge-sharing in an organization and how do you overcome them?’ The group breaks up into smaller groups of about 5 each and discusses the questions for about 45 mins and then we come back together as a group for the final 45 mins where the individual groups share their thoughts. Usually no attempt is made to capture the conversation as doing so tends to destroy the conversation but you can capture “key insights” if you wish”

I’ve been lucky enough to be present when David has run these events himself, and once I even got him on board (no pun intended, haha) to facilitate a Knowledge Café on a canal boat in Amsterdam on Orange Day some years ago. That was mad, incidentally. I remember us sailing past a drunken reveller relieving himself into the water as we floated by. But at the time I was working in HE and we ran this as an add-on to a Knowledge Management CPD event for the Dubai Holding Group. It was a great way to supplement a couple of long days in a training room and people were able to discuss their understanding of their new learning and integrate it into the context of their own professional setting.
In any case, when thinking about how to run such an event yourself without David’s expert help, the conversation could focus on three questions set to guide the CPD. The following are some random examples but you can use your own:

1) Is there a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to teach?

2) Do we need to make a transition from lesson observations to lesson study?

3) Do we need to integrate research into our teaching practice, and if so, how?

These are just some basic ideas. I’m sure you would have your own. Have you ever attended a Knowledge Café? Have you ever run one yourself? I’ve seen that some people run teachmeets using the open space workshop idea, but what about knowledge cafes? I’d love to hear about it if you are aware of anyone who does this kind of thing. I’ve really enjoyed them in the past and I do think they add a lot of value to the way professionals interact and engage on topics relevant to practice.

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