The Workshop: RIP!

Don’t miss this post by David Wedaman:

Library and IT staff pretty much have one tool in the tool box when they set out to help faculty come to grips with a new application or service. The Workshop. I’ve been associated with Library and IT Workshops for faculty for a long while, and I’ve noticed them sliding away from relevance. And attendance.

It could be that Workshops never were a very great vehicle for anything, and I’m only now noticing it. If it’s true they never were a very great learning vehicle yet we rolled them out continuously and people trudged into them dutifully year after year, that’s just sad. In any event, I’m pretty sure people are now increasingly less willing to trudge into them, and I’m not sad about it.

What’s wrong with Workshops? Well, a few things come quickly to mind.

  1. Content Kills Hope. Workshops are generally framed around content, and not very exciting content at that: a tool, a new Learning Management System, say. A tool often NOT chosen in consultation with the attendees, so from their perspective, an arbitrarily-imposed thing, somebody else’s content. What’s worse than boring content? Somebody else’s boring, imposed content that you don’t want. As a friend and pedagogue famously said, learning’s not about covering (content), it’s about UNCOVERING. (Uncovering the people, really).
  2. The Encapsulation Fallacy. The thing Workshops cover is usually one small mechanical slice of life presented as a self-contained whole, whereas faculty (like everyone) are probably more likely struggling to come to grips with a complex and integrated reorganization of their information and learning systems. So if they come, they are probably asking themselves the whole time “how the heck does this help?”
  3. The Carpet-bagger Syndrome. Workshop teachers are often presented in a kind of clerk-like role. They’re there to teach the topic, then they generally have to run off to do a variety of other things. Answer the phones, show a faculty member how to create a blog, attend a committee meeting, sit at the Reference Desk, help a student submit an inter-library loan request, what have you. All important, necessary, valuable things, but the point is that you may never see them again. They probably won’t be around when you have to do the thing in your real life. They’re like a traveller from an ancient land where tools are vast trunkless legs of stone in a desert, that is to say, easy to learn in decontextualized ways.
  4. Fear of What Should Not Be Feared. The Workshop isn’t really a place where engaged learners and teachers participate actively in the conversation about ideas that I imagine is at the core of a learning community. Ha, you might exclaim. What is it? It’s more like a protection from a conversation about ideas, because ideas take time to think about, particularly to think about together with other people, and the workshop has 40 minutes. It’s as if the Workshop teachers were just cramming the time full of activities like logging into the computers and typing in sample forum entries and imaginary search terms so that there’s no unscheduled portion that might generate an unpredictable conversation with the potential to change our assumptions about life, or anything else interesting.

Click through to read David’s suggestions for alternatives.