About a month ago, I finished my fifth and last module of my MCATD, Facilitation Skills. It wasn’t my first course in facilitation; I had completed one a year earlier to this day, give or take a few. Yet, this recent course on facilitation made me alive to a number of things that I have mulled over the last four weeks.
The first concerns the act of teaching or instructing. It is what I do for a living. Now, generally, our education system, especially at the postsecondary level, is organized around specialists teaching their specialties. I’m a bit of an exception to it in that I haven’t taught anthropology for years. I teach social science concepts and theories, so I suppose, in a small way, I remain a specialist. Yet, as I teach in a blended learning environment, a combination of online and in-class instruction, I have come to recognize that, while what I teach (the content) is important, the process of how I teach is ever more salient and meaningful to my students. This was underscored by the value they told me they place on the in-class segment. For it is in the classroom where they get to experience the how more intimately, be it through small and large group activities, synthesizing work on the whiteboard, question and answer, and the connections to their online discussions and current issues, out there in the real world, where the social sciences derive their potency.
Secondly, this how is also about structure and flow. I have expertise in the concepts and perspectives that I’ve discussed with them. However, I also have developed, over the decade of instructing and the last year in taking courses on adult learning, instructional design, presentation and facilitation, emerging expertise how to structure the process to make learning happen.
Thirdly, this awareness of the process of my teaching reminded me of Heather Ramsey‘s, one of the Facilitation Skills facilitator’s phrase, “unpacking the magic of facilitation.” That magical quality of it, of the dynamics, emotions, seed planting and light bulbs turning on, all of that stemmed from my hopefully good and effective facilitation of social science. Of course, the learners had all the content in PowerPoint, the text, electronically available peer-reviewed articles, and through the course website. But, the magic of good facilitation is leading people through a well-structured and well-designed process whereby they generate deeper understanding.
Lastly, this relates, importantly, to the ongoing work in neuroscience and cognition of how we learn and specifically, in the notion of cognitive processing. Such processing aims at deeper understanding of material, which involves organizing and integrating. While learners are doing this on their own in virtual space, they appreciate being facilitated through this process as well. That desire to be facilitated, to be led through a process of learning and engagement, helps them make greater sense of the material.
Hence, I’m left to wonder whether part of the magic of facilitation is precisely that ability to take a piece of instruction and build an effective process to facilitate a group through that instruction. The facilitator as magician is not a license for vanity; rather, s/he is a guardian of a painstaking process against the tide of instantaneity.