Consider Perforating Your Meetings

In the past couple of weeks, I presented twice about the concept of “perforating” our classroom, once at #AACU16 with Andrea Rehn, talking about the Twitter game #TvsZ, and once at Nile TESOL with Nadine Aboulmagd talking about using Twitter games in general with people outside the class. I’ve been doing that for a few years now – creating open spaces within my classes so that others outside the class can look in (in Egypt and internationally), and my students get opportunities to interact with authentic audiences of experts and learners at different times in the semester.

What is really new is the idea of a perforated meeting I tried recently. Michael Berman of CSU Channel Islands invited me to join one of their department meetings. Before you say this is normal business practice, let me clarify what this was not:

  1. We were not a multinational team working on a particular project meeting to organize things. I have done many of these before. They’re just…meetings.

  2. We were not meeting for a particular purpose, such as them consulting with me on something specific, or me needing something specific from them. I have many such meetings, and they can be fun and informal, or really stiff and formal.

This meeting was just like… opening the door to their departmental meeting and asking me to jump in. Kind of like when Ana Salter was visiting us in Cairo and we invited her to join us for our department meeting. But this was virtual. I was here in Egypt and they were in California.

This meeting was emergent. We had no set agenda. I communicated with Michael a little bit before about different things that were on my mind, but his idea was not to set a specific purpose to the meeting, and I am so glad he insisted on that. I got to meet Michael Berman and Michelle Pacansky-Brock whom I had worked with a lot in the past (particularly while organizing the #et4online conference last year) but also others in their department (whom I had interacted with before on Twitter) and a couple of faculty members, too.

Because the conversation was freeflowing, we were able to consider multiple avenues for collaboration between our institutions, some of which are immediately actionable, and others which need more thought and planning. For example, there are opportunities for our faculty to learn from the online teaching experiences of their faculty (I was able to view some learning objects one of their faculty had developed and to chat with her; I hope to put her in touch with some of our faculty to learn from her experience). We discussed issues that somehow both our institutions faced, and discussed the different ways they are dealt with. We discussed issues as wide as faculty attitudes towards online and blended learning, student attitudes about faculty accents, and technical issues with VoiceThread in Egypt. I saw the (very friendly) space they use to meet faculty for consultations. They let me look at some of the professional development they offer their faculty and shared learning on what seems to work better in their context.

This was very different from the kinds of sporadic collaboration we have on social media, because when we talk on social media, we necessarily have to abstract parts of what we say, we do not have the full context of someone’s work. By inviting me into their meeting, they were opening up their context to me so I could see it more clearly and focus on it for an hour, rather than have a conversation with 10 people from 10 different places where we would have to decontextualize to allow the conversation to flow.

I wish we could do more of this. And at the same time, I recognize that it is very difficult to do this even locally – to work across institutions locally where we could actually meet in person – not every workplace, boss, or department has that ethos of openness. And that is actually why it is helpful to reach out to someone in another country. It is about reaching out to others who welcome this perforation for its potential.

Doing this more extensively would be quite difficult. The time difference between us is 10 hours. It was 10pm my time and noon their time. I did it because I already know them and know this conversation would be valuable – but I could not ask other colleagues here in Egypt to meet that late at night – nor can I ask Michael and his team to stay up til 11pm to meet us at 9am, or wake up at 6am to meet us at 4pm

Still. Stepping away from that particular collaboration (though part of its value is in the particular people involved), working with people in the same or a nearby country, the timezones would be less of an issue. The difficult part is in finding the right combination of people willing to share openly, and who can exchange knowledge in a potentially useful way.

This idea also reminded me of an idea we are considering at AMICAL (a consortium of American universities outside the US) of “scholarly want ads” where scholars can find others interested in co-teaching or doing research together, for example. If that project ever takes off, we could have a “perforate your meeting” section in the scholarly want ads!

Would you consider perforating your meetings? What might doing so add to your meetings?Let us know in the comments.

flickr photo by fdecomite shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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