First in a new webinar series
The Initiative hosted the first in a new series of webinars designed to help people design and conduct virtual exchange programs. Dr. Katja Riikonen, Virtual Exchange and Curriculum Specialist, presented Soliya’s approach to facilitating online dialogue. You can watch the video above.
The audience had more questions than there was time to answer, so we asked Katja to share additional thoughts below. Interested in learning more about facilitation methods for virtual exchange? Check out some resources Katja shared in the box on the right side.
Thanks to those of you who attended the webinar. Fill out the Contact Us form to ensure you are signed up for the Initiative’s announcements, including invitations to future webinars, or to let us know if there are any topics you’d like to see us cover.
And many thanks to Katja and Soliya for making this presentation!
Q: How do you track or assess the quality of dialogue over the course of the program?
A: In addition to the overall program evaluations, we do several things during the semester to ensure the program is going well. We collect information on the groups’ experience and progress: facilitators fill in an assessment form every week, and there is a mid-semester evaluation for participants. The program team does quality control alongside a peer support system: they monitor the program and observe dialogue quality, and communicate consistently with the facilitators and participants and host gatherings and skill-building workshops for support. And of course, all participants and facilitators can always reach out to the team in case of any issue to receive help!
Q: You mentioned “spaced learning.” Can you share any resources or data for those interested in understanding the impact of this style of program?
A: Here is a paper that talks about the impact of spaced vs. massed learning.
Q: How do you advise facilitators to handle very quiet participants? Do you have any advice on how proactive to be in trying to include them or give them a role or voice in the discussion?
A: The first step for a facilitator is to find out why someone is quiet: it could be because they are shy, or have a hard time understanding what is being said, or they might feel like they don’t know enough about the topic that is being discussed. But the reason could also be personal: they might not feel well, had an argument with their friend, or something happened in their family, etc. Depending on the reason, facilitators can support and encourage accordingly to include quiet participants in the discussion as much as possible. But with issues related to a personal situation, it can be better to allow the participant to engage how and when they feel comfortable doing so. As a rule of thumb, it is always worth it to actively try to engage those who are quieter than others in the group to ensure constructive group dynamics and balanced dialogue.
Q: Can you elaborate on what “multipartial” means?
A: Multipartiality means that as a facilitator, you are providing support – mostly through active listening tools and questions – to all those present in the discussion to ensure all views are being voiced and treated respectfully. Multipartiality can also be extended to include views not present in the dialogue group, but that are integral to the topic at hand and thus could enrich the dialogue.
For example, if a dialogue group is talking about immigration, but the viewpoint of a person that is very critical of migration is missing from discussion, a multipartial facilitator can bring this viewpoint to the discussion, too. With this approach, you ensure that all opinions can be expressed in the discussion – even though others might not agree with those – and you help the group to understand that there are multiple ways to view the issue, and that those views are important in dialogue.
Q: What kinds of activities, assignments, or other actions do you encourage participants to take between meetings?
A: We always encourage participant to have informal interaction between their dialogue sessions via the Soliya website, where they can share their thoughts and reflections. Also, facilitators communicate with their group members during the week to offer support and help participants prepare for the next meeting. A voluntary part of the program is a reflection journal, which guides participants to revisit and reflect on their experience with the cross-cultural group and their own learning process in it. We also have program-specific assignments that participants can do or contribute to between sessions; those can include readings, joint projects, or quick activities that help connect the topic of the dialogue to the learner’s other contexts.
Q: Do you have any advice for bringing “content experts” into the virtual discussion to provide specific expertise but not necessarily on-going participation?
A: This is something we have not done in our programming.
Q: How can a program reliant on facilitators scale up without hugely increasing the costs, i.e. without adding more and more facilitators?
A: This is one of the key questions we struggle with. But having effective and intensive facilitation is crucial for the type of learning we provide: it’s one of the cornerstones of what we think makes effective, meaningful, and impactful cross-cultural dialogue. As a program scales up, all other costs should either remain fixed, and therefore become smaller in relation to the number of program participants, or they can be reduced, for example through automation. But providing high quality facilitation is the one cost to be invested in to maintain high quality. Training facilitators and providing increasing numbers of people with meaningful cross-cultural communication and collaboration skills is also very much a part of Soliya’s overall mission.