A Guide to Planning and Leading PKAL Events

PKAL Meeting Essentials

Through more than fifteen years of planning events, PKAL has developed a package of program elements that brings about an intellectual, highly engaging learning experience for its primary audience of college/university faculty and administrators. As always, at the forefront, is the goal of helping teams adapt what they learn and their experiences into something meaningful to their institutional situation.

Central elements to PKAL events include:

  • Focusing on what works
  • Story-telling using the insights on how people learning
  • Setting expectations for planners, presenters and participants
  • Big ideas and Big speakers
  • Programs adapted to needs and interests of participants
  • Consulting, time for planning and reflection and the Agenda for Action
  • Continual building of resources for broader community impact

Focusing on what works

Since 1989, Project Kaleidoscope’s work has focused on what works in strengthening student learning in STEM fields, convinced that such efforts are advanced when teams of institutional leaders (faculty/administrators):

  1. have a collective vision for the future of their STEM learning environment, one that reflects both internal and external realities
  2. understand what questions need to be addressed within their community, in the context of their particular mission and identity, as well as of the changing national context for their work as they work to realize that vision
  3. understand who needs to be at the table at the various stages of transforming programs and spaces, developing faculty and programs, shaping and reshaping budgets, policies and practices in ways that serve their vision
  4. are able and willing to learn from and adapt the work of colleagues who share a passion for strengthening student learning in STEM fields, colleagues with experience in setting goals for student learning, in developing programs, pedagogies, policies, practices (and spaces) that serve those learning goals, and in assessing what works for which students in realizing those learning goals
  5. are able and willing to tackle the challenge of strategic leadership– the politics and processes of change– that engages their campus community in a collective effort to shape a vision, identify and address the right questions, etc.

Story-telling & Lessons-learned

PKAL workshops, seminars and institutes are designed as an opportunity for leading agents of change (presenters/facilitators) to tell the story about how they and their colleagues worked through the above five “what works” steps to achieve a more effective, creative, and efficient learning environment for undergraduate students. This ‘story-telling’ takes place in formal sessions (plenaries and break-outs and small and individual cluster consulting sessions) and informal conversations throughout the event. The ultimate goal is to enable participants to translate the lessons learned (to adapt best practices) from the experiences of individual facilitators into an agenda for action that can be implemented with all deliberate speed on their home campus.

Accomplishing that goal places several responsibilities on the leader/facilitators, including that their story:

  • is of their journey through the steps toward meaningful reform
    • what questions were asked, barriers overcome;
    • what collegial connections were important–within and beyond their community;
    • how they set and monitored progress toward realizing goals for student learning; about the vision that drives their work; and about the messiness of change/about what did not work
  • engages participants in ways that reflect insights about how people learn
    • building on existing knowledge;
    • giving participants opportunity to shape their own learning;
    • making connections to their real-world, day-to-day life as a STEM leader.

Accomplishing this goal also places several responsibilities on the participants, including that they:

  • have in mind in coming to the event a specific arena for attention (program/space/etc.), together with a nascent understanding of the current barriers and opportunities to be addressed, short- and long-term, by their campus community
  • use the experience of coming to the event to capture ideas and insights about several dimensions of strategic leadership, including: the politics and processes of change; the ‘content’ of change–what a new program, policy, pedagogy, space would look like
  • design an agenda for action that can serve as a road-map for continued and enhanced efforts toward meaningful reform on their home campus.

Sidebar: SWOT Analysis (Include explanation of SWOT)

Finally, accomplishing this goal also places several responsibilities on the event planning team, including to:

  • outline a ‘curriculum’ that captures some compelling ideas and experiences relative to the issues/topics under consideration, introduced and explored by leading agents of change
  • shape a sequence of formal and informal learning experiences that incorporate best practices in classroom learning: lecture-demonstrations; collaborative learning; problem-based learning; etc., carefully designed to serve the needs of the participants
  • prepare and disseminate pre-event materials and activities that anticipate what is to happen at the event and post-event materials that capture best ideas, provocative materials and other resources prepared for and emerging from the event
  • work with event planners and facilitators for a seamless series of presentations that challenge all to dream big and equip all for the long haul work of institutional transformation.

Big Ideas

A common thread through all PKAL events is identifying the big ideas that come to the fore throughout the event day or weekend. Sometimes these ideas come from presentations and often these ideas come through the reporting out from engaging table conversations. The richness of the reports from the tables illustrates again the value of learning in community and of being open to discussions with colleagues representing diverse perspectives and the impact of such discussions when the issue is one that touches the day-to-day lives of those engaged. The big ideas continue to draw out what is at the heart of the STEM learning community as we look to the present and future.

Birds-of-a-Feather Discussions

If these are scheduled, they are merely a time for intense but informal discussions with peers on a topic of mutual interest. The primary role of the facilitator is to keep the conversation moving along. When assigned to a session, leaders are not expected to “prepare” a presentation but to come to the conversation with questions to keep the conversation moving along. Typically, at PKAL events, these sessions take place over meals.

Consulting, Reflection and the Agenda for Action

At PKAL events, event facilitators/presenters wear multiple hats and are often asked to facilitate cluster groups through which teams are guided through and to the process of developing their agenda for action, one based on stories heard and personal reflections. Typically, a cluster group is comprised of 2 facilitators/consultants and 3 – 5 institutional teams. On some occasions, individual consulting is more feasible.

The charge of the facilitators is to have reviewed the applications for the institutions within their cluster. Then, in the first cluster meeting, walk teams through the goals and strategies for the event. Teams are to understand that they are to arrive at an agenda for action that is meaningful for their institution and to be prepared on the final day to present their plan (in poster form) for critique by event colleagues, their peer, in a manner that prepares them to ‘present’ their agenda to colleagues on their how campus. Agendas are to include what they plan to do by when (X by Y) and who will be responsible for doing what. The tricky part is getting people to understand the power of a driving vision (many will have such, but not all).

The first consulting session is not a time to have all twenty people in the room spend two minutes to introduce themselves, but rather to get cross- team conversations going – let them know both how much work they have ahead to them AND the collective resources with their consultant and with their cluster colleagues.

For multiple day events, clusters may meet multiple times. The shape of the later cluster meetings may not be determined until the needs of the teams are on the table the first day. Cluster leaders may determine it is more valuable for each team to meet with them individually and then for the teams to work alone. In other situations, it may work best for the cluster group to meet again as a whole to exchange ideas and further discussion.

Event spaces that work

General session and breakout session spaces need to be in rooms/spaces that facilitate conversations and can accommodate audiovisual presentations. What works are rooms with table seating for 8- 10 per table. Oftentimes, the general session space can also serve as the event dining space.

Quick space breakdown:

  • General session space with at table seating and audiovisual capabilities
  • Breakout spaces with at table seating and audiovisual capabilities
    • Generally 1 breakout room for every 20-25 participants
  • Cluster consulting spaces with at table seating; no audiovisual required
    • Generally 1 cluster space for every 15 participants
    • Breakout spaces can also serve as cluster spaces
  • Informal conversation spaces for institutional teams
    • These are spaces for teams to meet while not in session or while private consultations are taking place; these spaces may be informal sitting areas, open classrooms, etc.
  • Private dining space; may be the general session space
  • Registration and break location
    • Near the general session space
  • Consider the proximity these spaces have with one another and how much time in the schedule is used to travel between the spaces.