Sylvia's LS Activity

Sylvia's LS Activity

by Sylvia Bell -
Number of replies: 3

I'll be teaching an online class of masters students this summer. It will be one of their first courses and I want to plan a synchronous session to help reinforce the networking that will happen during their two-week residency. As their degree is in higher ed leading in times of change, I thought the following Critical Uncertainties activity would be useful.


Can we predict the future? See around corners? Know what’s coming next? Probably not. But we can prepare for an uncertain future, respond to surprise and be more resilient when faced with challenging circumstances. And here is a perfect place to learn and practice how to face a changing future with poise.

You will be working in a group of four. Everyone needs to contribute. Here’s what we’re going to do:

Firstly, you will get 5 minutes to make a list of factors that are impossible to predict or control in your college or university.

Which factors threaten your ability to operate successfully? Answering this question will allow you to prioritize the most critical factors. This should take 10 minutes.

Based on your group’s history and experience, you will select the two most critical and most uncertain (X and Y). 5 mins

Next, create a grid with two axes—X & Y—with a “more of <—  —> less of” continuum for the factor to be represented on each axis. For example, for the X axis, if the number of new students is a critically uncertain factor, one end of the X axis is a large number of new students and the other is no new students. Repeat for the Y factor and axis. For instance, if protected research time is a critical factor, one end of the Y axis is strong research protection and the other is no research protection. Four quadrants are created.

You have 10 minutes to choose one quadrant, give it a creative name and write a thumbnail scenario for it.

Let’s take 2 minutes to peek at what the other groups are doing. 

Back in your own group, it’s time to brainstorm three strategies that would help the group operate successfully in the scenario you described. 10 min.

Now let’s take a couple of minutes to share our strategies with the whole class.

The whole class will sift through the results to identify which strategies are robust (strategies that can succeed in multiple quadrants) and which are hedging (strategies that can succeed in only one scenario but protect you from a plausible calamity). The balance of strategies can succeed only in one scenario. 10 min.

Each small group debriefs with What, So What, Now What? 10 min.

The four groups share their debriefs and the whole class makes first-steps decisions about their Now What. 10 min.

If I were running this face to face in the classroom, I'd know how to do it easily. But I'm a bit unsure of the technical challenges of a synchronous class (full confession, I've never done this before) and how to create small group areas in Moodle. If this is overly ambitious, let me fall/fail forward here. I'm counting on my team for advice. :-)
In reply to Sylvia Bell

Re: Sylvia's LS Activity

by Terri Bateman -

So Donna, what do you think? I think Sylvia has a pretty ambitious plan but it's probably do-able. First I'm concerned about the timelines. If there are synchronous elements that all the students have agreed on, then this could work using Collaborate and break out rooms.

In an asynchronous situation, I think if Sylvia provided a graphic to each group with the graph on it - maybe in a group wiki, the team members could contribute to it over the course of a day or two. Depending on how large - or small - the groups are, there would have to be a way to meaningfully divide the work so that everyone can contribute - maybe each person (or each team)  is responsible for one quadrant, or for at least 2 contributions within their quadrant. When each group is done they can share their wiki with the whole group.

For the 'what,so what, now what' piece I think the questions could be revealed over a few days in a discussion forum so there's time to complete each piece and put some thought and reflection into the answers. There may be a more clever way, but that's what I've got for now. :)

In reply to Terri Bateman

Re: Sylvia's LS Activity

by Donna DesBiens -

Hi Terri,

Agree that this is an ambitious plan and yet doable with some tweaks. 

First, I'd like to say I love the congruence between Leading in Times of Change and a Critical Uncertainties activity.  Also, really like the language used in the intro - sparky questions and very simple, clear vocab.   Ditto for the clear vocab in the instructions. 

Tweak thoughts: 

Agree the timeline is long - 80 odd minutes all told is a long time in Collaborate Ultra, especially if students are coming in from different time zones. Hard on instructors too.

I like your suggestion to use a wiki for small group pre-work and sharing between groups before getting into a synchronous session.  Beth's suggestion of a Google doc would work too; yet, using the Moodle wiki would keep the work inside the course site. At my end, I wondered if Padlet would work. It's both very easy to use and multimedia friendly.  Whichever format is chosen, like both you & Beth, I think a graphic example of what's expected and a pre-set grid would clarify the activity and save time for all.  When I worked through the activity wearing my 'student hat' something like this is what I envisioned would be an expected product: 

Graphic for learning activity

 [If collaborative media tools are used, the class could take a quick peek at what others are doing in the wiki, G-doc, or Padlet - at any time that is convenient for them] 

Also, of the groups of 4 did this work before the synchronous session, there's already about a half-hour of time-saving.  

About the activity steps, I too wondered if the small groups might need a bit more guidance on the number of contributions per person in the list of 'impossible to predict/control factors' in Step 1. Maybe the top 2 or 3 to open the door for shared factors, but not go crazy?   Steps 2 & 3 (prioritize critical factors & brainstorm 3 strategies) could be done w/in small groups too using one of the asynchronous share tools.   Saves another batch of time! 

Thinking about this again, I wonder if the example graphic should specify 'thumbnail scenario' and give a brief instruction and example of what 'thumbnail' looks like, e.g. Start with an action word (for congruence with action plan) and have sentence/word count guidelines? 

If these suggestions make sense to Sylvia, then the synchronous Collaborate Ultra session could focus on the final steps of sifting through the results, debriefing, and making first-step decisions on the Now What.  Previous time-budget for this was 30 minutes, but now could be extended to 45-60 min to allow that extra time always needed for online tech glitches etc. 

This is such a deep activity that one question bubbling up for me is whether/how students will be able to apply their learning from this in one of their assignments. 

Sylvia, I'm very much looking forward to working with you at RRU! Donna

In reply to Donna DesBiens

Re: Sylvia's LS Activity

by Sylvia Bell -

Wow! I'm in awe of all the wisdom Donna, Terri and Beth have shared. Your questions, comments and suggestions have helped me immensely.

Donna, once I know more about my teaching assignment, I'd love to work with you to tighten this up.

Muchos gracias! Sylvia