Planning Your Learning Visit

I recently wrote about the great benefits I am getting from learning visits — as visitor and visitee (is that a word? Well, you know what I mean). A few colleagues who read that piece have since had some questions for me, mostly about logistics. So I thought I would jot down some tips for planning a learning visit.

FIRST: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO LEARN?

The first step, of course, is to identify what you want to learn. What would the learning outcomes of a visit be? Surely you will learn stuff you didn’t know you wanted to learn too, but if you can identify a focus for yourself and your institution, proposing a visit and the visit itself will be a lot more focused.

For example, for my recent visit to a university in SoCal, I identified these focus areas and shared them with my colleague there:

  • What you are doing with Liberal Arts assessment, specifically using the VALUE rubrics and your institution’s core revision process?
  • What the librarians are doing with their assessment work?  (You’d mentioned that they were using SAILS – I’m wondering if it would be possible to meet with them to learn more about how they are doing assessment?)
  • A sense of how the Assessment Committee(s) work — their structure, charge, participants, etc.
  • More about your Program Review processes and outcomes
  • Your role in building the culture of evidence / assessment

This list helped her know who to set up meetings with and what materials I might be interested in seeing. (Indeed, it was a rather large list, but in all fairness, I was coming from out of town and only had one day to meet with them. I was trying to be comprehensive.)

TYPES OF VISITS

In my experience, there are two main types of learning visits:

1) Problem-based: This kind of visit is intended to help you work on a problem you or your institution has. For example, I arranged a phone visit for myself and 3 colleagues from my university to talk with a person at another institution in Chicago about how they manage the assessment of student learning in an outcomes-based liberal arts curriculum; this was a very real problem for us at the time. (Turns out it was for them too!)

2) Topic-based:  This kind of visit is more focused on a specific shared topic, such as “general education learning outcomes” or “facilitating internships.”  A while back, I set up a session with a person using the Mahara ePortfolio system at a different institution because we wanted to explore this system and see it in action. We used a web-based desktop sharing system and the phone, and she kindly took us on a 45-minute tour of how they are using Mahara ePortfolios. Nice!

IDENTIFYING WHERE & WITH WHOM TO VISIT

Figuring out where and with whom to visit per your desired learning outcomes is likely the next step. Here are some ideas for how to do so:

1) Look to your local network. Are there colleagues with similar job responsibilities at institutions near you? Do you know anyone at an institution near you that can connect you? Do any of your current colleagues have connections at these institutions that they could leverage for you?

2) Look to your distant network. Have you connected with folks at conferences that you can reconnect with? Even if you can’t visit physically, with the phone, Skype, or with other technologies you can visit virtually. I have a “coffee date” about once a term with a colleague from another institution across the country who I met at a conference; we both get a cup of coffee and talk on the phone for about an hour, and just learn from each other.

3) Look to your virtual network. If you use LinkedIn or Twitter, search for and follow people who are in similar roles or who have identified projects they are working on that are similar to yours. This is how I connected with the Mahara ePortfolio person; I had learned a lot from her by just following her on Twitter, and then when my colleagues and I were ready, I sent her a message with a few questions. From this initial conversation came the idea to have a short virtual meeting in which she took us on a tour.

PROPOSING THE VISIT

First, make contact and make a simple initial proposal. It might look something like this:

Hi there – My colleague XX shared with me your contact information because I am interested in learning about what you are doing with blah blah blah at your university; we are trying to implement this at my university as well, and I wonder if we might be able to set up a time to chat briefly about what is working and what’s not. Maybe we can learn some strategies from each other. Etc etc etc …

As demonstrated here, a proposal for a visit might be more compelling if you identify what you can bring to the table. What will be in the visit for them? What might you be able to contribute to the conversation?

Also, start small. You don’t need to visit for a whole day. Maybe you just begin with a short phone conversation, or maybe (if you’re close) you meet for lunch.

Finally, I think it’s useful to learn with others, as a team. If you can, take a colleague or two from your institution with you, or invite them to the phone / Skype conversation. Propose the person you’re meeting with do the same. The more the merrier!

DID YOU LEARN?

After the visit, assess your learning. Did you achieve your learning outcomes? If not, what might be next steps? What additional questions were raised for you, or what other resources should you explore? Likewise, was the person / institution you met with interested in learning more and continuing the conversation? If so, then maybe you all set up another learning visit with each other.

ONE LAST TIP

In the spirit of academic integrity,1) don’t take and just start using what is not yours and 2) give credit where credit is due. We all adopt and adapt ideas and materials all the time in higher education; if you want to borrow something from someone you’ve visited, ask permission and then attribute it. There may be nothing more irksome than being visited and sharing a rubric, for example, and not knowing the visitor adopted it or re-purposed it.

Happy visiting – learn lots!

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