For the past several months I have been leading a research project called “Investigating academic integrity in the Werklund School of Education: Process, policy and perceptions”. The main topic we have been addressing is plagiarism. This has resulted in invitations to give workshops in the School of Education, across campus and online. I co-facilitated three of these workshops with research assistants (RAs) Here is what I have learned:
RAs benefit from knowing the workshop details during the planning process. I outlined who the audience for each workshop was, where it would be held and how much time we would have. This helped them have a broad overview of all the workshops, not just the one they were working with me on.
RAs bring energy and insights into the planning process. We had two planning sessions, during which the RAs helped me to find resources, activities and build slide decks. As a result, the activities were more dynamic and engaging than if I had done all the planning alone.
Assigning RAs activities to lead creates a more meaningful experience for them. When I co-facilitate with colleagues, we decide who will lead which activities. I figured since the RAs working on this project are all aspiring or practising teachers, learning to co-facilitate a workshop by leading activities would be more meaningful than simply circulating handouts or taking notes. During every workshop, each RA had the opportunity to facilitate at least one activity. The result was a more dynamic workshop for the participants and a more meaningful opportunity for RAs.
When you treat RAs like professionals, they act like professionals. From the planning stages of the workshop, through to the follow up, I made a conscious effort to treat the RAs as fellow professionals, not “just students”. In return, their deportment, dress and presentation of themselves during the workshops was nothing less than exemplary. In one case, a person introducing us wasn’t sure if my co-presenter was a student or another faculty member! (I beamed with pride when that happened.)
It is OK to relinquish some control. This seems obvious, but at first I have to admit that I was a little unsure about handing over the reins to students. My fears were completely misplaced. The RAs facilitated just as well as I did (if not better!)
RAs need help documenting their workshop facilitation experience. After every workshop, I sent the RAs a citation to add to their slowly-developing c.v.’s They needed guidance learning how to document their experience and understand it as part of their developing professional experience.
Overall, I found that working with RAs required more time and energy than if I had done all the work myself, but it was time well spent. The end product was a better workshop that was more fun to plan and deliver and more dynamic for the participants themselves. I feel pretty lucky to work with such a stellar group of emerging professionals.
Here are some other posts related to this research project:
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.