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The six core elements in my popular Visible Thinking in the Museum Online (VTMO) course

The 6 Core Elements in my popular VTMO course
My Visible Thinking in the Museum Online Course teaches educators to engage their audiences and confidently lead discussions around art and museum objects. This popular course focuses on 6 core elements in its design.
You will learn how to give your discussions a flexible structure and substance using thinking routines and how best to engage your group by employing facilitation skills, good questioning skills and the techniques of collaborative learning. There are weekly chances to get practice and coaching and reflection is woven throughout the 8 module course. Let’s find out more about each of these 6 core elements of the VTMO course.

1. Thinking Routines

I teach 23+ thinking routines in the Visible Thinking in the Museum Online (VTMO) course (and I say 23+ because more often than not I add a few extra thinking routines too). I’ve selected thinking routines that:
  • are particularly effective for online and in-person art/object discussions
  • focus on a range of thinking moves – e.g. observation, description, perspective-taking, etc,
  • encourage personal growth and development – reflection and brainstorming
  • encourage global dispositions – those that create opportunities to inquire about the world, consider multiple perspectives, engage in respectful dialogue and take responsible action
Most of the thinking routines in VTMO are ones that you can use to lead and structure a discussion about art or objects online or offline. We start with the core thinking routines and move to more complex ones as we progress through the 8 modules. 
Some of the thinking routines are included specifically for your personal development – either to help you develop your questioning skills, structure a discussion, carry out some brainstorming or to encourage reflection on a session or discussion. 
We start with See-Think-Wonder, See-Wonder-Connect and Headlines to ease you into Module 1 and an introduction to Visible Thinking in the Museum. Module 2 and 3 focus on questioning and facilitation techniques alongside thinking routines Looking Ten Times Two, Step Inside, 321 Bridge and Beginning-Middle-End. 
In Module 2 we use two thinking routines designed to help you brainstorm and create questionsCreative Questions and Question Sorts, a thinking routine for structuring your art/object discussing (Peel the Fruit) and one reflection routine (I used to think…Now I think…). We introduce these routines slowly in order to build confidence with using thinking routines in a creative way. 
Module 4 starts to dig a little deeper with thinking routines Colour-Shape-Line and Beauty and Truth. Module 5 is ALL about Zoom In – one of my favourite routines of 2020 – and we devote the whole of the live class to exploring this fantastic routine in detail. 
In Modules 6-7, we focus on engaging with ideas and into action and I introduce more complex thinking routines – Point of View, Step In-Step Out-Step Back, Gaining New Perspectives, 3 Y’s and the new observation routine Name-Describe-Act. The final module 8 of VTMO focuses on object-based learning and we discover Parts-Purposes-Complexities, Imagine If, and Main-Side-Hidden. We finish the course with the reflection routine ESP+1.

2. Questioning Skills

Questioning is THE skill to master when you want to create engaging discussions & conversations. Questions help us learn, avoid misunderstandings, gauge prior knowledge, manage, coach and build relationships. So, we focus early on in Module 2 on questioning techniques – participants learn:
    ✔️about the different types of questions and when to use them
   ✔️simple yet powerful ways to generate, formulate, sort and evaluate questions in response to prompts, artworks and images
   ✔️new thinking routines, techniques and activities that you can use regularly to perfect your questioning techniques
As all VTMO students are members of the Visible Thinking Membership, they also have access to my masterclass “How to Ask Brilliant Questions that Get Results’ that takes them step-by-step through the process of generating, formulating, sorting and evaluating their questions. They learn a variety of techniques and skills that they can take away and use in their own practice.

3. Facilitation Techniques

Leading engaging inquiry-led and discussion-based sessions around art and objects requires good facilitation skills to guide the process, encourage participation and the group to work together and ensure that all participants feel visible, valued and understood. 
There are many skills to being an effective facilitator, for VTMO I focus on both basic and advanced facilitation skills. In early modules we focus on using verbal facilitation tools (encouraging & guiding looking, paraphrasing, clarifying, linking or bridging, summarising), being mindful of language, listening actively and being open, accepting and neutral. Further along the course we progress to more advanced skills – coordinating the group, setting expectations and guidelines, gatekeeping, problem solving and so on. 
No-one is born with the skills of an expert facilitator. It is important to work on these skills and practice, practice, practice. I often use the analogy of a swan in our trainings – whilst you may look calm and composed on the surface, underneath the surface your legs (well, brain!) is working extremely hard at utilising all of these skills to keep the discussion going and to keep all the plates spinning. It’s important, even once you have received training, to ensure that you regularly practice your skills with other facilitators and find the time to learn and experiment with new tools and techniques (see practice below)

4. Collaborative Learning

As, according to Ron Ritchhart, learning is chiefly a social and collaborative endeavour, I have designed VTMO to be as interactive as possible and for the group to learn together collaboratively. This is why I opted a combination of live teaching and self-paced learning for the course. 
There is a live weekly group class on Zoom for approximately 90 mins (also be recorded). During this class I teach new thinking routines and key concepts, questions and discussion. There’s also a dedicated Facebook group where you can talk to Visible Thinking members. PS there are no ‘quizzes’ or ‘worksheets’ in this course either for this very reason. 

5. Practice & Coaching Sessions

These are focused sessions that take place weekly and give members taking the VTMO course the experience they need to grow in confidence and get inspiration. Coaching sessions take place with me and other members and give you the chance to lead discussions and receive feedback and coaching afterwards. Practice sessions are for members to get together and share ideas, develop practice and create connections (a mix of learning AND networking). There are perhaps a few membership sites offering courses on similar topics to mine, but none offer a comprehensive full programme that provides the accountability and support to actually get it done, grow in confidence and develop your own unique facilitator style.

6. Reflection

Encouraging a reflective practice is a huge part of the VTMO course. Reflecting allows participants the chance to step back from the course and to analyse what they have learned up to a certain point and to assess how far they have come (from their original goals or from the start of the course).
It helps us to learn more about ourselves and how we learn. It also helps the course provider (i.e. me!) to learn about their learning experiences too.
So, throughout the course, I gently encourage all VTMO participants to regularly reflect on their practice; to think about their confidence with their new skills and the connections they were making between different modules or with their own work experience. The aim is to help them develop and recognise their skills as learners.
Reflection is woven throughout the entire course – at the start (1-2-1 chat with me to discuss goals), after each practice or coaching session, at the end of every live class, a mid-course reflection activity, and a final reflection at the end of the course. We even have a ‘Wrap Up and Next Steps’ session right at the very end of the course to reflect on their experiences throughout the course, whilst also giving them the time to recognise their development and successes.

So, what will you get out of VTMO?

On a personal level, you will get out what you put in. In addition, you will first update your skills instantly – we all need to update our ‘toolbox’ on a regular basis to keep up-to-date with the latest methods and techniques and this includes learning new thinking routines and perfecting your facilitation techniques too. You’ll become part of a community – it’s much easier to be creative in your practice when you’re learning alongside like-minded people. You’ll also make friends and future collaborators – you’ll get new ideas and inspiration as to how you can use VT in your work both ONLINE and OFFLINE and you’ll find people you can collaborate with. 
Visible Thinking in the Museum Online (VTMO)’ is an 8 module online course with a combination of self-directed study and live tutorials spread over 11 weeks to fit around your schedule. To find out all the details about the course, click below.