The Honeycomb retreat’s 19 participants worked in groups to discuss what was happening in their classes and what they wanted to change.

Honeycomb project yields unexpected benefits

October 06, 2011
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You would think renowned bee expert Mark Winston coined the name Honeycomb Project for the intra-faculty workshops and university-wide retreat he and Janet Moore designed to inspire innovation in communitybased and experiential learning among SFU faculty members.

But you would be wrong. “Actually, it was Janet’s idea,” says Winston, a biology professor and also academic director and fellow at SFU’s Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue and founder of the centre’s Semester in Dialogue program in 2002.

“It’s a good metaphor for our project. The honeycomb is a place of great communication, idea transmission and collaboration between the different tasks and perspectives each individual bee brings to the hive.”

The pair’s two-hour workshops, from fall 2010 through spring 2011, and their subsequent two-day April retreat at Brew Creek Lodge near Whistler were intended to allow faculty members to connect with their own experiential learning first, says Winston.

“Then we encouraged them to apply what they’ve learned from their own experience into the kinds of experience they want to set up for their students inside and outside of the classroom.”

On the first day, the retreat’s 19 participants worked in small groups to discuss what was happening in their classes and what they wanted to change. On the second day they focused on moving new ideas into action, with each faculty member giving a short presentation in the afternoon and listening to feedback and suggestions from their peers.

Moore and Winston hope to turn the Honeycomb retreat into an annual event and they’ll be following up in the next few months to see what their first alumni have done with the experience.

But Winston says the project has already yielded unexpected benefits: “The most surprising thing for us was how many faculty members told us they hadn’t gotten together with other faculty—ever—to talk about teaching.

“Most of us are terrified to reveal how frightening it is to pursue a more experiential kind of classroom where you’re not in control of what might happen next. And part of our exercise was to share some ways to do that and make it an engaging environment for students.”

To download the final Honeycomb Project report, visit: www.sfu.ca/ dialog/study+practice/honeycomb/finalreport.pdf.

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