PLIX Conversation Starters: An Audio Experiment

May 25, 2021

This month, PLIX hosted its first-ever Facilitating Creative Learning online course. It gave us an opportunity to try some new formats for engagement with our community. We’ll report on the course and how it went some more over the next few weeks. We’re starting by sharing our biggest experiment: our new series of informal, audio-only chats.

As we began planning the course, much of the world had been locked down for nearly a year. We knew that Zoom burnout would mean that people would be tired of staring at their screens for meetings—including online class sessions, no matter how fun we’d make them. At about the same time, the audio-only app Clubhouse exploded in popularity, proving that the pandemic-weary longed for the intimacy of connecting through voice. Of course, podcasting has long been enjoying an upswing in popularity by creators and consumers. Could we make a mini podcast for some piece of our course content? We decided to give it a try.

Our Week 2 Conversation Starter page with Luigi Anzivino and Katherine McConachie.
Our Week 2 Conversation Starter page with Luigi Anzivino and Katherine McConachie.

We imagined our course participants might listen while tinkering with a PLIX activity, shelving books, working the circ desk, cooking dinner, taking a walk, getting a vaccination, etc. While these listening opportunities made it sound like this was an optional part of the course, we really just wanted to let people experience the content in some way that could let them delve into a topic, while giving the eyes a rest! An audio-only format limits accessibility, however, so we made sure to include edited transcripts of the informal conversations as well.

We also hoped the PLIX Conversation Starters would spark more dialogue on the PLIX Forum, hence the name! Each week we released an audio-only conversation between two members of the PLIX community relating to the course's themes of the week. Recorded via Zoom, speakers joined from Alaska, Greater Boston, Boulder, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Week 1

For our introduction to creative learning, we featured Claudia Haines, a librarian from the PLIX community. We chose to start by spotlighting one of the participants in the course as a way to illustrate clearly the value of peer learning: Claudia contributes vast experience and wisdom to this learning community—as each participant does! Claudia considered her long engagement with creative learning and PLIX in conversation with PLIX’s Avery Normandin. They talked about how both those topics connect to Claudia’s work with Homer Public Library in Alaska, peer learning, supporting teens, local rural knowledge, and traditional ways of knowing. With this rich 30-minute conversation, we were off and running!

Week 2

For “Encourage & Inspire,” we invited Luigi Anzivino, the Exploratorium’s Professional Development Lead for The Tinkering Studio to speak with PLIX’s co-founder Katherine McConachie. This conversation dove deep into peer learning again and also featured the second week’s facilitation techniques about framing creative learning prompts and curating examples. These two creative learning experts also discussed more generally how to design learning environments in a fast-paced, engrossing 45-minute conversation.

Week 3

For “Celebrate the Process”, we turned once again to a peer from the PLIX community. Tienya Smith, the Community Library Manager of the Queens Public Library, chatted with PLIX’s Lydia Guterman about some of the considerations seasoned facilitators put into running creative learning workshops. In a quick, 20-minute conversation, they touched on celebrating the process (not just product), as well as more practical facilitation techniques, like keeping one’s hands off of patrons’ tools and using friendly, approachable language. Tienya also detailed the full process of program development at QPL. It was fascinating!

Week 4

To explore the theme of “Grow as a Facilitator”, we were delighted to welcome a pioneer of the creative learning community, Ricarose Roque, founder of Family Creative Learning and director of the Creative Communities research group at University of Colorado, Boulder. She talked with PLIX’s Michelle Hlubinka about how communities of facilitators can help one another improve their creative learning practice through documentation, sharing, and reflection. In this 25-minute chat, we learn a lot about Ricarose’s own origin story and her balanced approach to thinking about free exploration and scaffolding activities for participants. As Claudia Haines said after finishing the Week 4 recording, “I could listen to Ricarose talk about family creative learning for days! I feel like I learn something new every time I listen to or read what she has to say.”

How We Made These

We recorded all of these chats on Zoom, and text was cleaned up manually from the auto-generated Zoom transcripts. Based on a tip from Claudia (who happened to be taking a podcasting course at the same time), we used the free version of the online editor ClipChamp to do a rough edit on the audio.

Listen In!

You can check out all of the Conversation Starters, as well as an archive of the rest of the course, on the Facilitating Creative Learning landing page. Take a listen, share your thoughts in the PLIX Discussion Forum, and join us for future workshops!

Finally, one fun fact: the theme song is a simple tune plucked by PLIX’s own symphonic superstar Avery Normandin on his favorite violin.