The MAYFIELD project goes to Nashville

Published: Monday 24 October 2011

There were a number of reasons to present the MAYFIELD project at the 2011 World Conference.

It was an opportunity to demonstrate the possibilities of action based research - of learning through professional experiences. The MAYFIELD project was also the cornerstone of the regional conference in Perth 2010 and while northern hemisphere delegates are understandingly few, it was a way of sharing this with a wider portion of CEFPI members. In writing the article to be published in the conference edition of the CEFPI journal, the Educational Facility Planner, it also encouraged me to consider the role of research in practice and in doing so, offered ways of developing the structure and format of the project. Most importantly, taking the project to Nashville, offered an opportunity to connect with those who may be interested in participating in the next MAYFIELD project. It was this last objective that was perhaps the most important, and potentially the most successful of the journey.

The presentation was planned as a workshop event, in which five group activities were planned. These mirrored the five themes of the MAYFIELD projects in Perth in 2010, and all involved a small group of delegates to consider the issue at hand. To direct the activities and focus the attention of the participants, a short presentation was planned placing the workshop in its context, giving a background to the intent and aim of the project, and introducing MAYFIELD 2012. For each group a package was prepared, containing a worksheet which outlined the key issues, a summary of the research that was done in 2010, and materials with which do the activity. All groups were required to make a final object that summarised their discussions and finding on the day. 

The challenge in preparing for the workshop was the unknowns. The number of participants could range from 0 to 80, which was the full capacity of the rooms. The layout of the room was also unknown. For workshops large tables were preferred, but it was likely that the room would be set up lecture style with no chairs at all. In order to ensure the smooth running of the workshop, I needed facilitators for each group, the majority of which I would have to 'recruit' once I got there. And finally, I needed to take all the materials for the workshop with me, as it was unlikely that the conference centre would have a well equipped art supplies store. This made packing a challenge.

The MAYFIELD project is also challenging for those who get involved. They are asked to share professional and often personal experiences, and in some cases, question the outcomes of these experiences. At Nashville it was no different. It was evident that for many the format of the session was difficult as it differed from the usual lecture style. As delegates are asked to choose from one of five parallel sessions, this unknown was clearly a factor. For those who did attend, and there were 12 in all, sharing experiences, considering the key issues, and presenting their findings at the end of the 75 minute session was challenging, but I think for different reasons. The feedback from the session indicated that they would like more time to be able to complete the conversations and the tasks. While some were left still wondering what the MAYFIELD project was, for many it was a chance to reflect upon their practice, which they recognised did not happen often. Some even stated that they hadn't had this opportunity since entering professional practice. And being asked to actually 'do something' - make a model, chart a conversation, describe a learning environment in collage, consider the pieces of the learning jigsaw - required the participants to draw on a range of skills beyond simply listening and making notes. 

From this experience a number of lessons were learnt. The delegates who attended were those to whom I had talked directly to during the conference - at networking events, before and after other sessions or even following question time in other presentations. This 'personal touch' served to answer some of the questions about the format and the intent, and helped the delegate to identify the potential value of the workshop. It also helped to put a face to the name, which is something that can make a difference offering delegates so much choice. In addition, encouraging others to reflect upon their own experiences, and share these with others, many of whom are strangers to them, while difficult, was rewarding. One participant, when asked to reflect on learning environments, related experiences he had as a child in summer camp, and the influence this had on him even now. The other participants of this group were of a different, younger generation, and prompted them to also consider their own educational experiences. Recognising the influence of past experiences upon current practice is one key element of experiential learning required for this mode of research to be meaningful. We must critically reflect upon our experiences, in this case in the design and use of learning environments, and when developing new theories based on this reflection, we must be given the opportunity to test these theories. Obviously this cannot happen in practice, as the risks are high. But the MAYFIELD project offers participants the opportunity to test theories in a low risk environment, and then learn from this testing. This became clear at Nashville, where some chose to test the theory they had been holding onto for years. As a result, this member is keen not only to participate in the MAYFIELD 2012, but to involve the younger members of his practice also.

So while the number of participants was small, the workshop and experience as a whole was valuable. Particularly for myself as the presenter, but also, I hope, for those who participated, and those who are planning future MAYFIELD projects.

For more information about the Mayfield Project and to register your interest for 2012, visit http://mayfieldproject.wordpress.com

Lara Mackintosh
WA Chapter Chair