What happened in Boston?


The weather is always this nice in Boston, right? Our group in Boston Public Library’s courtyard.

From September 18 to 20th, we welcomed 55 educators, librarians, and learning circle advocates to Boston for a P2PU Gathering. This came on the heels of a similar event in Kansas City last year, and we are grateful to the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Siegel Family Endowment for providing us with the support required to do it again. 

This event wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible hospitality and generosity of the Boston Public Library, who played host to our community, representing 20 library systems, six universities and community colleges, six non-profit organizations from the US, Canada, Germany, and South Africa.

Dirk joins the tour of the Boston Public Library. 

A lot of our work over the past year (such as the facilitator training course) was guided by feedback that came from Kansas City, and we also left with some ideas of what should be different at the 2019 gathering: adding an optional facilitator training workshop, visiting more partner sites in the area, and having facilitators lead sessions on particular issues that they are facing in their communities.

So, what happened this year?

On our first day, our colleagues from Cambridge Public Library, the MIT Media Lab Learning Initiative, and Boston Public Library gave tours of their buildings, with a focus on adult programming and community-based education. A highlight was seeing the rooms where learning circles happen in different libraries. In the afternoon, Nico ran a free facilitator training workshop with three BPL facilitators, Jess, Jordan, and Caren. This was an open training for people in the Boston area, and we ended up bringing in about 15 newcomers just for the training who will hopefully join us at future Gatherings 🙂

Thank you, Katherine and Philipp for leading our tour of the MIT Media Lab!

The Gathering itself took place on Thursday and Friday, and was a wonderful mishmash of problem-solving, scheming, visioning, and planning together. Some highlights from the Gathering were:

  • Feedback sessions: Twelve participants had the opportunity to facilitate 30-minute long feedback sessions on a topic of their choosing, which included creating learning course courses, using learning circles for GED prep, and reviewing P2PU feedback tools. Each discussion was framed as an opportunity to seek honest feedback and guidance, and they were very successful in this regard.
  • The variety of participants: Learning circles have been taken up by a number of public libraries over the past couple of years, but they aren’t the only ones using them. In Boston, we were joined by community college representatives, English language educators, and even a research biologist who wanted to facilitate learning circles in his spare time. We were also joined by some content experts and online course providers (Linux Professional Institute, MIT OpenCourseWare, and edX), who came with an interest in understanding how their courses and expertise could better suit learning circles. Consistent throughout the Gathering was the understanding that learning circles are flexible enough to meet a wide variety of audiences. 
  • Setting strategy: Who directs P2PU? It’s a good question. P2PU has a few staff members and a Board of Directors, yet most of our work is decided on and driven by our community. A number of activities at the Gathering, therefore, were designed to surface priorities and feedback on the P2PU mission and mandate for the next year. This included a session focused on how we might address our relationship to online courses, another session on financial sustainability, and a group workshop on setting goals for 2020.

As we move away from Boston, we’re already thinking about what we’ll do next. There is incredible value in creating a physical space for us to all meet together; there is no doubt about that. However, we don’t want to get stuck in a rut of thinking that we need to host an annual event just to say we hosted an annual event. Given the vast geographic reach of our community, it may be the case that smaller, regional meetings could be a more inclusive and time/cost-effective way of coming together. The most important thing is that each of these events builds on one another: the facilitator training course emerged from Kansas City and then became an integral part of Boston. We’re excited to see what parts of Boston will carry forward and influence our next Gathering, wherever and whenever that may be!

Jordan discusses fiction writing learning circles during a feedback session.

Morgan responds to a prompt from us about library investment in online learning.

We created learning circle monsters using Mega Bloks as a way of discussing the core elements of learning circles.

We drew our ideal learning circle facilitator as a way of discussing fundamental facilitation skills. Welcome to P2PU, Pat! 

A plus/ delta was run as a final activity at the end of the gathering.

Thank you to Jess for welcoming us so warmly to the library, and for managing all the balloons!



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