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10 days to the start of the free and open online course: Facilitating Online Communities.
About once a week in the lead up to the start of the course I check the course wiki discussion page to see if anyone new has added their names to the ‘I wanna be involved list‘. Each week I am nicely surprised to see not only new names, but people with experience and genuine interest! Its actually a little intimidating to be honest! There are people joining the course with more experience than I have! but I’m confident that the topic range and resources will be useful for just about anyone, and as many have said – they’re joining to fill in some gaps. I think we’ll be fine 🙂
As yet I haven’t heard from any formal participants. I don’t know if the sponsoring institution who is responsible for the traditional promotions and formal enrollments has been directing people to the course wiki or not (I sure hope they aren’t persisting with their Blackboard process – it will only confuse people). Perhaps for a formal and newbie, the idea of making an introduction to a group of experienced and highly motivated participants so far is intimidating them.. I hope not, I sort of wish I had of included a join by email button (I need to look into that feature on Wikied). Ignoring that factor though, the group we have in there already will be a valuable resource to any newbie to all this. They’d be really letting themselves down if they opted out on account of feeling intimidated.. I must remember to quiz people to see if this was at all a factor once we get started.
In any case, I am really relieved that we have a good number of interested informal participants. They will help to carry the motivation of the formally enrolled, and will no doubt offer help with the course in general. I’m confident that some of them will turn into fee paying participants if they want assessment and certification, but its certainly not a requirement.
I’m looking forward to getting started on it come the 28th, even though I’ll be facilitating all by my lonesome, I don’t intend to allow my workload to go over 6 hours a week on average. We’ll see, famous last words…
That course we ran last year is coming up again. I’ve tweaked it quite a bit – free at last from the learning management system it was locked up inside, running in a wiki schedule, backed up by blogs and an email forum.
This course has been developed by staff in the Educational Development Centre of Otago Polytechnic and is designed to help both formal and informal learners access and interpret models, research and professional dialog in the facilitation of online communities. After completing this course people should be confident in facilitating online and/or be able to critique and offer advice to other people in the facilitation of online communities.
The next facilitated course starts 28 July 2008.
Participation in this course is open. You will need to have regular access the Internet and be comfortable with independently completing tasks. To join simply introduce yourself to the discussion page and include an email address that can be use to add you to an email forum for the course.
In formal learning terms this is a level 7 course registered on the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Formal learning participants engage in this course for a period of 10 weeks with an indicative time commitment of at least 6 hours per week. Formal learners will receive concentrated learning support throughout this period, and assessment services and formal recognition at the completion of the course. Some people may prefer to engage in this course informally and to set their own pace through the work using the schedule as a guide. Informal engagement is welcome and arrangements can be made for formal assessment and recognition at any time with the course facilitator.
Sarah Stewart has picked up on a conference taking place here in Dunedin that I know very little about. Part of me is offended that I know so little about a conference being organised in my home town without any of the organisers talking to me directly about it. But universities are a bit like that really, and maybe Dunedin is chock full of people living and breathing “computer mediated social networking” that they don’t need to seek out other locals… personally, I have not found many at all.. perhaps they just research it.. whatever the reason, as Sarah points out, we can’t not submit
ourselves to their authority something for inclusion in the program if we are to regard ourselves in this field at all.
On looking at the topics for the conference it would seem that our experiences with running the Facilitating Online Learning Communities course would be a good candidate to talk about. I’m a little put off by the tone of the conference though, and a bit at a loss as to how we might go about packaging what we know about that experience up into a presentation of some sort of “research” for this conference. I do know that there are quite a few things about our experiences that the conference attendees would find interesting, starting with the things Sarah points out such as personalised learning through blogs and wikis, and open access to the course and how that resulted in a better learning environment and fee paying enrollments.
I would like to extend the proposal to talk about open content, the difficulty of negotiating the participatory expectations of such a course with the traditional educational models of ‘stand and deliver’, and the discussion around facilitator or teacher. I’d also like to point out to model courses that follow this vein, such as Dave Wiley’s Introduction to Open Education and the work in progress on Wikiversity, Composing free and open educational resources.And then of course we could talk about the bigger picture at Otago Polytechnic.
So, my initial thoughts are that we could talk about:
- The set up and maintenance of the Facilitating Online Learning Communties course
- Experiences of the participants and examples of how their new learning is being used in their work
- Outstanding issues and considerations arising from the course
- Further work we will do in developing education generally at Otago Polytechnic using socially networked media and communications.
- Frank and honest discussion on the probable and existing issues with this vision and Otago Polytechnic
I think it would be good to beam the likes of Sue Waters and some of the 10 minute lecturers in on the day as well, to get their impressions and reasons for participating on the air… as I think they played a very significant part in the course that we have not really captured yet.
As I teach and facilitate various online courses this year, a lot of the theories and concepts I subscribe to are getting some hard testing. The biggest challenge I am finding is the expectation for a teacher or instructor while everyone talks about a facilitator. I don’t think someone can be both, primarily because a teacher inherits a significant amount of power and traditional roles that counter act the more neutral and passive presence of a facilitator. This post will be a series of thoughts about this tension, and some ideas on how I can better manage my attempts at online learning community facilitation.
There’s a teacher at the party
I find it is all too easy to assume the role of a teacher if you are an expert in your field, but very difficult to adopt and maintain the role of facilitator to a group studying your field. Many things stack up against efforts to maintain a neutral and passive position of facilitation:
There is this blog and other artifacts that help to establish me as some sort of “expert” or someone with a few years of experience researching and testing the topic of online learning etc, and so a teacherly presence is hard to avoid, and there is an expectation that my experience and expertise should be used to help people find the answers more quickly and efficiently. Added to that are the student or participant expectations. People engaging in the courses I attempt to facilitate are typically vocational teachers and trainers by profession and people who have enrolled in a formal course, through traditional administration lines, via a professional development cycle and with very little background knowledge of me or the topic I am asked to facilitate, and that they intend to learn … about. And so, through this set up process they are encouraged to expect the familiar presence of a teacher or trainer, a formal learning venue and everything else that is familiar to a person who has been successful in the schooling experience. Ultimately they are unprepared for the facilitated and individually responsible and self motivated learning environment I try to encourage.
I can understand the expectation for a teacher in a course. Naturally a student who has enrolled in a formal course, following traditional administration channels, paying fees etc and who is of an age and professional experience that is very used to the idea of taught and instructed learning, would expect a similarly efficient, industrial strength, structured learning pathway within the course. But this is at odds with my understanding of facilitation and my principals around individual responsibility, networked learning, and a belief in the importance of deschooling.
So I have a problem.
Either I yield to the tradition of schooled learning and assume the role of teacher, instructor and assessor and forgo the role of facilitator, or I invest a lot more time with these courses and develop my skills as a communicator and become more sophisticated in ways of moving expectations towards a facilitated and individualised learning environment. At the moment, I can’t say I have been very successful at that, there are some things I can see I can do better, other things I have no control over, and then there are things that allude me all together. I am myself caught in a twilight zone between teacher and facilitator. I have years of experience being taught and then some teaching. I’m actually quite comfortable being the know it all teacher, instructing people on what to do with their time 😉 I even know a bit about controlling people’s behaviour so as to reflect something I can assess as learning.. but facilitation, that continues to allude me.
When I act as a facilitator I generally ignore all the lead up that the people who engage in these courses go through before they meet me. Mystake number 1. Then I assume an equal role with and between the participants and expect individual responsibility for motivated and expert learning. Mystake number 2. I actively fend off teacherly roles, keeping the structure and prescribed content to a bare minimum. Mystake number 3. Inevitably the frustrations from the people engaging in the courses are expressed, calling for more structure and direction and a more efficient pathway to a learning fix. It is not sufficient to simply establish and maintain communication channels, arrange and negotiate content like guest lectures etc, and assist individuals and groups with their research. The move from teacherly/taught to facilitated learning is complex and time consuming. So much so that I doubt these courses have much of a chance at succeeding at developing a individualised and facilitated learning experience.
Needless to say, teaching and instruction is the much easier path for all involved. Teaching and instruction are well established practices with numerous resources in place to support all involved in the exercise, including implicit and culturally embedded practices like narrative, closure, authority, partitioned knowledge, economy of scale, industrial strength admin processes etc). And almost everyone who is involved has experienced this type of schooled learning so we’re all on the same page in more ways than one. It is very difficult to socially learn in any other way, especially in a formal, traditional, schooled environment. The teach and instruct methods are a safe bet.
But I have been asked to facilitate a learning community. And although I know the word facilitate is being used more than a little loosely by institutions these days, and that the majority of the participants are encouraged to bring with them expectations AND needs of being taught and instructed, I have this idealist expectation to build and facilitate a learning community. All this relates specifically to a course I am attempting to co facilitate at the moment. It is called funnily enough, Facilitating Online Learning Communities. I share the facilitation role with Bronwyn Hegarty and we both struggle with each other and each internally with this tension between facilitation and instruction, cognitive and behaviorist practices and socially constructed ideals… We each have 4 hours per week to do this job, and only a small number of people engaged.
For the most part I think we have been successful given all the challenges. We have managed to move the course out from the limits of the Learning Management System so as to demonstrate the existence of learning communities in online contexts other than managed learning. So far we have looked at discussion forums, email lists, blogs and RSS, wikis and web conferencing. We are beginning to consider social networking sites, virtual worlds and gaming communities… all the participants have a blog, but only 1/2 – 2/3 are active with it, we have curated a series of what we call “10 minute lectures” that include about an hour of discussion, and we have attempted to down play our own presence as experts or specialists.
Unfortunately frustrations are expressed from time to time that relate to the seeming lack of structure and direction in the facilitation of the course, and the apparent over whelming amount of information and technical skills needed to participate. I can’t help but think that a lot of this frustration can be attributed to the confusion between teacher and facilitator, and the expectation of instructed learning that the course admin has encouraged. However, in the apparent absence of a structured course I think it is far to say significant learning is occurring in this online course. Most of the participants had not heard of a blog or RSS before this course, and did not know of the distinctions between social networking sites and blogs and wikis.. etc, none had used a web conferencing facility like Elluminate or Skype, and very few had heard of the world class people we have in for the 10 minute lectures, and we have successfully embraced a number of others late drop ins from around the world who have participated with us along the way. So the learning curve must indeed be steep for many of the participants. There are totally new technologies, new and immature methods, far from mainstream ideals, and very open and transparent communication channels – all 100% online. But dissatisfaction is very present 😦
I find David Wiley’s course an inspiration and a model for those like me who are suspended in the twilight zone of how to teach and facilitate all at the same time. His course is targeted at people who are already experienced with online communication, and David’s reputation attracts a wide variety of people from around the world. His participants are highly self motivated and network learners before they engage in his topics. The course is initially presented instructionally with clearly articulated schedule and expectations in a wiki format. Each topic in the schedule asks the participants to read, reflect and then write to their blog. David then demonstrates facilitation practices once the participants are under way with this. He summarises their work, comments and links people’s posts to each other. It helps that he has some farely well known edu bloggers participating in his course and so the topics and discussions go further and wider than the course participants themselves. I don’t have intimate knowledge of David’s course however, and he may be grappling with his own demons, but it is useful at least for me to see his approach to structure and conduct.
I think, if I am asked to “facilitate” another instance of Facilitating Online Learning Communities, I will follow David’s model initially, and either strongly suggest prerequisite experience, or a pre course for instruction on how to use various forms of core technology, but this doesn’t solve the problem of needing self motivated learners to participate in a facilitated learning environment. It is generally assumed that this ethic emerges after a participant practices blogging and experiences networked connections. This is true for approximately 10 – 20% of the participants I have had contact with, so what of the 80 – 90%? Perhaps this number will decrease as more and more people experience this type of expectation and meet others who have experienced it before.. a bit like the take up of email… or perhaps social networking sites like Facebook or Ecto will replace the idea of blogging and bring us back to group work, which seems to be what we are all schooled to being more comfortable with.. sadly
Plane home to Dunedin is about to board, so I’ll end this here. Just some notes to continue with later.
This week’s guest lecture was a biggy. We were very lucky to have the famous Nancy White talk with us from the lovely Seattle USA on Tuesday 12noon NZST.
Nancy suggested that we watch this animation about Peer Assist before we met. (After you click play, the movie will have to load a little before it starts playing. If you are on dial up, right click and save the movie file to your computer).
It was a very inspiring and engaging talk and Nancy got it in at under 15minutes! That’s the best so far 🙂 Here are the recordings:
- MP3 audio of Nancy’s talk – 2.7meg / 15min
- MP3 audio of discussion after the talk – 6.3meg / 35min
- Elluminate recording – (no password needed)
- Slides on slideshare
George Siemens has posted much needed rethinking on the role of teachers and experts in Networked Learning. He presents the idea of a curator as a central player in initiating a focus for a learning network.
I very much like this idea of the curator and I’d like to add more to it by describing and preserving the integrity of the teacher and the facilitator.
As many already know I try to reinvigorate questions and discussion on the role of teachers from time to time – all be it a little confrontational 🙂 Lately I have been broadly focusing on the integrity of a facilitator, especially as I reckon the teaching profession is [innocently] corrupting the integrity of facilitation with teachers calling themselves facilitators – but remaining teachers in every sense of the word. I guess teachers do this in response to the as yet illdefined roles needed in a networked learning. They are perhaps prematurely trying to redefine their role of teacher without yet fully understanding why or how, and engaging in the dialogue that George points to. I don’t think teaching needs redifining, it is fine as it is, it just needs to be deinstitutionalised and moved away from being the primary player in people’s learning. Artichoke is in my opinion the deepest and most thought provoking edublogger writing in this vein of thinking, and she is drawing very much from the thinking of Illich.
As George suggests, perhaps the expertise of a curator are more suited to becoming a central role in networked learning – someone that draws on an array of teachers and content to suit a particular purpose. I want to add the facilitator as another important role here, as someone or something that assists people to negotiate the exhibition that the curator has assembled. Not a teacher dressed up as a facilitator – someone who manages to remain impartial while at the same time engaging and interpretive; someone that can respond quickly to various and often unpredictable contributions from participants; and someone who does all this without asserting a sense of authority or even expertise over a topic, but instead calls on teachers and experts to engage when a teacher or an expert is needed. And that’s where networked learning and the Internet really help us. They give us access to a vast number of teachers and experts to call on at any given time!
But where can we find curators and facilitators? I don’t think we can reliably find good facilitators in the teaching sector.. perhaps we will find better facilitators from the fields of journalism, comedy, performance, talk back radio, speakers to the house of reps, etc. And as George points out, we will find curators from museums and art galleries (lets not forget the librarians!) I see the likes of Stephen Downes, George Siemens, David Wiley and so many other “A listers” – or most referenced contributors, primarily as teachers and content providers in this network. People and content that the curator might draw from. Modern day researchers who are available to be teachers and content providers in an exhibition, conference of course. They’re participants as well – especially in areas they are not recognised as experts, but the sustained focus, quality, popularity, experience and depth of their work makes them more teacherly than participants in their field. So it is not them that are the facilitators (although they are often capable as George showed with his facilitation of FOE). But one cannot be both an expert or teacher and facilitator at the same time.
I’m yet to come accross someone in our widened educational network that I would call a professional facilitator and/or curator.. perhaps like the teaching sector, the edublogging sector is not a reliable source for good facilitators. Perhaps the source for good facilitators and curators do not have an online presence and network yet…
But when they emerge I see the roles playing out like this: A curator finds resources and a space to bring together an “exhibition” of content, experts and teachers, then either adopts the different role of facilitator, or employs the services of a professional facilitator who will assist all the participants to negotiate the various aspects of the exhibition.
For example: Someone who organises a conference is essentially curating content, and will either facilitate that event themselves, or hire a professional conference facilitator to do it. The teachers and experts play a secondary role in these sorts of learning environments by providing the content and focus. In a sense, the people and content in this secondary layer are competing with each other for attention and recogniton.. they often choose to collaborate instead/or as well as compete (I mean compete in a very positive sense) for the attention and participation in their topic area. The tertiary level in this type of learning environment are the participants. They move around the content that is presented to them by the curator, and engage in various discussions, workshops and other events with assistance from the facilitator if needed. Often the curators, facilitators, teachers and experts join in and participate as well, but they unavoidably carry with them the status and isolation of their role, while the participants are free to move around unrestrained by an identity as fully formed as a teacher or expert at this “exhibition” that the curator has put on.
An art exhibition (and the opening in particular) is very similar. The artworks, the artists and the critics provide the content; the curator selects the content; and the participants develop the interpretation/learning. The more I think about it, so much of the world works like this. The old practice of classroom, captive audience teaching, and standard set fees is such an abused privilege!
So begins a new/or revisited thread of networked thought I hope… and we may at last be developing a clearer model for networked learning.
James Farmer joined us for the first in a series of 10 minute lectures relating to the facilitation of online learning communities. James talks about identity and ownership in online learning. Specifically comparing typical learning management system environments to blogs.