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Ah yes Graham, I share your.. story.
As Alahka puts it in your comments, you can lead a horse to water… or as I have exhaled from time to time, flogging the dead horse that died in the trough!
I think though, it is incentives and time we need to encourage and support those teachers to first use the tools for their own learning. If they can’t do that, then I’m not sure we should be risking their incompetence on the lives of others who are either coerced into their charge, or pay huge fees for their services.
Its a beautiful day outside. I’m spending it building a wardrobe in the bedroom. And while I wait for the batteries on the cordless drill to recharge, I’m finally catching up on my long neglected bloglines.
I highly value Stephen Downes’ recent critique the Cape Town Declaration. I started reading the declaration yesterday, but quickly lost interest in it for reasons I was not entirely sure of at the time. Stephen’s critique, the comments that follow, and the links out to other ideas about it offer up so much more food for thought than the declaration itself. I think I will spend more time following the critiques and responses before I actually read the declaration – maybe that way I will find the thing more interesting as I read through it and consider the critiques and conversations I have already read. At this point in time I intuitively share Stephen’s concerns and I think the general points he is trying to make should extend right accross the Open Educational Resources movement. There is too much standard thinking about the ‘delivery’ of education, and the near neurotic obsessing over copyright seemingly at the expense of more important issues to do with learning. Nuf said on that for now.. more to follow after I’ve had more time reading.
Speaking of reading, making the time to read really helps me to listen. Since working at the Polytech my time for reading has been slowly eaten away. While in discussions about workload I try hard to defend the time I need to read, and reckon that people in my role need to allocate at least 30% of their time to it.. for me this would be at least 40 hrs per month reading my bloglines and adding notes to my blog. I need this to remain current and to sustain my connections. Funny how a fulltime job with all its inefficiencies can eat away at that. Over the past 2 years I have been reduced to less than 20hrs reading and writing time. I am starting to appreciate the familiar chorus from people when I encourage blogging and RSS, that chorus that says, “but who has the time!” In my own loss of the time I need, I really have only myself to blame. I must defend that time, and where possible extend it. Reading other blogs, comments and general points of view are extremely helpful to my own listening abilities and the things I can bring back into my local context. The trouble is, that that amount of time impacts on my abilities to listen in on the local channels. Those face to face meetings, discussions, and other things. At the moment, there is a communication disconnect between the speed and depth of the online communication and the slowness and superficiality of the face to face…
Stephen also recently posted the transcript of the talk he made in Wellington back in 2006 on Groups and Networks – the class struggle continues. I have blogged extensively my support once again for Stephen’s thoughts here, especially through that time soon after his talk where the debate about Groups and Networks became quite controversial, ending in a wide scale dismissal of its importance. I still think it is centrally the most important issue not just limited to online learning, and this recent transcript helps keep it alive in my mind.
Te Reo o Otakou is the first in series of videos from SimPa. We’re working with local runaka to help them retell stories of people and landscape in new and engaging ways. Fronted by runaka chair Tahu Pokiti this video introduces the concept – it is aimed to reconnect and engage – both in the finished product and the production: it is a collaboration at every level between Otago Polytechnic and members of the runaka.
Do you know of a freely accessible online intro course to sustainability that could be used to initiate some under informed people to the issues and ideas of sustainability?
we have been presented with a copyright protected, closed format, password protected, pay-here-please resource that would be quite effective for initiating people into the concerns, but does not in my opinion present a sustainable model for online learning development. I wish I could show you this resource, but.. it requires a password.
I criticised the resource as demonstrating unsustainable practices in terms of online resource development and learning, now I’m tasked with finding examples of more sustainable online resources… open source, freely accessible (no passwords), collaborative yet concise and informative… I expect I will find little in the way of finished resource.
It is a difficult task, as the expectation has been set by the resource that has been presented. A very linear, ‘mechanically interactive’, multi media broadcast of introductory information speaking to a particular frame of thinking about the issue (corporate/organisational sustainability). It is a genre of online learning resource that I have come to see as unsustainable… but on the other hand it has been suggested that such content could be an effective resource to ask participants to first go through and then critique and use as a basis to help build a more sustainable version .. hmm perhaps a Wikiversity or Wikieducator development would be such a venue for user genertaed content…
The Wikipedia entry for sustainability has an excellent range of resources, including a list of educational opportunities which I will slowly review.. The Wikiversity site has the beginnings of a potential course, but already beyond the concise and engaging resource we are looking for just now. The good thing about these 2 wiki examples is we could mold them to our needs without issues with access and copyright restrictions.. perhaps it will work out cheaper and more effective to do just that then to buy in an external resource like the one that has been presented to us. If we can’t find a ready to use resource that models sustainability, my thinking is to consider the cost of developing an easy to follow step through of available resources, including the drawing in of a variety of multi media (such as this video on Youtube that William found a few days ago). So if anyone has a good ‘lesson plan’, link or entire curriculum handy that would step people through an introduction to the concerns of sustainability, that would be most helpful. Anything that relates to social, economic and ecological sustainability is being sought.
So at this stage, any help in finding accessible, open for reuse and remix, concise and engaging resources would be appreciated. Links to individual resources like that Youtube video, texts, or whole curriculum/lesson plans would all be helpful. Please add anything to the comments below, or using the Del.icio.us tag intro-to-sustainability. I will collect and review all that is found and attempt to summarise ideas from there.
I hope this post generates discussion and links, both would be helpful. Thanks for your time.
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.