Monday, November 24, 2008

FOC 08 Final Post...

Well, FOC 08 is over. I made it!

At the beginning I really thought I wouldn't. It was just so over my head. I was scared literally from day one in July. Looking at the wikieducator site for the first time, having to set up a blog, figure out what RSS Feeds were, and then try and read what seemed like hundreds of introductions from people from all over the world who seemed to know so much more than me. I was terrified, what had I got myself into this time?

The very week the course began, I had just heard my job was on the line - of the three of us in our little section at the tertiary institute I work at, one of us was going to be made redundant, so my motivation/interest was at an all time low. As it turned out one of the others took voluntary redundancy, but with that came the added stress of having to take over subjects I had never taught before as well as my own (for other teachers reading this you can appreciate the extra prep now that was required etc.) To be frank it was a nightmare...

Luckily I had Kay Lewis to help me along. Kay also works at the same institute but in a different area. We decided to buddy up from Day 1 as we were both feeling very out of our depth. If it wasn't for Kay I probably would have pulled out in about week 3.

So in this very public arena - thanks Kay. You were my rock over this semseter, I really could not have done this without your gentle nudging to meet each week to see what had to be done, or what was coming up. I know in the end I also helped you along too, but you were the initial booster to get me working on this. My heartfelt thanks and appreciation Kay :-)

What have I got out of FOC 08?

I fully appreciate now why there is the need for a paper about facilitation of online communities - at the beginning I did not appreciate really what a facilitator was. After the event I facilitated with Kay however, I certainly did! Appreciating that difference between the teaching role that I currently hold with the very different facilitation role that I have witnessed Leigh hold (and what I briefly did for a scary 30 minute period!) has been an eye opener.

I said as a comment in Joy's blog that:
"the practice was so much better than any theory could have done. What better way
to find out what a facilitator does than to try and be one!"
That says it all really. Leigh really wanted us to appreciate the difference between teachers, facilitators and moderators and having to do it in reality really was the best way for us to learn I believe. The terrifying thought and anticipation of being the facilitator was, on reflection, much worse than the reality (even though as I have already said I could have been much better prepared).

What else did I learn? The different online communities such as Second Life, Facebook and LinkedIn, blogospheres and online forums such as Travelblog have opened a new world of opportunity to me. Ideas fly through my head now as to what I could do for my students in my current blended delivery classes, (and for the fully online students I hope to teach in the future).

I know my downfall through the paper was not reading enough of others blogs, making comments and creating a network even after FOC 08 has finished. However I have endeavoured to comment on some other blogs over the last couple of weeks (after gentle prodding from Leigh). I know I have not done enough in this area, my only excuse being lack of time to get on to it, focussing on "what had to be done", over "what would be good to do if only there was more time".

Thanks finally to Leigh. I know I have not been the easiest student to "facilitate". He would ring my cell phone and I would hardly ever be in a position to talk to him! Either in class or unable to answer because I was in the car picking up one of the kids, or in the middle of the supermarket with my 20 month old in tow, not a great time to talk as you can imagine :-) The lovely detailed messages he would leave me however, making sure I knew what was expected of me in the coming weeks, really did keep me focussed. I think you did a great job Leigh, from someone who really wasn't that motivated at the beginning, your help and guidance turned me around!

Now I wait to hear if I have "passed" this paper to add to the three others I have already completed towards my Graduate Certificate in Applied eLearning. If I get this one I only have two more papers to go. At least then I can say I'm over half way there now.

For those who may be continuing on this eLearning journey: Kay, Joy etc, I'll see you next year!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Week 13 - Facilitating an online event - Reflection

The online event is over - phew!

For the second assignment for FOC 08 paper we had to facilitate an online event. Kay Lewis and I decided to collaborate on this. Our event occurred on Friday Nov 7th 11.30 - 12 noon (NZ time). The topic was Think, Learn, Create (TLC) using Mind Mapping. We used Elluminate for the venue. We had discussed using Skype but in the end decided Elluminate was an easier venue and could be recorded - although Leigh had to help us with that one.

The chat recording shows how that part of it went (I was the Staff Member). You can also hear the voice recording of the event.

Reflections - how did it go?

I found the experience quite stressful - but mostly for personal reasons! Having been away on a UCOL student trip the four days previous to the event, I felt completely unprepared on the Friday morning when I joined Kay in her office to make final preparations. I had only arrived back late the evening before, and was still exhausted from taking my tourism and travel students around Taupo and Rotorua, visiting and experiencing what these major destinations have to offer in terms of attractions and activities. Photos on my Facebook site will show the fun we had! A definite perk of my job I have to say!!!

Anyway, back to the event. The worst part for me was when our guest speaker dropped out at literally the last minute, (due to her internet crashing from home). This meant that our whole schedule changed dramatically from both Kay and I being facilitators, to Kay having to become the guest speaker. We had a plan which had just got thrown out the window!

So thrown into a tailspin we reverted to our contingency plan of Kay being the guest speaker but we did not think it through far enough in that Kay then was not able to show her facilitation skills...

Despite all the added stress, in the end on reflection I realise I did enjoy the facilitation side of it. It was good to let the "guest speaker" (Kay) take over the content side of the event, leaving me to be the "host". I almost felt like an MC at a conference or wedding; welcoming members, latecomers, providing comment to the chat, trying to keep control of the schedule etc.

I would like to say the difference between the role of a teacher and a facilitator was made abundantly clear to me through this exercise. I had no real knowledge of Mind Mapping (ie I do not consider I have sufficient knowledge to teach the subject) however I was able to facilitate the session (I hope to a relatively good degree) - making sure the members knew I was there, keeping the session on track etc. A facilitator needs to know the objectives/outcomes required of the session. A facilitator is there to guide (control is too strong a word) the session. I hope I achieved these requirements of a facilitator. But on reflection there was so much more I should have done...

What could have been done differently?

I wish we had thought of doing a dry (practice) run before the real thing actually occurred. It may have prepared us more. Although Elluminate is not exactly difficult to navigate, I needed Leigh to help with the recording etc. I had listened in on other events to see how things worked. Kay had managed to sort out the mind map picture on the Elluminate whiteboard which I have to admit looked really impressive when you logged on, (picture shown on right), but we were really not sure what was going to happen once people showed up - and of course apart from Leigh, no one did for a while. Leigh invited others in his networks to come and so some did, thank goodness! Lesson learned, the amount of promotion we did could have been a lot more. No excuses - we thought that people on the FOC course would come, if they'd read the Wikieducator page, why wouldn't they??? Leigh in his most recent post commented on this very point.

"It is a false idea to think that "if we build it they will come".
As I said, an important lesson learned. Promotion is key and not to be taken for granted!

As a facilitator I think you really need to take the "bull by the horns" so to speak. I remember thinking about half way through that perhaps I should stop Kay during her talk at more frequent intervals to allow for questions, but I thought that would have appeared rude! I hate people who interrupt me when I'm in full flow so did not want to do the same to Kay! However I know that as a result it became more of a lecture instead of a facilitation session. As the facilitator I realise it was not my responsibility to answer the questions which cropped up during the chat session but I know now I should have made Kay aware of these questions as soon as they arose instead of letting her finish her session first. Lack of confidence would be my reasoning here, would I appear inept to the group if I interrupted the "guest speaker" or would I make her feel as if she hadn't been paying enough attention?

As soon as the event ended we immediately acknowledged to each other that we should have decided at the start that Kay should talk about one branch of the mind map at a time, then stop for discussion, questions etc. instead of continuing on without a break.

One point I will note and it is a fault on my part - I still struggle to multi task! I can do it as a wife and mother but I've found I cannot follow chat conversations and listen to someone else talking at the same time! I was so intent on following the chat, thinking about when or if I should speak, looking to see if new people had entered or left the session, that I heard probably only half of what Kay said as the guest speaker.

Do facilitators need to be able to follow every aspect of a session? No I don't think so. As a teacher I am used to control of my class, and I swiftly intervene if there is a part I become aware I am not in control of. I realise now that facilitators cannot possibly follow all the paths that an online community could take. Blogs, chat, email, wikis, I think it would take an enormous effort to keep up with every single one. I think a facilitator has to learn to trust their group - more than a teacher would - to let them find their own learning paths with just some guidance from you.

Finally I would like to apologise to the others in the FOC 08 group whose sessions I was not able to attend. The timing could not have been worse for me in terms of work taking precedence over study. Being nowhere near a computer for those 4 days was unfortunate but unavoidable. I hear that many of the sessions were well worth attending and I will endeavour to listen to as many recordings as I can over the next couple of weeks.


I learned that facilitating an online event is no piece of cake, that's for sure! It takes preparation, skill and quite a lot of multi tasking. It involves promotion, patience and the ability to step back and let the session members find their own path. Guidance is the key, not control.

Would I be comfortable facilitating another online session - yes probably! Would I be more prepared for one - yes definitely! :-)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Week 11 - Social Networking Platforms

This week at least I had some prior knowledge of the topic (for a change!)

Social Networking platforms are incredibly popular. I think they are great for those of us who move away from our home countries and as a result are apt to lose touch quickly with those we grew up with! Another excellent site I use frequently is Friends Reunited which is a UK based site where I have found many old friends and classmates.

Description of my experience in Facebook

I have been a member of Facebook for several months now. It was recommended to me by an old work colleague. Since then I have loved finding old friends and colleagues; for some old school friends its been over 20 years since we've been in touch. I've joined groups such as NZ parents and Ex pats from Northern Ireland and have even found other old friends through these groups. I like the fact I can see who's online when I am and have a quick "chat" with them, or post a message to their wall. I would log on each morning in anticipation of who had answered or contacted me overnight.

So it was not a surprise when I found that many of my students are addicted to sites such as Facebook - until that is the tertiary institute I work at banned the site in July of this year as it was "not conducive to effective learning"! I have to say that many times I have had to tell students to get off the site to continue with an assignment instead of looking at the photos of last weekend's party, so in a way I could understand the reasoning behind the decision to make it unavailable! I was told it was one rule for all and that staff would be banned from the site as well as students - unfortunately. I had to plead for the site to be re-instated to use again for this FOC study but I believe it will be taken off again at the end of the semester :-(

Ideas on how facilitation would work in Facebook

I could not find an "educational" group in Facebook which looked like a group involved in learning requiring the need for a facilitator. However I don't see why it couldn't be used for such a reason, but I would think that one drawback is that students as I mentioned earlier get hooked on the social side and may find it hard to motivate themselves to stick to the eduational side!

In the article Schools' Web 2.0 ban contributes to social exclusion it was stated that:

"participating in online networks provided the research participants with a
way to develop and sustain their personal social networks"

and that

"Online networks provided these students with ways to participate in society
that were social, cultural, civic, economic and educative

What a difference from my days at school where the only social networks were built in the playground or after school walking to the bus stop!

In the article Networks, Connections and Community: Learning with Social Software it was stated that social software could:

"offer learning opportunities to learner groups previously unable to
participate, eg some disabled, disengaged and remote learners not previously
learning in traditional classroom environments".

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement but I don't think a site like Facebook is the correct forum to do it in. With my students I found that they valued the social networking side although I would question the educational value of them! Certainly in an educational environment such as where I work where such sites are blocked, being able to use them would be impossible until the educational value could be proven to those who make such decisions.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Week 10 - Second Life - my thoughts

Second Life name: Ela Gravois

Yet another eye opener this week. I eventually managed to have a "play" in Second Life (after having to wait for my work to "unblock" the site - it was banned for use under the "Games/Personal relationships category).

What sort of communities are in Second Life?

From the many weird and wonderful individulas I saw I would imagine the types of groups available will be the same I think! From what I could see there are countless different categories of groups/communities in Second Life. I went to the Dresden Gallery (by accident) and saw there was a group belonging to that area but didn't really know what I was doing, I stumbled through the museum and didn't find anyone else there!

The short time that I met with some other FOC members we went to Tempura Island which I enjoyed, however I found the "chat" hard to follow ( I always struggle with on-line chat when there are lots of people involved). As someone who likes things to follow a logical order, I couldn't keep up with who was replying to who. In Help Island I also struggled with the jargon used by many of the others, like a foreign language sometimes!

I must admit I felt quite intimidated by and uncomfortable in the environment, especially when on Help Island someone kept following me and then told me they loved me after a few minutes! I quickly left that situation as I am not au fait with the etiquette yet and wasn't sure if they were just trying to be friendly or something else! :-)

On the second foray into SL I was thankful I had Kay with me as my buddy as we blundered through together! We had a laugh trying to change appearances (Kay losing her hair and some of her clothes in the process!)

I remember watching an episode of CSI New York a few months ago where it featured something similar to Second Life (can't remember if it actually was SL) and how someone had murdered another person in reality after getting obsessed with them in the virtual world. Does this really happen? I guess it could if you get immersed in this virtual reality.

Ideas on how you might operate as a facilitator for a community communicating on Second Life

As Leigh did I would imagine the best way to facilitate a community in Second Life would be to organise specific times and locations for "meetings". Obviously I have not had a sufficient opportunity to investigate Second Life enough to make definitive comments but I think that the availability of meeting rooms, areas would be a very interesting way to get members together.

Choosing a different location each time may give members a new perspective each time, however depending on the type of group, they may prefer to have a specified place to call their own? I could't get my microphone to work so I couldn't hear others properly, but I would imagine it would be a great experience to talk to other members in this virtual world.

Experiencing Second Life definitely made me think so much more about the many online communities there are. A whole new world. I can see how it could become addictive. When the academic year is over and I have more than 5 minutes spare I will give it another try and see what more I can find!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Week 9 - Wiki Collaborators

Yet again I have ventured into unchartered waters this week... Now we are asked to set up and facilitate an online mini conference! So how to go about this task?

Background information:

Kay Lewis and I work at the same educational institute and have been buddying up since this course began. Both of us are in the same boat of being relative newbies to wikis, blogs etc and so we have been encouraging each other along (thank goodness).

So when it came to this week we decided the best way to get over this next hurdle was to collaborate on the online mini conference. We thought that with joint facilitation we would not feel too isolated, and would have each other for support.

How did we come up with the idea? Well both of us have really struggled with the sheer amount of information to get through in this course. Blogs, wikis, discussions forums, postings, comments... how on earth could we keep it all together? (and ourselves sane!) Kay is a Buzan Licensed Instructor in Mind Mapping and someone had made a comment on her blog which made us think - would others be interested in this technique? It helps us organise our thoughts, how about the others in FOC 08 group?

So our idea for the mini conference is all about the topic of Mind Mapping, with the headline (TLC) Think, Learn & Create using Mind Maps.

Overview of mini conference

TLC (Think, Learn & Create) using Mind Maps.

This will take the form of an online discussion, followed by an online presentation (using Elluminate or Skype)

Jointly with Kay Lewis

This session is designed to provide participants with pointers to help gather and organise large amounts of data and provide a clear overview, analyse thoughts, identify problem solving ideas and generate more ideas with clarity, efficiency and accuracy.

Promotions for the session:
We hope to have the following presenters as guest speakers:
  • Jennifer Goddard, BBus (Admin), Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Master Trainer in Buzan Advanced Learning Techniques, inspirational Director of the Buzan Centre in Australia and New Zealand and co-founder of Mindwerx International.
  • Jennie Vickers, Buzan Licensed Instructor, (senior advanced coach), Masters of Management, Diploma in BA, BA Law (Hons), Leadership NZ alumnus.
Summary of the mini conference:
  • Have you had difficulty keeping up with the 'overload of information' during this course?
  • Got confused or lost by trying to view all the discussion threads?
  • Have you jotted down some thoughts and ideas you've read and heard but by the time you're ready to read and make your notes they make no sense?
If this sounds like you, this session may be just what you need. Mind maps are a dynamic way to capture significant points of information. They use a global format, allowing information to be displayed in the same way that our brain functions in many directions simultaneously.

Event time:
Friday 31 October 11 am (New Zealand Daylight Savings Time DST) (Note that NZ time is now UTC+13 hrs)

Discussion starters:
In the Course Mini Conference Discussion thread we have asked for ideas and questions from potential participants. We will monitor this prior to the online conference.

Technical support services:
For this mini conference we plan to use either:
  • Skype - Conference call (participants will need: internet access, preferably Broadband, webcam and headset with microphone preferably) OR
  • Elluminate through the 24/7 Discussion Forum

Participants will also need access to:

  • YouTube
  • Wikipedia/Wikieducator
  • Adobe Reader
  • Microsoft Office - MS Word, MS PowerPoint

Contingency plan:

There are several issues we need to consider:

  • Time of online event (may conflict with another event, respond to feedback given in the discussion thread)
  • If oversubscribed (maximum 24 participants at a Skype session), will we need to arrange alternative event/s
  • Loss of internet connection (either us as facilitators or the participants)
  • Recording of the event: In Skype History of conversation can be used.


We hope that this online mini conference will attract people from the FOC 08 course to help them with information overload and how to deal with it.

If you would like to post a question on our Wiki discussion area, please click here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Week 7 - Blog networks

Another interesting week. What a lot I am learning in this course! Blogoswhat? I had a chuckle when I saw the word Blogosphere for the first time, what on earth are they talking about now? So after quite a lot of research here goes...

Blogging Networks
I think a Blogosphere or blogging network is a site which lists blogs relating to a particular topic or theme – I considered it like a centralised point of reference for a particular subject. Those contributing have formed an online community within this network. Regular bloggers are recognised for their expertise. Some networks rate their blogs as those most read, highest rated etc, giving guidelines to the members.

Looking in the Wikipedia entry for Blogosphere, I saw that New Zealand’s blogosphere represents an online community which seems to concentrate on subjects such as NZ politics and society in general. I personally found the site perplexing, not for the newbie that I am, it was crowded and confusing, I hated the layout and I got out of it as quickly as possible!

So I decided to find another blogging network that actually interested me (surprise surprise to do with travel again!):
Trusted Travel Blogs Network is a site for independent travel blogs. They state that they are “a community project… self-enforced and user monitored... we believe that through building a community, the problem of unreliable travel blogs can be minimized for readers”.
At the present time only 25 blogs are listed. To be listed the blogs have to have two commonalities:
  • They are recognized for consistently high publishing standards
  • Their content is not influenced by lasting or undisclosed affiliations with third parties.

I quite liked this one, but thought this is obviously a small network - is there a larger alternative? Yes, quite a few actually!

On the other end of the scale is Bootsnall. They describe themselves as “ the place where like-minded travelers come to talk and exchange stories, travel tips and ideas”. On further inspection hundreds of sites were listed. I got thoroughly lost in blogs about Asia, Europe etc. I simply had no idea such sites existed before today. Last week I looked at forums, this was so much more! I think it will be worth a further look when I have more time.

I decided to get away from travel (I do get a bit narrow minded) and find another type of blogging network. Using again my interests as my guide I found the BBC Blogging Network which was just fascinating. This is a network dedicated to those interested in the BBC, regions of the UK (I went immediately to the Northern Ireland section and got engrossed in local issues), Britain, journalism, but also gardening, music, technology etc, bascially anything the BBC has its hand in! Another site to return to for a further look.

Review this course as a blogging network to date. Does it connect out to a wider network, or is it insular?

Because it is on a public site it does connect to a wider network. It is available to anyone with Wikieducator access. However I think there is an element of insularity in our actual FOC course, in that although over 60 started off with a hiss and a roar only those really dedicated to the FOC course (as well as those of us enrolled in the actual paper) are keeping up with the course content, reading, posting to our blogs etc? With extended time others who search or just randomly come across the FOC link may join in, but with the short 18 week "shelf life" of the course will it get the chance?

Does this blogging network have a facilitator or should it need one?

In my opinion yes we do need a facilitator – because this is a learning journey with goals to reach every week or two and someone has to keep us in line!!! However Kay said in her blog something very thought provoking to me: that Leigh has provided an almost personal form of facilitation for each of us – those of us completely new to blogging etc have found someone who does not intimidate us, and for the more experienced I think he has provided thought provoking comments and issues to keep them interested as well. In an online community one method of facilitation definitely does not fit all!

Consider your role in helping to develop this blogging network

Obviously I am a member of this network but have I helped develop it? I don't honestly know. Due mostly to my lack of confidence in this area I don't think I have contributed as much as I should have (or even normally would in a more familiar environment). I am not the kind of person to jump in head first, I watch and wait and learn (I’ve found out I’m a lurker!) until I feel confident enough to contribute. Once that confidence is found I'm fine, and will become vocal. But I so far still cannot just post a blog without reading and re-reading it, looking for areas where it could be criticised or if it does not answer the questions put to us. I haven’t read or kept up to date with as many blogs as I would like, as I get simply overwhelmed. Perversely when I do go to others blogs and see they haven’t posted either, I almost feel a sense of relief that I am not the only one "on the back foot"!

Finally, comment on the strengths and weaknesses as you see them, of a blogging network for online community development

I think for me I have to always remember that blogs are simply people’s ideas and opinions, and are not necessarily always “the be-all-and-end-all”. However blog postings can either have their accuracy challenged or confirmed by other members which helps to weed out the less trustworthy ones. Networks which do encourage challenges by its members and has strict "entry regulations" such as the Trusted Travel Blogs Network mentioned above give credibility to such networks.

This week has shown me the powerhouse that blogging networks has become, where so many people are actively seeking to find out what others think of an issue, a situation etc, to learn from them and to subsequently communicate with others on similar topics. These communities are thriving.

A final comment which I thought was pertinent to blogs and their pros and cons: Steven Downes said in a comment at the end of the article Blogging - Not 'IF' but When and Where that:

"The notion of an authentic audience who reads what I write is a powerful
motivator; however, with it comes a responsibility of care for what I write and
about whom. I work very hard not to betray the trust of my friends and
colleagues as I write. It is very important to play nice and play fair when you
are putting your thoughts “out there” on the Internet. This is about digital
ethics - something I don’t believe we teach enough to our students"

Monday, September 15, 2008

Looking for online community Week 6

Apologies - I'm way behind in this FOC paper! Sick kids have kept me off work and away from my computer for quite some time. Am trying to catch up frantically before the inevitable next illness saga is bound to begin...

The online forum I have chosen to discuss is to do with my work but also my passion - travel. Travelblog is a great site which I have only discovered recently while doing some research for my own teaching.

The General Travel forum has many threads started by members so that you can choose which ones interest you. I initially found these forums a bit disjointed however with some practice and reading I am starting to get the hang of them! Further forums are split into regions so members can comment on their experiences in certain parts of the world.

Of course as with all such sites you can't take everything as fact - let's face it, these are people's opinions and so not something to bet your life on, but there is such a wealth of information and experiences out there I had to join in! I felt I just had to add my 2 penny's worth in when someone asked a question I KNEW I knew the answer to! Got me a bit hooked actually and as with so many of my forages into the web I got completely sidetracked forgetting what I was meant to be on there for!

But is a forum such as this really a place to moderate what is happening? I'm not sure how a facilitator would work in this situation. Would people resent someone trying to organise their "conversations" or requests for help when the whole purpose is to just post ideas, tips etc or to chat to those members you are interested in? We are asked to comment on how perhaps the writing of a summary could close a thread - but until the original question has been answered to the satisfaction of the original member how can someone else close it? My only other thought was that a summary of each forum could be posted at set times to update members who may not want to read through the numerous postings.

What facilitation techniques might be useful in assisting community communications through discussion forums generally?

I needed to find something that I easily understood on this subject. I found a good paper by Zane L. Berge, Ph.D on The role of the online facilitator/instructor. I found this to be clear and simple for me to understand!

The 5 most pertinent points I got out of it were:

Maintain as Much Flexibility as You Can: since we are all different it is important that courses stay as flexible as possible with the support of the facilitator. I can relate to this as my family circumstances have meant I am slightly behind in my weeks of learning, but don't feel too pressurised from Leigh (at this stage anyway!)

Don't Expect Too Much: it said that "Online instructors need to be content if two or three well articulated, major points are communicated in a particular thread of discussion" As f2f teachers we would expect more output than this in the classroom, but I can see how with an online community you would have to let go a little and let the learners find the answers in their own time.

Find Unifying Threads: Summaries can help people when there is simply too much information to assimilate, "Instructors can weave several strands of conversation into a summarization that may prompt people to pursue the topic further" When you have numerous postings to get through as a learner I would certainly appreciate summaries!

Be Patient: in this day and age we become over impatient waiting for responses. In discussion forums messages may not be responded to for days or weeks by members. "Be prepared to wait several days for comments and responses, and don't rush in to fill every silence with moderator contributions." I remember Leigh saying this in one of our first online meetings that he was tempted to fill in the silences with his comments, and that he had to learn to be quiet and to let the other members guide the discussion direction!

End the Sessions: "Decisively end each discussion thread. Conclude discussions so that they don't drag on after they have served their purpose." Once a topic has been satisfactorily dealt with, then it is the job of the facilitator to help the discussion move forwards. Conclusions drawn up by the facilitator mean that people know that the topic has ended and its time to move on to the next one.

On to Week 7 next...

The Role of the Online Instructor/Facilitator
Berge, Z.L. (1995). Facilitating Computer Conferencing: Recommendations From the Field. Educational Technology. 35(1) 22-30.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What is a teacher? I am one. I stand up at the front of the class giving my students as much knowledge as I can, hoping that they retain it. What is a facilitator? I think I am one of these as well, I encourage students along their own path of study in my blended classes, trying not to input too many of my own ideas into their learning – I want them to do it on their own. What is a moderator? In education moderation means something different from the role we are looking at here. Not sure about my role there, do I moderate their learning? A point for me to ponder on some more…

When does the act of teaching compromise the role of a facilitator of an online community? My immediate reaction to this question is that as a teacher I am used to being in control of a class, the content, how long a task will take, who will speak and for how long etc! I think that as a facilitator you have to “let go” as you can’t assume to have that form of “control” over an online community to such an extent – you can guide people back to the original task or goal (human nature means we tend to wander off on tangents very easily without too much trouble!) but you do have to relinquish that control and let the community get itself to the desired outcome by gentle guidance rather than by teaching to a prescribed outline, timeframe etc.

In Sylvia Currie’s blog it was mentioned that some members of the group were looking for or expecting more “organised” learning, but that Leigh has stepped back from that role, encouraging us instead as a group to reach the desired outcomes without so much input from him. It was noted that younger people learn so much easier through many mediums of technology that they don’t necessarily need a teacher anymore.

I can completely relate to this: in the past I used to teach subjects known as “Destinations” where we examined a particular country in depth relating to the tourism and travel product available. These days I have developed these classes using blended delivery where the students use technology, including the Web, Computer reservations systems, etc to find the information, instead of me standing up at the front of the class telling them about it. I am available if they need me and do short bursts of ‘teaching” (where we discuss a particular aspect before I let them loose again) but they have information to find and they seem much more content to get on with it – that is apart from one student who is 56 years old and really struggling with this method of learning. She can’t understand why I don’t “teach” them. It just goes to show that the difference from how Baby Boomers and Generation X were taught and learned from the current Gen Y students predominantly showing up on our campuses today.

So Leigh is fulfilling his job as a facilitator, stepping back and letting us guide our own learning, with encouraging comments to each of us, and perhaps a guiding question or two to help us on our way.

I think that as a facilitator you have to step back and let the students find their own path to learning instead of being led down a preset probably well worn track.

Do these skills overlap? Kay Lewis states in her blog that the skills of each do not need to be mutually exclusive, you can be a little bit of all of them, depending on the situation. How true that is. So in short yes the skills do overlap, but you have to know when to let go of that teaching role, to step back and let the student take over; after all we can’t force them to learn our way, they need to find their own path to learn that is best for them and get on with it, just as I am attempting to do in this course of study.

Friday, August 15, 2008

What is an online community?
Well what a couple of weeks it has been! I have enjoyed reading other’s ideas (as well as the required readings) on this topic. A new world is being opened up to me leaving me with the urge to learn so much more!

Any community has to have a purpose – a “reason for being”. Whether it is a community of practice at work, something that develops through your child’s school PTA or the local gym, people gravitate towards each other or gather together for a reason.

Communities in the past were often characterised as having geographic location as a principal commonality. The barrier of having to travel was a hindrance to forming extended communities. Looking back at my early childhood in rural Ireland we were very insular, rarely travelling to the “big” towns or having much interaction with others outside of our own “community”. Outsiders (I remember some of the first “foreigners” to come to live in our town!) were viewed with suspicion and had to work very hard to become an accepted member of our community. This could by the way take years! Having said that, I remember the sense of local community being very strong, help was never far away. You knew you were safe in that community. Do you feel safe in an online community? The level of anonymity probably contributes to the degree of safety felt – unlike in a f2f if you don’t like it, you get out – and probably most other members won’t notice you’ve gone!

In the last couple of decades the context of the term communities has metamorphasised due to technology into countless different areas that could not have been possible if limited to mere geographic location. An online community enables people from all over the world with a similar purpose/interest/need to meet in a virtual world yet still feel “connected” to them even though you probably will never meet f2f.

Human nature means that often many people get left out in a f2f community - the strong confident ones will always take the stage over the shy introverted ones. This still happens online yet in an online community more people (although many are still reticent to interact initially) may engage in communication with others due to the anonymity the web provides. Those who may not feel part of a community in their own town may feel very comfortable in an online community where they can meet with like minded people.

I enjoyed some of the extra readings. From the Communities of Practice by Etienne Wagner, I could relate to the quote: “A community functions with mutual engagement” – where you must interact with others to really feel a sense of “belonging”. Just by joining the FOC08 “Community” as part of my study does not at this early stage necessarily mean I feel part of the community yet – (being one of those more reticent people I mentioned earlier!) - I need to interact more with other members and become more familiar and confident of my role within this community before I think I will feel that sense of “belonging” more.

The Building Online communities’ article typifies this where it states that regular users develop community ownership: if you don’t contribute much – how can you feel part of a community?

I’ve discovered that the level of “hard work” involved to become a member of an online community depends on how much the individual wants to get out of it. In an online community more people participate on the fringes than in a community which involves f2f or close personal interaction. I think there is less “peer pressure” from an online community, more people “lurk” waiting for the right opportunity to have their say or input their idea. In a f2f situation someone akin to a “lurker” would be viewed with suspicion!

I look forward to continuing this journey into online communities!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

OK I am brand new to all of this, so am feeling quite overwhelmed by it all! Creating a blog is a new experience for me but seems ok so far - don't you love these "wizards" which help you through each step :-)
This is now my fourth paper towards MIT's Graduate Certificate in Applied eLearning but already is very different from the previous three.
I am finding motivation a little hard at the moment as we have suddenly been reduced in staff in our section and I have had to take on extra workload which I didn't need!
I lecture in Tourism and Travel Consultancy at UCOL, a tertiary provider in Palmerston North, New Zealand. I am originally from Northern Ireland where I completed my degree in Tourism and Hotel Management and worked in various areas of the tourism industry.
I have dabbled in Blackboard, creating sites for my on and off campus students to assist their learning but definitely know there is so much more out there for me to learn, so that is what I'm here for.
I will buddy up with my colleague from UCOL as it will help keep me motivated! I look forward to meeting many of you during this semester.