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.


Leigh Blackall said...

Great post Elaine! Interesting space you found.. I see what you mean by hard to get into initially, but there is plenty of good information in the forum and lots of potential for the development of an online community when looking at the Travel Blog service as a whole.

The forum is practically a massive question and answer space really. Not strictly an online community in its own right - at least not from what I could see, but a valuable example for thinking about how facilitation services might be seen as useful. I can't imagine a teacher in there, organising people into learning objectives and group work :) lol, gawd no!

Just to start ideas, I can see some possibility for events or competitions.. maybe a facilitator for a prize to the person who offer the most best answers, followed by an event to celebrate the winner. Such a thing might stimulate more activity in the forum and interest in who the members are - which might lead to something like an online community? This in combination with all the other features of the Travel Blog would work well.

It is difficult to look at the forum space as separate from the rest of the site. The site as a whole is more like a social networking site. A bit like Facebook and co. Its not primarily a discussion forum. Non-the-less, you've found some good things to think about. Well done.

Elaine Dittert said...

Hi Leigh thanks for your comments. I had a further look and one member in North America is actually trying to organise an event - a get together at Xmas for any lonely travelblog members who aim to be in the Seattle area during the holiday season. So far one other has replied to say she will be there. Potentially she could have a very large crowd for Xmas dinner!

Joy said...

Hollo Elaine,

Nice to read your blog. I've been to your travel forum and I do love it. Reading the travelling stories is really a enjoyable thing.

I like the info you posted about the role of online facilitator. It's really helpful. Thx for that, I learned a lot from it.

One of my dream is travelling around the world. And the forum you provided is very formative. I will add your suggested forum into my favorite links. If they have a summary of each forum, as you suggested, that would be excellent!