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! :-)


Leigh Blackall said...

:) Don't be to hard on yourself Elaine, it was a very interesting session and you facilitated it well. More often than not, people want to hear it all and don't like constant naggings for questions and stuff. Nothing wrong with hearing a lecture, even better if there is a facilitator at either end of it to help eveyone feel comfortable with it all. I am really pleased you feel as though you have learned a lot from the experience. I do hope you access that available recordings and critique them from your own experiences. Some people in the course couldn't get an event up in time and so they may need you to attend there's in a week or so.. I hope you can make it.

Great write up! you're now 2 weeks ahead! Relax now :) or help others ;)

Elaine Dittert said...

Thanks Leigh I appreciate your comments. I will definitely do my best to attend further events if there are more to come and I will look at some others' recordings etc.

Joy said...


It's always a great pleasure reading your blod. I tried to attend ur session but dont know why I could not connect into the meeting room :-(

When reading your message, I was smiling all the time - I've the same feeling on facilitating an online session with u too. I thought I could multi-tasks, but in my session, I found I couldnt!In a english speaking session, it was extremely hard to multitasks. Translating what I heard into my first language, while listening, greeting late comers, thinking what should I do... You can imagine how busy I am too.

Totally agree that faciliting online session is "not a piece of cake", mentioned in ur writing ^_^
Still a long way to go, and I'm sure if you and I have another chance to facilite, we'll do much better than the first one :-)


Sylvia Currie said...

I'm so grateful to these posts on the mini-conference to read, as well as access to the recordings. Like you I was swept away all week with f2f activities and missed it all!

I can relate to your comments about multitasking. I'm amazed at how some people can speak and keep track of backchannel at the same time! I think as facilitator you're also preoccupied with so many other things -- what should happen next, timekeeping, etc. Plus there's all the technical overhead. It's helpful to have helpers in the crowd!