Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reflecting on the 'Who', 'What' and 'Why' of Online Facilitation

My blog title was the focus of this past week in the Facilitating Online course (FO2010). For a look at the resources we were asked to read/view this week check out this post on the class blog.

Community, networks, and what sits in between
I found the Nancy White video on Community, networks, and what sits in between very interesting. She distinguished between communities, which take time to build and nurture, where people (hopefully) make strong ties to each other to networks which tend to involve looser ties, people drop in and out, and they overlap with other networks. She maintains that the area in between the two is an area of real interest. I hope to learn more about this when she presents in the class Elluminate session next week (open to non-class participants too!) After watching Nancy's video I realized that I have created an online learning network for myself, but many of the online communities I have joined have fizzled or I have dropped out of them. I think it is definitely more work to create, maintain, and participate in an online community.

Working effectively in a virtual team
This past week's Elluminate session featured Terry Neal who spoke on Facilitating virtual teams. Before the session we were asked to read the paper she co-authored with Dr. Clare Atkins, Working effectively in a virtual team. Both the paper and the presentation highlighted a few key things for me:
  1. to be effective, roles and responsibilities need to be clearly laid out
  2. it helped to start off the team work with some face-to-face meetings
  3. ensure that you use a variety of means to communicate; text (e-mail, Google groups or other discussion fora, blogs), audio (telephone, Skype) and visual (Skype, Elluminate).
This past year I have had experience with the difficulties when point number 1 is overlooked. It can be frustrating working in a virtual team when the roles and responsibilities are not clear. Work can be duplicated, feelings can be hurt. It only makes sense to spell things out. It doesn't mean that there can't be any flexibility, but it at least gives everyone a starting point.

Point number two just makes sense. It is so much easier to make a connection with someone if you've been able to meet them face-to-face. Then when you are communicating with them in the more limited (fewer dimensions) on-line environment you can relate them back to the real person.

Terry's presentation was the first one that involved volunteer facilitators from the class. Chris and Jillian stepped up to the plate and did a great job. They had spent some time before in Elluminate working with the moderator tools. They had clearly discussed with each other what their roles were going to be and they did a good job of dealing with issues and keeping the session moving along.

This week I've realized that I would like to make a number of changes to what I do. When I connect with my high school distributed learning students, most of whom learn asynchronously, I need to provide multiple ways to interact meaningfully. I current use e-mail, text messaging in Moodle (our Learning Management System) phone conversations, Elluminate, and face-to-face but I really need to step things up a notch with Elluminate and my face-to-face interactions.

Elluminate has been a struggle--with a small number of asynchronous students in the 13 plus courses that I am responsible for it has been challenging to come up with meaningful meetings. Every student is in a different place so offering lessons is difficult; who do you target? I have tried tutorials too, but because my students aren't part of a strong community it is a big risk to go online and say "I don't get this, please explain it to me." (The community aspect is a whole other post--so I'll leave that for now.)

"hang the blessed DJ ..." (again)

Math DJ
So this is my recent brainstorm. My Elluminate sessions are going to allow me to be a math DJ . I will ask students to send me the questions they would like me to explain at least one hour prior to the session. When the session starts I will record it, but also see if I can stream it to UStream or a similar service so that students can observe without having to log in to Elluminate (they choose their level of interaction.) If students log into Elluminate, I will play their requests first (thus the DJ part of Math DJ), with the requests from students who aren't logged on going to the end of the queue. My hope is that students will get the math help they need, they will get it conveniently online, but there is a way to reduce the risk of putting yourself out there. Hopefully many students will become more comfortable with the technology and up their participation. Now I just need to find some good intro and outro music...

Face-to-face (F2F) group meetings have been difficult for many of the reasons I cited with Elluminate. In the past my colleague and I have offered a drop in tutorial session where we occasionally have small group lessons on core course ideas (eg grammar for Language Arts students, writing up and carrying out labs for Science students). It has not been particularly effective for a number of reasons; one of which is that it is optional for some students and mandatory for many students who are behind and/or have behavioural issues. This is not a good mix. This year I would like to separate the groups. The students who have an agreement that they must work x amount of hours in our building will be there at a different time from the drop in tutorial session (unless it is their choice to attend the tutorial). Hopefully students who attend the drop in tutorial are they because they (or their parent!) want to be there and they know that they will get help (and not have to wait for the teachers to deal with those students who do not want to be there).


Math Gym
In addition I would like to offer some stand alone face-to-face sessions called Math Gyms to engage students in basic problem solving in Math. I'd like to draw on some of the activities that Dan Meyer writes about in his What Can You Do With This? blog posts. The Math Gym would be multi-age and it would not cover specific aspects of the different Math curricula--but it would be an opportunity for students to work together on problem solving. Work on their Math muscles as it were.

The Wrap Up
Last week was a good week in FO2010 land. I've absorbed a lot and I think I can start to integrate this learning into my practice. If you have any suggestions on how to improve Elluminate and/or F2F sessions with asynchronous learners please let me know. My school year starts at the beginning of September so now is my time to plan so that I can hit the ground/internet running :-)


  1. Jo Hart uses Elluminate a lot with her distance students and her blog is full of tips and tricks for how to use it:
    Here is a recording of a session in which she demonstrated various lesson plans:

    The other person you might to talk to about maths is Cal Armstrong, who is also a maths teacher on FO2010:

  2. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for the links! You've been great in helping different participants in this course link up. I just went and read Cal's posts (and added him to my feed reader) and will take a look at the session from Jo Hart.


Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog! Any spam comments will be deleted.