2009 in a Sentence

The never-ending path of life

Well, this year is almost over. The days are getting shorter in my part of the world and the fields are covered in white.  It’s a festive time, a time when people long for light in their lives and enjoy the celebrations which bring their friends and family closer.

Since the year is coming to an end, I’d like to invite you to share something about your year before we move on to 2010. All variations are also kindly welcome.

Just post your sentence as a comment and on Sunday they will be released for all to read.

Here is mine:

Overcome illness  and rejoined family have helped me to focus and redefine my priorities, making time for the little joys in life and appreciating what is often taken for granted.

I am glad to say that my mother-in-law is now cancer-free and my darling son has come back from a year abroad a young man.

Thanks, Kevin, for bringing so many people together through A Day in a Sentence!


The classroom blog

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Blogging is pretty easy to do and setting up a personal blog should pose no great hinderence to even the most computer-clumsy, but how can it be used for teaching?

There are many ways to use them, you can get the students up and blogging on their own, mash them together and all sorts of fun stuff. You can set up a blog with tasks and information for your students to use. Or you can get them all on the same blog sharing and communicating.

I have chosen the last possibility with my class of adults, one reason being that blogs seem to pose a mental barrier that is not easy to cross for many. The other reason is that I want my class to use it for real communication, as opposed to language practice.

It has taken me several classes of trail and error before I felt happy with the results, and I still am on that path of trail and error, but for those readers interested in using blogging as a supplement to what is going on in class, I will share what has worked for me, so that you may be spared at least some of the particularly bumpy beginning of the road.

Give clear instructions on how to use the blog and then allow time for troubleshooting in the next lesson or so.
And then explain again, even better, get them on the computer and let them try it with you standing by to hold their hand. Many people need this sense of security and will give up at the slightest hint of a problem. And here you need to be diligent and patient.

Give the blog importance from the very beginning.
My first time round I made the mistake of downplaying the role of hte blog, stressing that it was an addition, and that noone had to post to it.
Well, that didn’t work AT ALL! I still don’t make posting obligatory, but I do stress that this is where they can really use the language and that they SHOULD do it. I also offer to add anything to the blog that they don’t feel they could but would like to.

Give students clear and personal tasks to fulfill on the blog.
No tasks, no writing on it, especially at the beginning. I have found that asking students to make a personal comment on a topic we have been dealing with works quite well. However, since it is not obligatory, I must also accept that some will not contribute even with a very gripping topic and task. The chances are a lot better though, that they will.

Comment on every post a student makes and encourage them to comment as well.
Everyone wants to be heard, so make sure they feel they are. To get the students commenting on each other you might want to set further tasks. And ask them how they feel when there are comments- or not- on their post.

Set a good example.
If you want the students to write stories, about personal experiences or feelings, then make sure you do it as well. This supplies them with a model, on the one hand, and the sharing is two-way, builing stronger bonds in the classroom as a very pleasant side-effect.

Let the students decide what is corrected and what isn’t.
I clearly tell my students that I will correct nothing unless they specifically ask me to and send me the text. I am very clear about my reasons for this as well, otherwise they most certainly wouldn’t be accepted by my class (this may be different in your own). I explain that correcting is what happens insid ethe classroom and that when communicating, mistakes will happen. It takes a bit of courage to just write, and then just send it out onto the blog. It also creates more dynamic writing, and more of it. It is what real communication is about.

Get a special guest onto the blog.
This can be extremely motivating to share with someone outside of the class, maybe even with another class. Someone will be reading with interest and responding (hopefully) with more information, questions, etc, and THIS can generate a whole lot of very significant communication!

I’m sure that if I wracked my brain, I’d come up with more, but I think the ones above are enough here. Perhaps you can add to my list.
And if you’re interested in what my classblog looks like, here it is!

Finding the balance

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As one can easily see from the dating of this and the next most recent post, I’ve been taking a break from personal blogging. It’s been a chance to step back and reflect on how I spend my time and how much is dedicated to may family, as well as what kind of role model I am to my kids when I am at home. So instead of following this or that discussion or exploring the newest applications in social networking, I’ve been playing with my kids, discussing school, watch the telly with them and ksyping with my far-away son.

It’s also given me a chance to miss certain people, tools, discussions and mental challenges I had previously filled a lot of my time with. So now I’m slowly entering back into the social network of nings, twitter, blogs etc.

Interestingly enough, one of the first blog posts to hit my screen was Angela Maiers‘ post ‘Drowning in Social Media‘ (incedently picked up in twitter).

Angela presents a system called BREATHE which should help people regain footage, with its main rule in 3s: commit yourself to three friends, three tools, three actions.

This has given me food for thought, though I’m certainly not going to blindly follow her suggestions. Instead I’m going to take small steps back while trying to keep to a couple of other ground rules.

Sorry, I have no sexy acronym for what I plan on doing, but one idea is certainly taken from a site whose link is long lost to me.

Rule one: only check your e-mails 2 times a day.
This I find a real tough one, and in the original version you are only to check once a day. I’ll try for once in the morning and once in the evening – and immediately take care of any mails you have at this time, answering, deleting or filing away for future reference to the appropriate spot.

Rule 2: Work before play – no twitter, no nings, no distractions before the work has been done.

Rule 3: be selective. Now this really does go to where Angela is at. How many blogs can I really follow? Do I really care about the content/writer on them? Which groups am I truly profiting from or contributing to? Why am I in the group? How can I maintain quality?

Rule 4: set aside time to reflect and contribute – NOT when the family is around. When the family is around, I can’t concentrate and won’t contribute. I also don’t want them to only see me on the computer. I want them to close the laptop when they are talking to me, and I should give them the same respect.

Now that I’ve actually put done the rules, I do hope they will be easier to follow and that I can find my own balance between two worlds.

It’s good to be back!

FOC08 reflections

THis post comes rather late, but before beginning new things I want to wrap up what’s over.

I was quite disappointed that I couldn’t finish the course, although time-wise it looked deceptively easy to take my time to complete.  However, even though I only go through about half of it, it really encouraged me to think. I reflected on what exactly an on-line community is and why and how it would need facilitating.

This sounds like a rather straightforward question, but in fact, it wasn’t. Questions such as the following arose out of it:

When does a group of people who meet on-line become a community? What level of intimit knowledge of each other does this imply, if any?

How long does a group need to be together to become a community? Is a learning group also a community? Does it have to be a long-standing group?

Why would a group need facilitating as opposed to moderating – and what is the difference between the two?

Many posts were written in my head as I considered these questions but was unable to write them on the blog.

I think that by way of reflecting, I have opened myself to new paths, and am excited to see where they will take me, but more of that in the next post.

I was sad not to have been able to do the practical work for the course, nor follow what others were doing, but who knows. Maybe a seed has been set for something else in this direction.

Thank you, Leigh, for the short time I was able to follow. I was able to learn from your examples.

Time-outs and a cup of tea

My poor neglected blog. I have to admit, I’m a drop-out, sad as it sounds.

But I have a little story to tell.

I headed off for holidays at the beginning of October, full of good intentions to come back loaded with ideas and motivated to continue the course I’ve been doing.

However, life often trips one up, and I ended up with a huge pile of work, including working weekends and lots of time away from my family, both physically and mentally. The computer was on, but I ignored everything but the work at hand. I was feeling weak and so turned the flame way down. But I was ready to jump back into things at the next possible chance.

Then I had a short visit when Death knocked gently at our family’s door, asking for a chat and a cup of tea. I was reminded that D was in the neighborhood and just checking up on people. D  told me about Cancer, who sometimes got over active and took people like my mother-in-law away while friends and acquaintences weren’t looking. D subtly me that sudden and unexpected things do happen while loved-ones are far away. D told me to take some time out and enjoy my family. Then D thanked me for the tea, got up, and left with a wink, much like one I would associate with Santa Claus.

So instead of hanging around on the internet, I’ve been folowing D’s advice and taking time off for my family, if only to watch a show on TV on the couch next to my son instead of sitting at the table with my laptop and maybe half an eye for the show. I’ve been rolling dice with my youngest and counting up points instead of writing on my blog. I’ve been skyping with my boy in the US instead of reacting to the latest posts here and there.

And now that things are slowing down in my job and I feel like I’ve reconnected to my family; now that hopefully the worst is over in the cancer therapy of a further loved-one, it’s time to reconnect with another part of the world in cyber-space. This has become part of my life as well and I don’t want to give up the connections and friends I’ve made there. The trick is to find a balance – something I’m not too good at – and juggle it all together.

Here’s hoping for the best, and a long wait for the next unexpected knock at the door.

FOC weeks 4-5 roles of facilitator, moderator and teacher

Try to determine the role and behavior of these three roles:

  • Facilitator
  • Moderator
  • Teacher

After quite a while of pondering and reading and fruitful conversations,  as well as a discarded post along the way, I now feel ready to tackle this task.

First, what are the roles of facilitator, moderator and teacher?  Defining what they are is perhaps a matter of culture and opinion, so I can only claim these differences to be from my own point of view.

The teacher seems the most clear cut to me. A teacher imparts knowledge. A teacher is an authority, although this role may be more or less authoritative. In my opinion, a teacher nurtures and coaches, and often takes on many other roles such as actor, drawer, writer, mother/father at times, brother/sister at other times. I see a ‘good’ teacher as NOT spoon feeding, but helping the learner acquire knowledge.

Children and adults may need or appreciate teachers, but the role of teacher changes depending on the age of the learner. Since adults are better able to find what they want to know, a moderator can often take over.

This leads me to the role that I found the most ellusive. The moderator guides the discussion and perhaps guides particpants to sources of knowledge. This seems to me to be less authoritative, if at all. It could be that the moderator is not an expert on the subject, which I would expect a teacher to be, but certainly have some knowledge of the topic.

The least intrusive of the three is the role of facilitator. This person, as mentioned earlier, has the job of making things easier for participants. This person may have helped to construct the concept being worked on, the course structure, or made decisions as to the applications that should bu used. I quote Bee Deux by describing the facilitator as the architect, paving the road, designing the building, or whatever other picture you have in mind.

Looking at these separate roles, it becomes clear to me that a person involved in running a course, group, community or any other entity should be clear about what hat he or she is wearing at any given time. The hat will have an influence on how the members, learners etc react to any input given.

  1. When does the act of teaching compromise the role of a facilitator of an online community?

As I mentioned before, adults are different than children. They have the ability to find information and process it. What they might need is direction, support and feedback, depending on the situation. In short, they will join a community in order to have a framework or structure and someone to guide them.

If these are the expectations, then the reaction to a sudden change of roles from the facilitator to teacher may not be well taken. The facilitator is no longer helping in the background, but taking an active role as an authority. A possible result may be silence in the group or community. The expectations may also change from the particpants being active in finding, processing and sharing to them taking a passive role, waiting for the ‘teacher’ to run the show, to feed the hungry lot.

  1. When does the act of moderating online discussion compromise the role of a facilitator of an online community?

To a lesser degree this may also happen when the facilitator takes the role of moderator.

  1. When does the act of facilitation compromise the role of a teacher or moderator in an online community?

On the other hand, when a group expects a leader to keep the discussion going, or is expecting a teacher for knowledge, having someone who is in the background and only intervenes to offer easier or better possibilities for communication, but expects the group to take the intiative, the community or members of the community may revolt, requesting more structure, input or guidance.

  1. When are these three roles appropriate in an online community?

The best role in any given situation very much depends on what is going on in the community, what the aims are at that moment and how close or far the community is or wants to be from the aims.

Here are a couple of examples which may require hat-changing:

Example 1

Certain online applications are being used to communicate, but not everyone understands why these are being used as opposed to others they already are acquainted with. Maybe some are struggling with the tools and using them, while others have logged on, but don’t see the advantage of this means of communication.

The tools were decided by the facilitator for certain reasons, but now there is need for a bit of trouble-shooting, and perhaps some individual teaching of how to use the tools is necessary. Because of the controversy going on, there is a need to discuss and bring in different opinions in order to decide what action, if at all, should be taken. Here a moderator is called for to guide and keep up the discussion until either most of the members are clear about the reasons of using the tools and more or less agree to them, or a joint consensus is made to abandon this particular too and opt for an alternative, decided on through the discussion.

The facilitator will either set up the alternative or another member of the community will volunteer to do this. If the role of teacher is too strongly present here, it will be expected of the teacher to do this.

Example 2

What if there are problems with the ideas being presented and processed?  The main role ‘the person in charge’ decides to take will determine how these problems are dealt with. If the facilitator puts on the teacher’s hat, then the members will expect this in later situations, thus forcing hte facilitator into the teaching role, whether or not this is perceived as desirable.

If the facilitator feels the need to make this a point of discussion (moderating), then this too sets standards. It may be that through the moderation, groups are formed to help those with problems.

If the facilitator makes the decision to remain in the background in such situations, then he or she marks that ownership of the community is with the community and it is up to the community to supply help.

Example 3

What if someone joins the community, not to contribute, but to disturb? Or if someone contributes, but appears by nature to be disruptive and rude? In a community where there is more facilitating than moderating or teaching, the members will probably take the matter into their own hands and inform this person that their behavious is inappropriate. If, within the community, there is more moderating or teaching evident, then the chances are greater that the moderator (or teacher) will approach this person behind the scenes and kindly request him or her to either stay within the parameters of the socially acceptable or to leave the community, maybe even to the point of blocking this person from the community.

Well, these are the conclusions I’ve come to within these past two weeks. They are not set in stone and it may well be that the cultural or even linguistic differences mentioned at the beginning of this post will mean that some will strongly disagree. In the end, call it what you want, in every title given to a person, there lies a multitude of jobs and hats.

FOC – one more definition

I read this and just couldn’t help myself.

In an online community, breaking the ice can be more difficult. Blogs are like puppies and gardens.

Wonderfully put, Shelley!