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.

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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.

What is a community? Reflections on weeks 2 and 3

After following the threads of the FOC course and reading through some of the blogs, my idea of what a community has started taking a different form.

In one of the threads Leigh reacts to a blog post from Minhaaj saying:

Minhaaj then goes on to point out something possibly overlooked in the consideration of communities online – the numerous instances where prejudices normal in face to face communities, are transcended online. This might be something unique about online communities – the idea that age, race, gender, religion, sexuality, while known about by the members, may not be a big consideration in their community.

I read this after I had been reflecting on the matter myself. I certainly be in a community with people Ukrain, Lebenon, India, Sudan, places in South America, or even New Zealand in a f2f community.And I agree with the different voices I’ve been following that there is an emotional investment in an online community just as one would expect in a f2f community.

It is the online aspect that brings people from all over the world together who might never otherwise exchange a single word. This I find exciting, and if all these people come together to form a community, then the world has become a lot smaller. In a f2f setting I’d like to think that issues of gender, age, appearance, etc would not influence my desire to join a community. But the chances of joining such a diverse community are rare in f2f life.

Which brings me back to the definition of a community.  Most of what I’ve been reading follows the same line of course, but I’d like to share a definition from Ken Allan (thanks, Ken!) in the form of a short article called Working with Online Learning Communities. I do this partly because I find it a great summary, and partly because I am overwhelmed by the shere task of requoting all the great comments, threads and posts I’ve read so far.

Reading through it, I’ve highlighted parts that struck me as particularly relevant or interesting and will reiterate them and other thoughts here:

Ken quotes Caleb Clark’s 3 guiding principles:

  • online learning communities are grown, not built
  • online learning communities need leaders
  • personal narrative is vital to online learning communities.

So with reference to this course, does it only become a community if it is successful? If we don’t find ourselves building a community, has the course failed to be successful? Has the facilitator failed to facilitate or have we failed to share the personal narrative? (this is completely hypothetical as I see growing bonds and emotional investment between members of this (very large!) course) Here I would set the personal narrative parallel and in some cases equal to emotional investment, i.e. giving of oneself.

Ken continues to quote Clark with the traits a successful facilitator should have. One that catches my eye is ‘control the environment, not the group’.

Actually, nowhere is the word ‘facilitator’ mentioned. The word ‘leader’ is, and in many online learning communities you could also use the word ‘teacher’, though the role of a teacher may change in an online community. This has also got me thinking about the person in the role of the facilitator.

Leigh has apologized for joining in the conversation and claims that the facilitator should stand outside of it in order to observe and steer as necessary. I suppose this is one way, but if the facilitator is part of the community, I would say he or she has just as much validity in the conversation as anyone else, providing the aim is not to dominate or force anything onto the community, but to share, for isn’t this the essence of what a community is for?

A further question in my mind is how fixed the role of facilitator is. Couldn’t others take over this role in understanding of the responsibility that goes with it?  Must it be a formal role that is given like a title to ‘the person in charge’? I prefer the idea of a flexible facilitator who is also anxious to learn from the others without the urge to dominate the conversation , and is willing to let other members lead the way.

So what is the difference between a facilitator and a moderator? Does it lie in the institutional nature of the group? I would love some opinion here, as I wonder if maybe I’ve mixed the two up.

The final point that has come up in the threads of conversation quickly but not been expanded on is the role of those who do not actively participate, more commonly and less nicely known as lurkers.

Often the question comes up as to how to integrate these members. First, I’d like clarification as to when such a person is a member of a community and when he or she is an observer. In a course like the FOC I’d think that by way of signing up, one has committed oneself to the community. But there are many other communities out there, and the idea of 90 non-active to 10 active participants makes me think about what the 90 % are doing. Are they following what is going on and processing it? Or have they emotionally and physically disengaged from the community? The names may still be on the list, but that doesn’t mean that they are.

How do we find out?  And is it necessary to urge them out of complacency? Those who are still participating, albeit non-actively, may at some point have gained the confidence and knowledge to shout out and become active. And the others? Do we throw out those who have disengaged? Do they need nudging, a gentle reminder that the community is still there?  These are questions I’d like to find answers to in order to support the non-active members in a community.

Reflections on FOC week 1

I didn’t really have any expectations about this course and how it would be run, but simply threw myself into cold water.

And I’m more than happy with what is going on. It looks like the discussions will be deep and the learning will be steep.

It has been an intense week with a lot of negotiating and getting the feel for the modes of discussion.

Besides introductions there has been a lot more going on.

On the one hand there has been the setting up of blogs, readers and other useful tools as well as the negotiation of whats and whys or why nots. The different levels of knowledge and experience in these areas have caused excitement, fear, motivation and struggling among the group as everyone tries to get a feel for the ‘campus’.

On the other hand a voice went up reminding us of the main topic of the course and asking where the facilitating came in, and whether it was lost under the whole techy aspect.

But what is facilitation? And how do we include those members who are quiet out there and feeling intimidated by the perhaps over-eager ones who start chatting away?

These are questions that have been raised and which I would like to have a closer look at in week 2 of this course.

I also hope to have more time to read through the other blogs and reflect on the way others have been experiencing the course.

Facilitating online communities

I’ve just started a new course called Facilitating online communities through wikieducator and so this blog will be mainly dedicated to reflecting on this course over the next couple of months.

I’ve been a part of an extremely nurturing online community, one filled with role models, many probably out of intuition rather than theory. So I do believe that some may have a certain talent for it, just as some have a talent for teaching, coaching etc.

But why did I choose this course? Well, while co-moderating one of the course at EVO 08, I realized that I felt a bit insecure in this role and at the same time intrigued by what happened in the group. I want to expand my background knowledge of how to do this as well as gain experience. In the future I can also imagine using online communities for my teaching setting and other settings, and to become more confident in this process.

Another reason for wanting to join is out of curiousity and the drive in me to go forward in an erea that I find fascinating.

Now I am looking forward to growing and seeing where this new journey will take me.