Monday, September 27, 2010

Confessions of an Online Facilitator (Sarah Stewart at Sharefest)

Sarah Stewart talked about facilitating online, from a personal viewpoint, around her experiences of facilitating 'open courses' (run in Wiki Educator). She also explained what an open course actually is.

The wiki is used mainly as an LMS type approach, but pulls in a lot of other media and platforms. The focus is on facilitation (as opposed to teaching). The facilitators' course is not locked up in a password protected environment, and there is no fee to participate (although there is a charge if you would like personal feedback on your own facilitation).

Other platforms Sarah mentioned that are used on the course are blogs, Twitter, and Google groups. Email was seen as the technology that most participants would already be familiar and comfortable with. The course if for people who would like to learn and interact online, develop learning networks and communities, etc. The course is designed around encouraging the participants to actually use the tools and to actually facilitate events and discussions. The final assessment for the course is to run an event.  Uses a lot of Nancy White ideas around facilitating conversation in virtual communities (e.g. Online Community Handbook).

To date a wide range of people from all over the world have participated in the course to date. The course has to cater to every level of digital literacy. Those participants who are very experienfced have been very generous with their time offering mentoring to other participants. As a facilitator Sarah had to think really hard about how she facilitates such a wide range of people. Adults don't read instructions, and she found much of her time was spent re-directing people back to the course to become more autonomous. There was a need to encourage smaller learning groups to develop within the larger group of the community.

A safe environment was critical to the effectiveness of the course, especially as many participants were very worried about the technology and about making mistakes. Need to develop an environment where people can make mistakes, to play and learn. Careful matching of people with similar interests, but as a facilitator she has had to listen very carefully to her participants. Try not to bombard people with technology, and including instructions with everything were two other recommendations she made. She has definitely moved from a teacher to a facilitator role.

One thing that she stresses she has learned is that she has to give up control to the students. It has been quite hard as her learning objectives might be rather different to what the learners are keen to do.
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