Facilitating online is a skill that I am still improving on with every new opportunity that arises in my schedule. I am currently facilitating online in discussion forums in several Moodle environments; and here I practice the art of being inclusive, reflective, proactive and constructive in my postings. I regularly facilitate or co-facilitate real time online events, usually in Elluminate; and over the last few years I have done a few hundred of these, so I’m really comfortable with that. The feedback that I receive from my peers and audience in that realm spurs me on and challenges me to try out new strategies. I am regularly called upon to moderate Elluminate webinars/presentations for teachers in schools and ACE organisations – these are part of my core business. I regularly and voluntarily co-moderate sessions for other presenters in the Learn Central network of events under the banner of the Australia Series. During 2010, the team scheduled 45 events for the eT@lking series, a regular event on a Wednesday evening at 8pm AEDT, and I presented and moderated 4 for the Eportfolio Community of Practice – monthly events.
Synchronous (real time) events:
These experiences have given me confidence to present for the Global Education Conference – a free series of Elluminate webinars during the week of November 15-19, 2010. My first GEC presentation is scheduled for November 16 at 11 am and I will be presenting a snapshot of the VET Eportfolios Community of Practice, its conversations, its shared philosophy, its members and its case studies – and most importantly its global links to other eportfolio communities of practice. In preparing for this event I have reflected on the effectiveness of past Elluminate moderation strategies and plan to include as much interactivity as possible – this is the most effective way of engaging the audience. I plan to avoid the Elluminate ‘death by PowerPoint’ and to use innovative application sharing tactics instead. There is a risk attached to this as you probably know, such as the technical and connectivity aspects while sharing your desktop view and speaking at the same time, so I will be aiming to keep this as simple as possible too. Recent successes with the use of a shared googledoc in which the audience can key in responses, ideas or comments whilst viewing this phenomenon live in Elluminate will be utilised. The beauty of this strategy lies in its dynamic and renewable nature and enables the contributors to return to it later for review – no need to copy the whiteboard notes as I’ve done in the past.
Other activities that work well in the Elluminate room include: polling, web tours, games and engaging the audience in conversation rather than presentation. I regularly use Elluminate for online workshops where the participants are learning to use other tools such as Moodle or Mahara – this is not for the faint hearted – it requires a certain amount of confidence with multi-tasking for both facilitator and participant. I do recommend that such ‘virtual’ workshops be used as follow-up strategies for in-house training sessions or as blended regular real time events in course delivery. Scheduling, promoting and reminding of these events is an essential element in their success. For instance you can add the notification of the event with links into your Ning Network or your Moodle course; send out reminder emails and send posts in Twitter.
Careful structure and planning for these real time events is an essential element of their success – I have a collection of useful planning files that I recycle for these events including: participant orientation slides; moderator running sheets; documents with useful links for sharing and evaluation surveys. Uploading these files to online repositories for ease of access wherever I am located has proven invaluable, time and time again. I love Google apps and wikis for this process, as well as, more recently, the DropBox.
Asynchronous (any time) events:
Moodle discussion forums, Google group conversations and Voicethreads are three of the strategies I am exploring in greater depth this year. Each one requires the same amount of careful planning and preparation with notable differences in their implementation. My recent learning from the Facilitating Online program from New Zealand, under the brilliant facilitation of Sarah Stewart has helped me enormously with success in each of these three areas. I’d like to unpack some of the evaluation for these below.
[Note: If you’ve read all the way down to this part of my post, beware there’s a bit more to go. I am beginning to think that this topic probably needs to be published as a downloadable white paper – a task for next year!]
Voicethread: Powerful Portfolio Practices
This Voicethread was produced for the launch (Nov 4) of the VET Eportfolios Community of Practice and has gathered some commentary from members of that community. The structure is meant to portray the full gamit of eportfolio concepts and to entice practitioners to voice their opinions on each one. On reflection there are some missing elements – one of which refused to load properly as a Powerpoint or PD F slide – and others that did not occur to me initially. These can easily be added as further slides and opportunities to comment in the future. A word of caution for other would be Voicethread authors, convert your slides to PDF for a better upload. (Note: I must say the help desk at VT was brilliant in helping me out there.) My take-aways from this experience include: providing guidance for contributors on how to comment; targeting a group of contributors to populate the VT swiftly; collaborate with one or more team members; use a variety of promotional strategies to notify potential contributors and to set the scene; do prepare a guide or a script for your own commentary, but don’t read it verbatim in a radio voice; and finally provide follow-up activities drawing on the conversations in the VT.
My very next Voicethread incorporates a great deal of the above guidance and I’m pleased to say that it will be used as a final group reflection in the ACFE ementor program for 2010. We’ve taken a collaborative approach in scoping the content of the VT, creating the slides, recording the focus questions and skilling the contributors prior to their commentary.
In order to generate more audience feedback on the VTs I plan to generate a poll in the VET Eportfolios Community of Practice, notify its members of the ongoing nature of the VT, and ask them to draw out the issues and post a conversation about them in the EpCoP google group conversations. This process has begun organically already thanks to the postings from Sarah, Colin, Don and Amy.
This Googlegroup was created in July 2010 to engage Australian eportfolio practitioners in conversations about the process of building, implementing, scaffolding and promoting an eportfolio approach to learning in Australian Vocational Educational and Training organisations. As a funded initiative there were some benefits for the speed by which it was accepted and utilised for the sharing of knowledge and practice in Eportfolios. Initial facilitation of the conversations was required to prompt, challenge or encourage responses from a small number of members. As the group grew in size and we opened it up for wider involvement and promoted it as a global opportunity for shared ideas, there was less required facilitation – the conversations took on a life of its own. Then as the novelty factor wore off and members there was a need to reinvigorate and remind members of our vision and how to take the EpCoP to the next level. The recent launch at the Eportfolio Australia Conference helped to do that – hence the development of the Voicethread – Powerful Portfolio Practices.
Currently we are exploring alternative strategies to move the conversation on to collecting the leading case studies; identifying the gaps in our knowledge exchange; and how to encourage the development of ‘chapters’ of the community where practitioners can promote, report and evaluate their local eportfolio projects. The future of the EpCoP will now depend on the collaborative energies of a team of people to ensure that it continues to fulfil its vision. This will now shape my facilitation role for the next six months and I will need to monitor, stimulate and evaluate the ongoing potential of the community.
Moodling has become another core element of my business and just recently I’ve drawn on past skills in facilitating any time discussions in the course Reflect and Connect. As this is a funded initiative we are required to keep a blog for the project and this is available at Eliberation2010. In the blog you will see how the facilitators are reflecting on their facilitation roles and this helps to keep our process transparent for all stakeholders. One notable element of our recent posts relates to the exciting, busy and sometimes overwhelming, nature of the discussion forums we’ve put in place for the participants. These threaded discussions feature in each ‘topic’ or section of the course and enable the participants to share their learning, knowledge, ideas and opinions frequently and regularly. The Moodle forum features enable the facilitator to regulate, monitor and view the latest unread posts – essential tools for forum management. The News forum is used each week to provide a summary of the week’s events and to forecast those for the following week. The News Desk forum is more of an announcement tool so does not generate responses and each posting remains clearly in view throughout the course, enabling participants to return to it for their updates and for their Tracking sheets.
In this course we are modelling co-facilitation by the leaders and collaborative facilitation by the participants. The co-facilitation role is rewarding as well as challenging – we are confident that all postings will be read and responded to by one of us in a 24 hour time period, however, we need to have a shared understanding of when and how we post our responses. For this reason we need to conduct weekly facilitator briefing sessions and to provide support documentation such as Facilitator Notes.
- I would recommend the following reference for those who are currently facilitating online or hope to in the near future: ‘Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching: How to “Be There” for Distance Learners’ Lehman and Conceicao, Jossey-Bass 2010.