Sunday, August 30, 2009

FOCO9 - Online discussion forum

Our task over the next two weeks is to find and join and online discussion forum. We have been advised that these tend to be via Google groups or Yahoo groups. Again, I am going into unknown territory!

I have followed blogs, but have been advised that these are not the same as these online discussion forums (which tend to be text based discussions - someone posts the start of a discussion and then people can comment via threads) - so will now have to delve into the "unknown"

I suppose in some ways this is what happens in other educational courses in discussion forums, the difference being that only 'enrolled' students can participate and they are often 'shielded' behind a learning management system such as Blackboard or Moodle.

Once we have this forum we need to then join their email forum and also interview a member of the forum that we are looking at and obtain comments and ideas on how the forum might benefit from facilitation services - such as a coordinated event to help focus people around a particular issue, or the writing of a summary to close a thread in the forum.

Of course this brings me back to our discussion on facilitation, teaching and moderation.

We discussed the roles of each and how they may impact on each of the other roles. The group considered the role of the facilitator and came up with a list now posted on the course blog.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

FOCO9 Teacher, Facilitator & Moderator

For this blog post we have been asked to try to determine what the different roles and behaviours are for facilitator, moderator and teacher. Following that to answer three questions:
· When might the role of a teacher undermine the role of a facilitator?
· When might the role of a moderator undermine the role of a facilitator?
· When might the role of a facilitator undermine the role of a teacher or moderator?

Teachers tend to play an active role throughout the learning process of any student. Their role may be seen as making links to their learning and help make the learning process authentic. Teachers try to instil knowledge, and an interest of learning, engage with their students.

Wikipedia’s defines ‘facilitator’ as someone who helps a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan to achieve them without taking a particular position in the discussion. Therefore a facilitator is someone that helps to manage a process of information exchange, guide and manage a group to ensure that the group’s objectives are met effectively.

A moderator is given authority to ensure and enforce forum rules and maybe conduct administrative tasks that may not be entrusted amongst other users. I did need to think more carefully about this as in my area of education it means something different from the role and context that we are looking at here. At the moment, I would not say that I am engaged in being a moderator or how that role really works.

I would consider myself a teacher, I present information in the classroom, passing on as much knowledge to my students as I can, in the hope that the information will be retained, digested and used. Having reviewed Kemshal-Bell’s (2001) three main categories of skills and attributes of a good facilitator, then I would also consider myself as a facilitator (especially in a couple of my courses that are not delivered face to face). I encourage students in their learning process, provide feedback along the way and support their learning. Although the courses I am involved in at present are not fully on-line, I can see that there are areas of facilitation that are important, such as the skills involved in managing online discussion, the ability to build online teams and keeping everyone motivated.

I read with interest Leigh Blackall’s ( blogpost “To Facilitate or Teach” and the subsequent comments. One comment made my Blackall was the “problem of needing self motivated learners to participate in a facilitated learning environment”. This comes back to the role of the facilitator and how they would encourage these learners.

As a teacher you tend to be in control of the classroom situation, the lesson being taught, timing, discussions you may have in class, whereas as a facilitator you have to learn to let go a little, you cannot assume that same control of the participants (online community). You can give them guidance on how to reach their end goals, but they may achieve these at their own pace, they may wander on a tangent before being guided back to the original task. Learning may be less structured, but nonetheless rewarding. The facilitator encourages with comments on the way. It may also depend on the independence of the students learning as well. There tends to be a role shift between teacher and facilitator dependent on the student’s learning ability, problems they may encounter, etc. For many students they are not familiar with the self learning environment and therefore need to be taught basic concepts before they can become more independent learners.

Overlaps in the roles of teaching, facilitating and moderating may be seen in online community. In many cases both teacher and facilitator roles are used as well as moderating.
Still much to ponder…. Hopefully it will all become clearer.

Kemshal-Bell, G. (2001). The Online Teacher - Final report prepared for the Project Steering Committee of the VET Teachers and Online learning Project. Retrieved 20 August, 2009, from

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Before I move on to the next topic of our course, I have been taking time to further delve into the material and also refer & make comment on some of the blogs. I wonder if we are worrying that we are not a 'community' straight away, does it matter if we start out at as a network.

I think that a community cannot be created instantly and it does take time and willingnees for members to get to know each other, to converse and share thoughts and ideas freely.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

FOC09 - What is an online community?

So, I have started on my next elearning journey of being part of the Facilitating Online Communities course. We have had a few online meetings via Elluminate, which have not been without issues, both from a groups point of view (the first one technology failed, so it ended up only being myself & Leigh chatting as we were both on-site at Otago Polytechnic), the second I had microphone issues so could not talk and the third seemed to go without a hitch. I have been impressed by the dedication of some members, fronting up to a meeting at 4am, apologies, but I need my sleep! Fascinating though that people from all over the world are joining in.

Our last meeting though focussed on “what is an online community?”. Over the past couple of weeks since my involvement with the course I have been reading the required information, looking at other people’s comments and trying to understand more about online communities.

Any “community” has to have a purpose, a reason for being, so I would presume that this would be the same for any online community. Whether you are involved in a community of practice at work, or maybe through external activities such as committee through childcare or school, there is always some focus of why people would gravitate together.

In the past face to face communities have been characterised through the geographic location of the participants and travel to and from a location could have been seen as a barrier to forming extended communities. In many of these local communities there is not only a sense of togetherness, but also of familiarity and safety, which may not always be the case with on online community. Saying that, the level of anonymity could certainly contribute in some degree to the safety felt on line. There is also that sense that you can come and go.

So what is an online community?....

  • It enables people from all over the world with a similar purpose or interest or maybe need to meet/connect
  • It enables likeminded people with similar attitudes and skills to connect with each other

An online community may give some people an opportunity to involve themselves in different ways than a f2f community because of a feeling of anonymity, or it may be time pressures associated with f2f communities

Etienne Wagner (1998) from the Communities of Practice quoted “a community functions with mutual engagement”, where you must interact with others to have sense of belonging. In our meeting this week there was some discussion around whether or not “we” the FOC09 are actually a ‘community’. The question has to be asked if we are by virtue of enrolling on to the course or joining in with the discussion a community. Sarah raised the question of whether we are a network (I have not come to a sound conclusion just yet). Does it depend on the level of engagement that people have? What happens if we are more reticent in nature? Or to quote Willie a “legitimate peripheral participant”! I can see the need for interaction, familiarity of online communities to maybe build confidence. I could also see that you are more likely to have people ‘lurking’ in an online community rather than f2f. If you don’t contribute then you would not feel part of that community. I need to leave my post here at the moment, but will come back to it, once I have delved into some more of the reading.