Monday, December 10, 2007

Auf wiedersehen

This is my good bye to everyone in the Facilitating eLearning Communities course.



When writing to the email group to thank them for participating in the course, I realised that the community was really only beginning. Although the course is now officially finished, we will be keeping the email group open so the community can share ideas, tips and stories about their experiences facilitating online. I also invited everyone to help develop the online communities pages on WikiEducator. I hope some will continue to engage in the group.

As a first time facilitator and co-facilitator in the course I found the experience a very challenging and rewarding experience. It has not been easy and it was never boring. Overall, it was extremely interesting to interact online with such a diverse and highly skilled group of educators; everyone in the group had very different needs and expectations. Sometimes I found it frustrating and sometimes I found it confusing - the reactions of the group were not always logical and rarely predictable.

For example, I believed the instructions for the first part of the course were clear and straightforward but that relied on people working systematically through the Blackboard activities and resources. People did not seem to get it. Then we confused people by throwing other technologies into the mix - email group, blog, wiki - as problems came up we offered a range of solutions. There was choice introduced, not just step-by-step and work through the activities and resources on Blackboard....post a discussion in Blackboard. The options threw a lot of people into the pirana pool. People's preference for options other than Blackboard meant the platform became redundant as we thought it would in a networked community.

Was it too much too soon?

For the next class, I feel that the Blackboard option will not be an option. Sure we could have shown people a couple of nice to know web 2.0 technologies and left them safely sitting in the learning Management System AND that could have been a community of sorts. Perhaps a subsistence community and a community with very limited means but a gated community - safe but how I hate the idea.

Instead we took the class out into the scary cyber world of uncertainty and unpredictability. Choice was the flavour of the day - ask a question and there were several options to choose from. Good or bad! We took people on a constructionist, constructivist and scaffolded/facilitated pathway with many forks and turns. People were not comfortable and they complained or disappeared from view. The true blue online facilitators did reappear though and they were stronger than when they started and more innovative - yes there were a few bruises and damaged egos - but they made the effort to ride the bull.

I learned a great deal from the experience and am impressed by the tenacity of the community to try out new challenges and experiences. Facilitating the class with Leigh opened new communities I had hitherto tried but avoided eg Second Life, gaming, FaceBook. I really liked the 10 minute lecture series - how fortunate we were to have so many people willing to contribute their know how to the community. My only regret is not having enough time to reflect on my blog about all the events. I can still do this of course because they are all recorded.

I asked the class to forgive us for discombobulating them. I was impressed with the high level of critical thinking and there was significant diversification of the communities' online facilitation abilities as we moved through the course. It is clear there is no one magic bullet for success. Each group will be different. Hopefully the group has established some guidelines for themselves and the groups they will go on to facilitate. I hope they can now recognise the need to allow their students room to evolve as a community. I firmly believe that only by providing loosely-structured problems will students be assisted to think critically and really learn how to learn.

I have never forgotten the words of a visiting lecturer years ago who ran a workshop on critical thinking. "If you want to get your students to think critically, you have to put them in a place where they do not feel comfortable and where they feel challenged, they will not go there on their own."

I particularly like the explanation on the uses of critical thinking on Wikipedia. To get this class to think critically about good and bad methods for facilitating online communities it was necessary to present them with experiential real world problems in an online community and not just one or two but a wide range. Just transmitting information to them abut how to facilitate online would not have cut it; they had to experience it warts and all. What was bad to some was good to others and vice versa. Each experience would have beenunique although the community was exposed to the same things.

"Critical thinking is also critical inquiry, so such critical thinkers investigate problems, ask questions, pose new answers that challenge the status quo, discover new information that can be used for good or ill, question authorities and traditional beliefs, challenge received dogmas and doctrines, and often end up possessing power in society greater than their numbers." "The intellectual skills of critical thinking--analysis, synthesis, reflection, etc.--must be learned by actually performing them." (AN INTRODUCTION TO CRITICAL THINKING by Steven D. Schafersman, 1991).

Facilitating this course has helped me to become better at critical thinking. It is not an easy thing to get the balance right in a course like this and my big question is - should we cater to the lowest common denominator in terms of skill and comfort or should we make the challenge higher and hope for the best. I believe for this class we did the right thing going with the latter - uncomfortable as it was at times for all of us.

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