When we began the LRNT 505 course, the first assignment was to submit an image that represented our perspective or experience in online learning and facilitation. I submitted the image above, and explained my choice as follows:
“For me to figure out my view of facilitation, I first had to think about how I viewed learning and knowledge, and what my role is in helping others to acquire it. My picture shows a landscape of a river with numerous tributaries, and this is how I view knowledge. Each large subject area (the main branch of the river), can be divided into subtopics, which can then be divided further into even smaller sub-topics – all of them interconnecting with each other. I believe that my job as a facilitator is to help my students navigate this river by nudging them into different directions as they explore, and helping to make sure that they have understood all that they saw on the river clearly. No two students will have the same journey, and they may even explore sections of the river where I myself have not been. I think a facilitator also assists their students in seeing the connections between different branches of the river, and gives them the resources to move from one tributary to the next so that eventually they are able to explore without you anymore.” (Ferreira, 2012).
I now wish to add more to this image of facilitation, in light of what I have learned about the best practices of online facilitation in this course. To do this, I will go week by week through the seminar topics and describe how each seminar adds additional meaning to my image of online facilitation.
Seminar 1: Cultural and Diversity Dimensions of Online Learning
Many online communities contain members from a diversity of cultural, educational and linguistic backgrounds. This is analogous to people starting from different points on the river, and having different ideas on how the journey should be navigated. If the course is in English, a person who does not speak English as their first language, may have further on the river to travel than one for whom English is their native tongue. Likewise, a person with a background in a behaviorist educational system, may expect more than simply nudges along their journey, and perhaps would prefer a detailed list of instructions with numerous checkpoints as they navigate the river of knowledge. As Baltes (2010) notes, “it would be futile to create an academic online classroom based on the heritage of the potential students” (p. 294), as the possible combinations are simply too large to account for. What is possible however, is “to create a classroom that offers as many opportunities to acquire knowledge as possible by addressing as many learning preferences as possible” (Baltes, 2010, p. 294). I think this fits nicely with the metaphor of the river – there are numerous different ways to navigate its branches, and the online facilitator should be flexible and plan for different learners to negotiate their own paths through the course. This can be done by creating an online environment that provides learners with numerous choices on how they wish to acquire and demonstrate their learning. Baltes (2010), makes the point that the asynchronous nature of many online environments allows many different learning activities to occur simultaneously, whereas in the face-to-face environment, limitations of time and location force facilitators to make choices in their facilitation strategies. Designing your online course as though it is a river with many branches, that meet at a common exit point, is a way in which an online facilitator can address the cultural and diversity dimensions of teaching in the online environment.
Seminar 2: The online facilitator – roles and responsibilities
In this seminar, we learned that a facilitator should create an online learning environment that includes teacher presence, social presence, and cognitive presence from both the instructor and the learners. Teacher presence consists of the design and organization of the online learning environment, the facilitation of discourse within the learning community and the provision of direct instruction and assessment to learners (Anderson, 2008, p. 361). In our discussion in the Moodle, a variety of ways were suggested to establish teacher presence in an online community – and in particular the use of video and audio were mentioned as effective alternatives to text-based interaction. To return to my facilitation image, I think in some respects the teacher designs the course of the river through their teaching presence. How a facilitator organizes the course material, facilitates discourse and provides instruction and feedback will influence the types of bends and branches that the learners are able to travel along on the river. The greater the variety of modes of communication, assignments and learner interactions provided by the course, the more varied the branches of the river will be. Teacher presence therefore has an important role in defining the opportunities for learning and interaction along the river.
Social presence involves the social and emotional interactions among the learners and between the learners and the facilitator that build community in an online learning environment (Lowenthal, 2005). In the forum discussions on social presence it was mentioned several times that social presence is a projection of the personality of the learner or facilitator into the online environment. When we discuss our personal lives or express emotions in the online learning environment, we are projecting our social presence. In terms of the river image, I think that a facilitator without a strong social presence, or one that does not encourage their learners to create their own social presence, runs the risk of creating disengagement in the learning community. Student satisfaction and retention in a course is strongly related to social presence (Scollins-Mantha, 2008). If a student feels socially connected to the instructor and others in the learning community, they are more likely to stay on board the boat when the waters get rough. A facilitator that encourages social presence allows for more learners to complete the journey to the end of the river and increases their satisfaction at having done so.
Cognitive presence can be defined as “the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication” (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000, p. 89). Cognitive presence is encouraged by the instructor when learners successfully engage in critical discourse and reflection with each other. As a group of learners navigates the river of knowledge, it is inevitable that differences of opinion will emerge as to the correct course to take or the accuracy of the information presented. A facilitator that develops good cognitive presence allows learners to discuss their differences of opinion, while maintaining a respectful and trusting atmosphere for the conversation. Learners may end up taking a route that they did not expect, or finding that a section of the river they thought was easy to navigate is more complicated than it appears at the surface.
Seminar 3: Facilitating Teams in the Online Environment
In our discussions of facilitating teams, it was frequently noted that a good facilitator gives students the tools to collaborate successfully and then coaches them through the process if needed. Providing students with helpful hints, icebreaker activities, or structured roles during teamwork are ways in which the online instructor can create an environment in which teams can flourish. This is analogous to providing all the necessary equipment to each group as they navigate the river of knowledge. In a real river, you would need a good boat, life jackets, paddles, ropes, navigation equipment etc. in order to successfully and safely descend the river. Likewise, team members in an online environment need to be provided with knowledge of the background of their teammates, strategies to deal with conflict in group situations, and an ability to seek help from the instructor if the waters prove too rough to handle alone. It would also be helpful to have the instructor in the boat for some of the journey – providing feedback when necessary to keep the boat on course. This could take the form of sharing collaborative documents with the instructor, or popping into Google hangouts with the team to see how they are coming along.
Seminar 4: Community in Online Facilitation
In our seminar, community was defined as a group of people who come together because they have something in common or something that they wish to share with each other. Building community involves fostering the connections between community members through establishing community rules and norms, facilitating a strong support network between community members, and providing opportunities for socialization and collaboration. Successful communities have a shared vision or goal and each member of the community contributes to assist in achieving this goal. In a way, the idiom “we are all in the same boat” aptly applies to the building of community and its connection to my image of facilitation. Community members are all attempting to navigate the same river, and so must work together in order for each member, and the group as a whole, to be successful.
Seminar 5: Theories and Models in Online Facilitation
I believe that the theory or model used by an online instructor could be analogous to the type of boat and paddling style they advocate on the river. For example, if all the learners are placed in individual kayaks, taught how to paddle, and navigate the river individually with assistance from the instructor, this would be a metaphor for a behaviorist type of learning theory. Alternately, if learners are put in a large raft together and given a goal which they must construct a plan to achieve, the metaphor becomes one of constructivism. How the learners travel down the river and the tools they are given to navigate reflect the instructors ideas of how the journey is to be completed.
Seminar 6: Humour in online facilitation
I think that humour and community building are closely related. The use of humour and whether it is appropriate or not is determined through the community rules and norms. It was suggested by LoShiavo and Shatz (2006), that self-depreciating humour is usually appropriate in the online environment, as the only victim is the person making the joke. An analogous situation in the river is that it would often be considered inappropriate to make jokes about the boat sinking or a person going overboard in a rapid. Jokes concerning other peoples competencies and techniques would similarly not be appropriate. Recounting an experience shared by the whole group in a humorous way however, might be deemed appropriate. I wish to use humour as an online facilitator in the future, but as we learned in our seminar and can relate to in real life situations, humour must be carefully chosen to fit its context.
Seminar 7: Revisiting the Facilitation Experience
I think that the reflections posted in this seminar illustrated that the river is often bumpy, and a facilitator always needs to be prepared to deal with learners who may not follow the community rules. Just like no two learners will have the same journey along the river, I imagine that each time you facilitate a course it will be different because of the different strengths and attitudes brought by the learners in the community.
In my first assignment for this course, I laid out the following goals, based on my personal philosophy of facilitation, for our teaching week.
“As an online facilitator in my team, I will integrate my ideas by making our expectations clear to the learner and providing timely feedback in response to learner interactions. I will ensure that the content is clearly presented and provide students with the opportunity to interact with content through problem solving and consensus building activities. My preference for social constructivism will encourage interaction between students, both in small groups and full class discussions. Students will be encouraged to reflect on their experiences, as constructivist learning focuses not only on “coaching and scaffolding meaningful experiences” but also on “providing opportunities to reflect on those experiences” (Jonassen, Cernusca, & Ionas, 2007, p. 5). The encouragement of discussion and reflection contributes to the creation of a “culture of learning in which everyone is involved in the collective and individual effort to understand” (Hill, 2002, p. 69). By creating online opportunities to guide learners though interactive, problem-solving and reflective activities, my team will increase the ease with which our learners are able to interact, create shared meanings, and use these meanings to guide decision-making.” (Ferreira, 2012, p. 4).
To what extent were these goals met in our online facilitation week?
Goal #1: I will integrate my ideas by making our expectations clear to the learner and providing timely feedback in response to learner interactions.
My team put a lot of thought into the wording of our instructions and the placement and format of our posts in the Moodle. I believe that we were timely in our feedback, as questions were responded to rapidly in the Moodle, and our summaries of the two assignments were completed within twenty-four hours from the assignment deadline. I think perhaps however, some instructions could have been more clear. The case study assignment required the students to evaluate a team working on an assignment at the fictional Athena University. The groups were asked to evaluate the maturity of the team in their case study in terms of interaction, organization and modus operandi as defined by Lam, Chua, Williams and Lee (2005). They were then required to list strategies or approaches to facilitate their case study team and suggestions on how to structure the online environment to promote effective team work from the very start of the course. One group met these assignment requirements clearly, while the other did not explicitly state the maturity of the group in terms of the definitions provided by Lam et al (2005). Had this been an assignment for marks, the lack of this aspect would probably have resulted in a lower grade for this team, and it signals that perhaps the wording of the assignment was not completely clear. In the future, I think I would take the suggestion noted in one of the case study analyses and provide a rubric for the assignment to make the expectations clear to students from the start. I always do this in my face-to-face classes, and take 10 minutes or so to go over the assignment and my expectations with students while referencing the rubric. I think this would assist in clearing up any confusion among students. In addition, both teams indicated that having multiple opportunities for collaboration, including synchronous and asynchronous tools, would assist in ensuring that teams work effectively together. As a facilitator in this week, I felt that I could not see what was happening with the groups as they worked on the project together. In a face-to-face classroom, I circulate around the room as groups work, and provide formative feedback to ensure that they are on the right track with the assignment. In an online environment, this could be done by requiring that students share their collaboration with instructors, whether it is in a wiki, Google doc, or other collaboration tool. I have done this as a student in previous courses, but the instructor has never written a comment in our collaborative documents. I think in the future, I would ensure that all collaboration was shared with me, and to post at least one comment in each teams’ document – even if it is just to say “Looks good so far – you are on the right track”.
Goal #2: I will ensure that the content is clearly presented and provide students with the opportunity to interact with content through problem solving and consensus building activities.
I believe that the content was clearly presented – the readings were explicitly noted and their relevance to the question being asked in Assignment #2 was outlined clearly. The case study assignment represented both a problem solving and consensus building activity, as students had to work together to analyse the situation, and then come to a consensus on their recommendations for facilitating each team. In the VoiceThread assignment, the consensus building was done primarily by the instructors. After listening to each students reflections, we drew parallels between their comments and created a summary of the groups’ thoughts. It is hoped that these summaries were then used to complete the case study assignment, and indeed one group very explicitly referred to their own experiences as online students when analyzing their case study situation. If there were more time given to this facilitation topic, a useful and interesting activity might be for students to create their own summaries of the VoiceThread topics. I certainly found that as a facilitator, listening carefully to each comment and grouping responses by themes assisted in my understanding of the effective facilitation of teams. Giving learners this experience would likely accomplish a deeper understanding of the topic, but it would be a lot to ask given the time constraints of our facilitation week.
Goal #3: My preference for social constructivism will encourage interaction between students, both in small groups and full class discussions.
I think that our week of facilitation did encourage interaction between the members of Team Read. The use of VoiceThread added a personal component to the discussion, as we were able to see and hear our team members. I found that I felt nostalgia at hearing some of the voices again, as the only interaction I had had with many of my fellow students since the end of residency was through the discussion forums on Moodle. I think that the social presence of the other learners projected through VoiceThread gave it a more interactive feel than text based discussion. Given more time, I think it would have been interesting to have learners’ respond to each others’ posts in VoiceThread. I’m not sure if it would become complicated to follow the thread or not if this was done, but I think it would be something I would be willing to try in future facilitation experiences. We also enabled small group discussions by placing the students into teams to complete their case study assignment. It would have been nice to see evidence of their interaction, and perhaps join them in a Google hangout as facilitator.
Goal #4: Students will be encouraged to reflect on their experiences, as constructivist learning focuses not only on “coaching and scaffolding meaningful experiences” but also on “providing opportunities to reflect on those experiences” (Jonassen, Cernusca, & Ionas, 2007, p. 5). The encouragement of discussion and reflection contributes to the creation of a “culture of learning in which everyone is involved in the collective and individual effort to understand” (Hill, 2002, p. 69).
The two questions posed in the VoiceThread activity were intended to encourage students to reflect on their own experiences as facilitators and learners in the online environment. These reflections were then summarized and could be used as a scaffold to analyzing and understanding the case study assignment. Perhaps in future facilitation experiences, it would be beneficial to ask students to reflect on what they learned during the week. We as facilitators did this for them in our final VoiceThread summary, but it could also have been beneficial for students to complete this task as well. Many students may have reflected as part of their online journal or to provide themselves with material for Assignment #3. I think that providing a suggestion or a location for reflection is a good idea when facilitating online courses. I have put in many hours of reflection for this course through this blog, and I believe that my understanding of the best practices of both face-to-face and online facilitation is enhanced as a result. I appreciate the reflection aspect that is built into the LRNT 505 course and would use it in my own facilitation in the future.
Goal #5: By creating online opportunities to guide learners though interactive, problem-solving and reflective activities, my team will increase the ease with which our learners are able to interact, create shared meanings, and use these meanings to guide decision-making.
To determine whether our facilitation was effective or not, we provided a survey for our learners to complete at the end of the week. When the full survey results become available, I will assess whether our team was effective in allowing our learners to interact, create shared meanings, and use these meanings to guide decision making. This will be the subject of another blog post.
In last week’s seminar, we were asked to debate whether a new learning theory was necessary given the expansion in technologies available in education. In preparing for the debate, I reviewed the three main learning theories (although there are many others) of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. I also researched connectivism, a learning theory for the digital age, and several other theories such as social learning theory and the Community of Inquiry model. In this blog post, I would like to summarize the learning theories of behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectivism and relate my facilitation experience to each of the theories.
Behaviourism is a learning theory that perceives learning as the acquisition of observable behaviours. From a behaviourist perspective, the goal of instruction is to “enable the majority of students to achieve levels of performance that were pre-determined in terms of behaviourally defined objectives” (Tennyson, 2010, p. 2). This leads to “small, incremental steps sequenced to link information in a logical order [and] active learner participation in responding to instructional stimuli with immediate feedback as a positive reinforcer” (Tennyson, 2010, p. 2). Behaviourism is characterized by specific objectives, small steps, right or wrong answers and measurable performance criteria (Kennedy & Norman, 2011).
I do not think that my team used a behaviourist approach in our facilitation week. Our tasks were open-ended with room for interpretation, and therefore did not conform to the right or wrong format characteristic of behaviourism. Although I felt our tasks were sequenced in a logical order, they were not small incremental steps and we did not provide immediate feedback to reinforce learner behaviours. In fact, there were not clearly defined objectives for our week. We simply wished to have learners connect previous knowledge with the readings and use this information to analyze a case study. We did not begin our planning for the week with “Learners will be able to….”
Cognitivism focuses on the “learners’ internal environment and cognitive structures” (Torre, Daley, Sebastian & Elnicki, 2006, p. 904). In the cognitive framework, “the learner uses cognitive tools, such as insight, information processing, perceptions, and memory, to facilitate learning by assigning meaning to events” (Torre et al., 2006, p. 904). Cognitivism is learner-centered, as students find meaning in a self-directed way. Strategies associated with cognitivism include case studies, research, discussions, self-assessment and presentations (Shirley, 2009).
Although the case study could be used as an example of a cognitive learning strategy, because it was completed as part of a team, and not individually, I do not think it would be considered cognitivist. Likewise, the VoiceThread questions linked memory, perception and experience to events, which is arguably a cognitivist task. However, the personal anecdotes told by the group were synthesized into a summary, making the learning socially acquired. This social component to learning is not usually associated with cognitivism, and therefore I do not think that we used a cognitive approach in our facilitation week.
Constructivists “argue that knowledge is both individually constructed and socially co-constructed from interactions and experiences with the world” (Jonassen, Cernusa, & Ionas, 2007, p. 4). Learning “emerges from practice (or activity) and from discussion and reflection on that practice” (Jonassen et al., 2007, p. 4). Constructivists create “learning situations that promote the engagement or immersion of learners in practice fields (simulations, project-based, inquiry-based, problem-based) activities and fields of practice (communities of practice, apprenticeships, workplace activities” (Jonassen et al., 2007, p. 4).
I think that we primarily used a constructivist approach during our facilitation week. The case study was a problem-based and authentic learning task, which allowed students to apply what they had learned in the week to a hypothetical situation. The team aspect to the case study assignment also allowed for discussion of ideas and reflection on the readings and comments in the VoiceThread. In addition, the VoiceThread activity encouraged students to reflect on their own experiences and practice in facilitating teams. These thoughts were then summarized and key ideas were drawn out from the contributions of each student. Both teachers and students learned from each other during these learning activities. For these reasons, I believe our facilitation week was primarily constructivist in nature.
Connectivist learning “focuses on building and maintaining networked connections that are current and flexible enough to be applied to existing and emergent problems” (Anderson & Dron, 2011, p. 87). The learner’s role is “not to memorize or even understand everything, but to have the capacity to find and apply knowledge when or where it is needed” (Anderson & Dron, 2011, p. 87). In connectivist learning environments, the teacher and the students collaborate together to create content that can be used by future students, and assessment is a combination of self-reflection and teacher assessment of the quality and quantity of your contributions (Anderson & Dron, 2011).
I am not sure, but I think simply by creating a digital artifact on the Internet that can be linked to other digital artifacts, you are engaging in connectivist learning. Each contribution you make becomes part of the web and part of your system of connected nodes. I have often gone back to previous discussions and courses to look for information, as the content uploaded by fellow students, the instructors and myself has become part of my personal learning environment. I do not think that my group planned for a connectivist learning experience for our students. We defined the content for our students and did not assess them on their overall contributions to the shared learning environment. However, I think the use of VoiceThread may represent a connectivist tool, as the conversations and summaries contained there are now part of each student’s personal learning environment. When the time comes for us to facilitate teams in an online environment, we will hopefully be able to find and apply the knowledge shared in this assignment to our future situation.
The Community of Inquiry model assumes that learning “occurs within the Community through the interaction of three core elements…cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence” (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000, p. 88). In a community of inquiry, people are united by the common purpose of learning, and the development and maintenance of the three presences allows the learners to achieve their learning goals. In this post, I will outline the three presences and relate them to my facilitation experience.
Teaching presence has two general functions that can be performed by anyone in the learning community, but “in an educational environment, these functions are likely to be the primary responsibility of the teacher” (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000, p. 89). The teaching presence is responsible for designing the educational experience, and facilitating the learning of the community. These responsibilities entail three critical components – “design and organization, facilitating discourse, and direct instruction” (Anderson, 2008, p. 361). My team utilized teaching presence in many ways during our week on “Facilitating Teams in the Online Environment”. We made sure that our initial posts on the Moodle were clear and well organized, and selected content and learning activities that encouraged discourse while the readings provided direct instruction. Although we did not direct conversation during the VoiceThread sessions, we did confirm understanding through assessment at the conclusion of both activity 1 and 2 and provided timely and explanatory feedback to our learners. Our learning activities and assessment were designed to encourage conversation and to listen to the perspectives of others in the group. We clarified the topics by providing answers to questions posed in the discussion forum, and by talking with our students directly on Skype during our office hours. In addition, we attempted as much as possible to make our instructions clear and explicit, so little clarification from learners was needed.
Social presence can be defined as “the ability of participants in the Community of Inquiry to project their personal characteristics into the community, thereby presenting themselves to the other participants as “real people”” (Garrison et al., 2000, p. 89). Social presence was achieved in our facilitation week through the use of audio and video discussion in VoiceThread. Seeing or hearing a person speak was, for me, more “real” than reading their thoughts in a discussion forum. In addition, our second question in assignment one asked our students to reflect on their experiences as members of a team. By asking for a personal experience, we encouraged social presence as group members were able to tell their own stories, which are naturally a projection of themselves.
Cognitive presence can be defined as “the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication” (Garrison et al, 2000, p. 89). The case study assignment is the primary example of cognitive presence in our facilitation week. The assignment required students to apply their understanding of facilitating teams from their own personal reflections and the readings. As each group of six was responsible for producing one summary, the teams needed to discuss the situation of the case study, decide on the key themes, devise strategies to facilitate the given case study, and then put their thoughts into one document. The discussion and consensus building required of this activity encouraged cognitive presence in our facilitation week.
In this blog post, I will take elements of the definition of experiential education as outlined by Itin (1999) and relate them to my own experience as a facilitator in LRNT 505.
Experiential education is a holistic philosophy, where carefully chosen experiences supported by reflection, critical analysis, and synthesis, are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results, through actively posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, constructing meaning, and integrating previously developed knowledge. (Itin, 1999, p. 93).
My team’s facilitation topic was “Facilitating Teams in an Online Environment”. Our learning tasks included readings, two reflections using VoiceThread (one in which learners linked the readings to their practice, and one in which students reflected on their prior experience with teamwork), and a case study in which students analyzed a team and made suggestions for how they would facilitate in the given situation. The experiences provided through our facilitation supported reflection, critical analysis and synthesis as learners were asked to reflect on their own experiences and academic readings to critically analyse a situation and synthesize a solution to the situation if needed. The initial reflective activities on VoiceThread allowed the learners to identify the key themes of facilitating groups in an online environment, as each person was able to contribute their own ideas, and these ideas were summarized by the facilitators. This scaffolded understanding of the subject, as the ideas provided in the first section of the week were then used to analyse the case study in the second assignment. By putting learners into groups for the case study, we also allowed them to investigate, be creative and construct meaning together in a situation that, although exaggerated, allowed them to experience first hand the diversity of teams that facilitators encounter in an online environment.
Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, politically, spiritually, and physically in an uncertain environment where the learner may experience success, failure, adventure and risk taking. The learning usually involves interaction between learners, learner and educator, and learner and environment. It challenges the learner to explore issues of values, relationship, diversity, inclusion, and community. (Itin, 1999, p. 93).
Throughout the MALAT program so far, discussion has primarily occurred through text-based threaded forums. Our group wished to try something new, so we used VoiceThread for our discussion portion of the week. VoiceThread is similar to a threaded forum, but instead of using text, the learners used audio and video to post their thoughts on the questions posed by the facilitators. For some learners, this was a risk taking experience, as it was a tool that they had never used before. Additionally, some learners may have felt uncomfortable with audio and video, and this was even expressed as one student indicated that they were happy to see that VoiceThread allowed you to record until you were satisfied with the product. In fact, as a facilitator, I perceived some risk to using VoiceThread, as because it was a tool I had not used before, I was concerned there would be unforeseen issues that I might not be able to solve because of unfamiliarity with the tool. VoiceThread allowed interactions between learners as we were able to hear each others voices, and in my opinion, listening to each other required more attention than reading in a forum. When I was listening to the comments of my peers, I felt more engaged because it felt like a conversation, and I was not able to skim through their post looking for the important ideas as I often do in a text-based forum. In fact, as a facilitator, I listened to the posts several times, and took notes on each person’s ideas. This increased the interaction between learner and educator, as I was able to listen more carefully to the ideas of the students and therefore synthesize them into a coherent posting at the end of the discussion. Our office hours through Skype were also designed to increase interaction between learner and educator, as we were available to help synchronously, and in fact did walk one student through the VoiceThread process when the program was not working. The learners interacted with their environment by trying a new tool, and by working together in a team for part two of the week. We felt that the topic of teams required the students to experience working in a team, and that is why the second experience of the week was a team project. As facilitators, we constructed a learning environment that allowed for reflection, synthesis, and concrete experience that allowed learners to experience multiple facets of facilitating teams in an online environment.
In our two case studies, one was purposefully diverse (the team members were diverse in age, experience, location and ethnicity), while one was purposefully homogeneous. This was to demonstrate how teams can vary, but also to allow for an appreciation of the differences in values, relationships, diversity and sense of community that arise based on the composition of a team. It is hoped that the students walked away from the case study experience with a realization that not all teams are the same, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to facilitating teams.
The relationship between teacher and student is transactive rather than interactive. This is to say that there is an exchange between teacher and student, not simply interaction…In a transactive model, the teacher brings information to the process but so does the student. Teachers and students not only interact, but they exchange knowledge. Students learn from teachers,and teachers learn from students. Similarly, students learn from the environment, but they also affect or change the environment. (Itin, 1999, p. 95).
Perhaps because I was both a student and a teacher throughout the facilitation process, I feel that this statement particularly applies to our facilitation week. I learned a lot from the reflections of my class mates, and the synthesis required to give feedback to both assignments taught me many things about the subject. In my professional life as a teacher, I find this statement often applies, as students are capable of asking insightful questions that I have never before considered. Everyone brings their own perspective to the community, and as a facilitator I enjoy hearing questions or ideas that are different from my own. I also like that Itin (1999) references the environment, and how learners not only gain knowledge from it, but also change it through their interactions. I think this especially applies to online learning, in which the environment could be defined as the technology tool being used. In our facilitation week, VoiceThread and Moodle provided the environment, but the comments, questions and work of the students altered these environments. The technology provides the means for communication, but it is the communication itself that is the lasting impression of the learning. Online environments are special, as the learning is recorded for all to see. Every comment in the Moodle or VoiceThread is there to revisit and re-examine for at least months to come. As I write these reflections, I continue to benefit from this feature of online learning environments, as I can go back to each week in the course and re-read or listen to everything that has been said and done.
Davis’ Five Teaching Strategies for Experiential Education
1) Teaching and coaching – Our group gave a clear outline of the week’s activities at the start of the facilitation, and even gave a pre-instruction email to prepare students for using VoiceThread. Our activities were sequenced in complexity, and feedback was provided in a clear and timely manner. When students had questions or problems with the technology, we were on hand to provide assistance.
2) Lecturing and explaining – the readings were used as the primary means to provide content to the students.
3) Inquiry and discovery – The case study assignment immersed students in a real life situation. They then had to decide if a problem existed, and, if it did, what they would do to solve the problem. Through this process, students hopefully gained a deeper understanding of the challenges involved in facilitating teams, and the strategies that can be used to ensure teams work together well.
4) Groups and teams – the second assignment was purposefully a team assignment to allow for discussion of ideas, and to give students the experience of working on a team while analyzing the conversations of a fictional team.
5) Experience and reflection – the first assignment in VoiceThread allowed students to reflect on their own experiences and bring their ideas to the attention of the group. At the conclusion of the week, the facilitators reflected on our experiences reading the thoughts of the group and made suggests for further topics to think about. We also provided the opportunity for the learners to give us feedback on their experiences in our facilitation week through the use of Survey Monkey.
This blog post relates Itin’s philosophy of experiential education and Davis’ five teaching strategies for experiential education to my team’s facilitation week in LRNT 505.