Wednesday, August 25, 2010

FOC 2010 Week 5 Reflection

As part of our 'homework' for the course, we are asked to write a reflection on what we have learned over the last 5 weeks, with the following questions as a guide.
  • What is online facilitation?
  • What skills do you need as an online facilitator?
  • How does a facilitator build an online community or network?
  • What are the key things to remember when facilitating an event, meeting or education course, especially when working with people who are new to online technology?
  • What is the difference between teaching and facilitation?

Some of these questions appear deceptively simple, but I think answering them is probably not easily done in a single blog post, so please forgive me if my responses seem a little superficial...!

My understanding of online facilitation has definitely evolved over the past weeks. At the start of this course I saw the role of the online facilitator as a simple one of preparing a course with online resources, and being available to students as they work through it. I have come to realise that the role is much more complex. It appears to me that the online facilitator weaves multiple roles, including teacher, technology advisor and community builder, together to create a flexible backdrop against which students can construct their own learning. To do this a facilitator needs to be a skilled juggler, crisis manager, multi-tasker and problem solver, unflappable under pressure, ready to step in at any time but confident enough to take a back seat to allow student-centred learning. As if this wasn't enough, an online facilitator probably needs to be a bit of a techie-junkie too, as clearly remaining up-to-date with the latest technologies will be key to successfully facilitating online.

Things to remember when facilitating? I think it would have to plan, plan, plan... and then have a back-up plan, just in case. I haven't actually facilitated a session yet, but my experiences of the elluminate classroom suggest that the sessions that appear most effortless and flow most smoothly are probably carefully planned and strategised beforehand. Being a newbie to any technology can be really intimidating, and so making sure that things run as smoothly as possible seems essential. Giving students time to practise using the technology in a 'safe' way, as Sarah did at the start of this course, was also really helpful. I also like the way that, throughout the course, facilitators have been comfortable admitting that they don't know it all... I think it's really reassuring to a student to see lecturers solving problems collaboratively and without flapping!

The differences between teaching and facilitation are probably more appropriate to a PhD thesis than a brief paragraph in a blog! In one respect, good teaching is facilitation, but the two are not interchangeable, are they? Facilitating implies that one is allowing students to create their own learning using their own pathways, whereas teaching seems more like the old, traditional chalk-and-talk, but it really is all just a matter of semantics. Or is it? Would an online facilitator always teach, or could they simply facilitate the teaching of others. And if so, does that not make them de facto teachers too? I'm looking forward to reading other posts on this topic.


  1. Hi Jean, you're right...these questions are big questions...especially the facilitation vs teacher discussion. Leigh Blackall says you cannot be a facilitator if you are assessing people - what do you think?

  2. Funny that you say you must "plan, plan, plan" to facilitate an online session well. Elluminate actually has a product called Elluminate Plan! that enables you to pre-build course content and activities into a well-planned agenda. Running the live session then becomes a matter of simply clicking to the next action. It helps you facilitate so you can focus on the important part - the teaching!

  3. That's an interesting perspective, Sarah - that facilitators don't would certainly create a distinction between those teachers who merely call themselves facilitators, but continue to chalk-and-talk, and those who genuinely 'guide from the side'. I wonder how one measures the efficacy of the facilitation though without some form of assessment. I always view the student results on an assessment as a useful measure of how well I have facilitated learning. It could be a great discussion, eh?

  4. Thanks for that information, Donna. Good to know. We don't use Elluminate in my institution, sadly, so I really don't know enough about it. I can see that it's a product that would be really valuable to us in the School of Nursing though as we move to more and more online sessions.