Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Facilitating Online Assignment

This is my first assignment for the course on Online Facilitating. I have some feelings in my tummy that I have not had in a long time: the exam feelings.

When I was a student I always wanted to succeed and the fear of failing my exams was extreme for me. And funny enough I am having those feelings again. I thought they were dead, buried inside me, but no !!! These feelings are well alive and I am scared of failing this course.

In this assignment I need to answer 2 questions:

1- the features of online communities and networks

When does a community start? Can I start a community ? How many participants do we need in order to call a group a community ? Can 2 participants make up a community?

If you want to create a group (which could become later a community) you need to think about an action plan. What is the purpose of your group? If you want to create a knitting group you need to think through why would people want to join your group.

When the action plan has been put in place, you need to find participants for your community, you need to advertise your group and show how valuable becoming a member could be for people. The question is how and where to advertise. Twitter would be for me the first place to start, but in order to advertise on Twitter you already need to be a member of a network/community. It is when you need maybe someone who already knows people and can “show you” around and ask their “friends” to look into your group.

One other way to start advertising would be to start blogging about your ideas. But in order to have people reading your blog you need to advertise your blog :-) (come back maybe to Twitter here!!!). You can also start emailing people that you think could share the same values and interests than you and let them know you want to create a group. This used to work (prior digital age) using words to mouth. Funny enough it still works the same way but this time using a keyboard. As a digital involved person you can recommend a blog, a person, an article to somebody you know by simply click on a button.

But to do that you already need to know people. It is why it is very important I think to be engaged online prior the creation of your won community and/or be engaged within your field. As a teacher it is important for me to meet other teachers. It is why I go to regional and national conferences to see what others are doing and I am involved in online networking.

Let’s speed up a bit our process. Let’s imagine that we have successfully managed to advertise our group and now we became a community as we have 10 members. The hardest bit now is to keep this community alive. How many times have you seen a community dying? within your own school? within your own subject ?
A lot of great projects die prematurely due to the lack of participation. The key would be then to ensure that people are constantly engaged and active. Here is the role of a facilitator. If nobody is doing anything within the community it is the role of the facilitator to create engaging activities, meetings, reminders, postings etc. For a community to work of course you need to have involved participants but sometimes people need to supported in some ways. Thus, an email, a private message or an inspiring video can sometimes revive a dying community. You do not need to look further than examples of dying villages which are thriving communities due to giant efforts from their inhabitants and a leader.

A community or a network is indeed active and reflective in which people feel safe and secure to express their opinions. Members also need to be respectful of a chart of conduct (here netiquette). If you want the members to feel safe of expressing themselves, you need to be sure that people respect each other. Communication is essential and cannot be interrupted. It is why it is pivotal for the facilitator to be “present” and available within the community.

2- the elements of skillful online facilitation.

As I said earlier it is essential for a facilitator to be present within the community. What does that mean? It means s/he needs to answer questions,emails and posts comments to the members’s blogs in order to make them valued.

A facilitator needs to be patient, knows what the community is about (you cannot be the facilitator of a knitting community of you do hate knitting and/or do not know how to knit a jumper) and makes things easy for each participant. I also think that humour and showing that you are human is indispensable.

A facilitator needs to plan regularly engaging activities which meet the members’s needs.

A good online facilitator also needs to know how to deal with the technology, the technical side of it. In saying that, it is always reassuring to realise that someone does not know everything. As a member it is good to see that the facilitator is not a God who has understood everything (c.f. showing you are human)


  1. Hi Florence
    I like your ideas about using your personal learning networks (through blogs & twitter) to form the development of an online community of practice. One way to develop this you have mentioned about writing your own blog and promoting through there and commenting on other peoples blogs is just as important too.
    You are so right about the need for facilitation in online communities, and though there may be facilitator's 'appointed' specifically for this purpose i think it's important to encourage all members of your community to develop in this role. Some may be more active than others ;-) Phil Coogan writes a good article on this in the new Core Education book "ELearnings" called 'Learning from Each Other - Online Communities for Teachers.' You can find it from the Core Education site.
    Phil writes, "The web is littered with the virtual corpses of online communities which have not been sustained, either because they have not met the time-starved teachers' intensely practical needs, or they have not had someone in the 'drivers seat' to sustain dialogue (and eliminate dross) or they have ignored the fact that email is teachers' main form of electronic communication."

  2. Rachel, you are right I should have thought about the role of each member and the importance of commenting on other participants's blog.

    I like Phil Coogan's comment that email is the main mean of communication for teachers. is it a generation's thing ?

  3. Hello Florence

    You are a daft thing...you're not going to fail anything!! :)

    I really enjoyed this post and you've given some very practical hints about how to form a community. The key thing I think you need to consider is that the thing that will get a community formed and keep it together is that there has to be a common interest. They have to see that they'll get something out of the community. You also have to remember the 1% rule and allow for 1-10% of people to be actively engaged. How will you manage that? How do you engage lurkers in a community?

    I would also love to see you link to external information...to other information, so we can follow your ideas and read more if we wish to.

  4. I agree with Rachel's comments and would add that it also depends upon how relevant the discussions in a community are to one's everyday life experiences and needs. As for how many people it takes to create a community, I really don't think a number could be assigned. It depends on the sustainability of discussions and engagement in sharing knowledge. I definitely agree you would need to tap into existing communities (i.e. Twitter/Facebook) to create one. That being said, communities established from existing face-to-face encounters (e.g. with students in a college) also exist but often the incentive to participate in discussions is grades-based. The community also tends to disband as in most cases it is a closed network (in a Moodle or using Blackboard). Excellent post, Florence :-)

  5. Dear Bernadette, very nice meeting you and I have just had a look at your blog http://toutefrancaise.blogspot.com/ which is very well done. i will point it out to French teachers in NZ.