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)