Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Getting started in the Facilitating Online Communities course

We had our first meeting via Elluminate for the Facilitating Online Communities course. Leigh promptly summarized our meeting on the course blog and our Google Groups discussions are underway.

During week 1 we are asked to comment on what we hope to get out of the course. I realize that my interest in this course is just as much about the process as it is about the content. For starters I have never experienced organized communication through blogs. I'm also curious about the commitment level when variables such as open, free, and non-credit are thrown in. The enrolment sits around 60-70, but what will the number of active participants be? (This was a also a topic discussed in Sunday's EdTechTalk session about the upcoming Connectivism and Connect Knowledge online course where they're up to 1200 registrants.) Plus we are aiming for some ambitious projects -- the mini conference planned for weeks 12 & 13 can be administratively complex. But matched with the right tools, like the mini-conference wiki perhaps it can be easily managed as a group.

I'm also interested in watching the facilitation qualities emerge. In just a couple days Leigh is already modeling some very important skills. I started by listing 3, but this quickly turned into 10. This list only relates to communication. Of course there are many other factors related to design, administration, technologies, etc.
  1. Presence
    We all just know that Leigh is right there and available. This counts for a lot. It makes everybody feel very comfortable and motivated.
  2. Responsiveness
    Process type questions that are directed at the facilitator are answered very quickly.
  3. Inclusiveness
    Leigh gave everybody a chance to speak in the orientation meeting and was also very careful to follow up in the forum to ensure those participants who are new to the technologies introduced this week are not feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Negotiation
    Rather than decide how to best manage our course roster and profiles/list of blogs Leigh involved everybody in the conversation. There were many creative suggestions!
  5. Engagement
    Rather than telling us everything Leigh is giving us opportunities to explore.
  6. Focus
    While several people are keen to jump in with new questions and offer solutions to how we can organize ourselves for the course, Leigh continues to bring us back to the main tasks for this week. "Great to see you raring to go, but..."
  7. Pace
    On more than one occasion Leigh has suggested we not jump too far ahead. For example he reminded us that we can "slowly subscribe" to participants' blogs. It doesn't have to all be done today!
  8. Thoroughness
    Leigh obviously puts a lot of time into reading and responding. His thoughts are well-organized, and he is makes an effort to acknowledge contributers.
  9. Tone
    Leigh has a very casual, friendly style. This quality in itself is obviously most effective when combined with #8 -- a little comfort along with respect. :-)
  10. Openness
    Sharing feelings like losing the network connection during the meeting "freaked me out", or dilemmas like not being able to find the Elluminate recording make the participants feel like they can be open as well. Let's all fess up to our blunders and head-scratchers!


  1. Aha Sylvia - I've found you! I'm very pleased to meet you as you have the auspicious privilege of being the first person who doesn't actually know me to comment on my blog. I'm not counting the fact that it's because we are doing the same course! I'll definitely be following your blog. I'm at a bit of a crossroads in terms of my future career focus and I'm very interested having conversation with you about what you do. Maybe by e-mail though? Look forward to other FOC08 related chat too.

  2. Hi Sylvia,

    Many thanks for posting your insight into the facilitation qualities Leigh has modeled. I'm primarily from a tech background so much of this is quite new to me (one of the key reasons for me taking this course really). People with existing expertise in the area such as yourself are a welcome and appreciated presence in the course.

    I'm looking forward to seeing how things progress. Based on the interaction we've seen in the Google group and on the other learner's blogs, I'd say we're in for a fantastic course.



  3. Sylvia,

    Thanks for that great summary of facilitation skills that Leigh has manifested so far.

    And I must say that this is great modeling for posts that people want to link to!

  4. Sylvia,

    I have two more characteristics to add to your list.

    1. Transparency
    Leigh and Bronwyn reveal their process as they create the course. It is consistent with what they are teaching.

    E.g., Bronwyn pointed out a problem (Leigh had designed a 10 week course and the course is 17 weeks)and made suggestions for how to proceed. Leigh appreciated and welcomed her suggestions. They show a highly collaborative process that models the trust that helps to build communities.

    2. Safe disagreement
    Different points of view are part of community. Leigh and Bronwyn
    disagree in respectful ways.

    E.g.,in their comments on the newbies blog, they reveal "disagreement". Leigh expressed understanding of the need to talk about technology expressed by some. In contrast, Bronwyn brought the discussion back to the needs and "overwhelm" of newbies.

  5. @Deb Thanks for dropping by! Of course, get in touch anytime. I'd love to chat about your future!

  6. @Mike @Amy @Nancy Another quality to add is Leigh's ability to get us connected. I think this format of darting around to different blogs and dropping comments is a very powerful way to build community. We can combine very casual and personal snippits and mix them up with more substantial thoughts that build on the original article.

    And thanks for the most excellent additions to the list, Nancy. Hey, we have open content, open source, and now maybe we're heading into a new OPEN model for instructional design.

  7. I found this post about facilitation skills through the link of Amy's blog http://tinyurl.com/5wt6n7.
    Thank you for this great summary of facilitation skills. Leigh is definitely a great facilitator. It was interesting to become aware of the skills that are essential for an online facilitator to possess.

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