Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Organized Communication through Blogs

During the first two weeks of the Facilitating Online Communities course the topic of blogging versus forums was raised by participants. This was one of the course "process" items I was curious about from the onset. How do you organize group communication through blogs? And why would you want to?

First a bit of context. There are 71 individuals/blogs on the course list. There is a course blog which is where Leigh the facilitator posts reminders about what we should be focusing on as well as reflections the course itself. Also the course wiki contains the main course details, nicely organized so we always know where to check in. There is also a Google Group which is useful for Q&A and for day-to-day discussion. There are 107 members on that list, so obviously some people are following along without enrolling in the course. Leigh has been cross-posting his blog entries to the Google Group to make sure everyone receives them. We also have an open Elluminate room in case we want to drop in for more spontaneous synchronous interactions. The room is also used for scheduled meetings.

So far this seems like a good choice of tools for the course. The breadth and depth of contributions to the course through personal blogs have been just excellent. I'm not sure we would have seen that using only a forum; a blog offers a space to post your very own reflections without being concerned with replies, finding the right thread, staying on topic, or missing an opportunity to contribute because the conversation has moved on. But having a forum is essential. I don't think we could survive without the Google Group as a way to connect and support one another, through the orientation at least. However, there are no organized forum/email discussions. Do the blogs replace that completely? If so, where is the facilitation?

Some participants have chosen to discuss the key issues using the forum, others are posting to their blogs and commenting on other blogs. Some folks are doing a little of both, occasionally linking back to blog posts, so the forum discussion becomes an extension of the blog. Leigh has acknowledged individual contributions, sharpened the focus a bit, and advanced certain topics in the forum. But so far I haven't seen any direct references to content in blog posts brought back to the group. Come to think of it, in organized communication through blogs, where is the group? Where does the facilitator do the weaving, connecting, summarizing...encouraging deeper dialogue, if not speaking to a group?

Maybe the fact that I'm asking these questions means that I'm stuck in teacher mode. During the next 2 weeks we will be examining the differences among facilitator, teacher, and moderator roles. Perhaps some of this will become a little clearer!


  1. Good questions, Syliva.
    I personally enjoy having the discussions on the threads, and see them as inclusive.

    Reading all the newest contributions to the blogs when there are 70 or so, even with the help of RSS is quite a feat, and so I let the discussion in Google Group take me to the blogs of those saying something I want to hear more about.

    The contributions on the blogs, especially when the blog owner responds to the comments, then can take on more depth, or one can simply give and receive encouragement, not to be underestimated!
    In fact, I think that the ability to give encouragement is an important job of faciltator.

    In response to your final question about the differences between facilitator, teacher (leaving moderator out here - I'm not quite ready for that one yet :)) We don't need a teacher here. We are all able to find and process information. We are a part of the process. But we're here to reach a goal and that goal has been set by the organizer of the course. I'd say that the facilitator's role is to show the way, organize the course so that the short-term aims lead to the final aim, encourage reflection, and give input to lead participants further in their reflection and help them stay on course.

    I see a teacher, on the other hand, as keeping the group together, requesting answers and leading the way, perhaps in a more authoritative way.

    Well, now I'm off to give this more thought. I'm just at the beginning of these ideas, so am looking forward to reading what you have to say as well!

  2. Hello People,

    Sylvia, I just found your blog on my Reader and have added you to My Blogs list on the sidebar of my blog. You have made some entries on the course and they are very good ones. I hope to hear more from you.

    I think the idea is (if I have it right) that community should not be confused with platforms (I'm pretty sure that Leigh said that somewhere). What we are doing is combining many different platforms for different effects. I think this system has more advantages because we have more options for expression.

    A forum can be an inconvenience because people seem to be more sensitive about what and when and why something is posted. Blogging fits because it gives each individual greater control. But you may have noticed that it's a lot of extra work, trying to find things that people said or even trying to dig up your own comments on your own blog and who it was that you were talking to on another blog!

    You ask "Come to think of it, in organized communication through blogs, where is the group?" That's a good question.

    The blog is just for featuring your thoughts and allowing some isolated conversation. I think that you can make the group connection in the forum and on elluminate but there is also another option to explore. If you have gmail, there is a chat and the chat has a mode called "GroupChat". Leigh has suggested that we not only attend the meetings, but that we also organize our own three or four person meetings. The small GroupChat is the connection to the larger forum. We can schedule small group meetings easier than a large forum then, using the google group, report the things that happen in our private GroupChats. The GroupChat has the advantage in that we can go back and search our discussion. That can be very handy for organizing.

    I'm looking for people that are interested in trying this.

  3. Great thoughts and discussion here. It is interesting to observe the variety of modes that the participants in this class are taking and I think that they illustrate the type/style of learning that takes place in a community or in informal learning. It is my belief that these are the places where learning takes place moreso because of the desire, motivation, and experiential nature than the actual structure of the content.

    Many of the participants in the FOC class are looking for a more traditional style that has a facilitator/leader who brings expertise to the table and where the learning is tangible, outcome oriented, and organized in a certain way. Leigh has chosen NOT to fulfill that role and keeps encouraging us to "struggle" with a new way of learning that reflects, IMHO, a new world of possibilities should we become comfortable in it.

    For those of us who have teenagers/young adults - they are very comfortable in this world and have no difficulty learning without the teacher. They seek learning in their daily lives through a multitude of avenues thanks to the technology that enables the communication (blogs, facebook, myspace, twitter, socialbookmarking, flikr). Observing these "students" in their natural habitats is helpful in understanding the "new" role of facilitator/teacher/moderator.

  4. @illya Nice description of the facilitator's role: "... to show the way, organize the course so that the short-term aims lead to the final aim, encourage reflection, and give input to lead participants further in their reflection and help them stay on course."

    I think what's key here is "the way" can be adjusted according to aims. In the FOC course having the participants explore, invent, and to a certain extent, self-organize, is "the way".

  5. @artie I feel the same way -- having more options for expression is an advantage. I guess in thinking of the role of the facilitator in these circumstances I automatically assumed that it would be a more complicated because conversations scattered in many locations would need to be woven together, advanced, refocused, possibly summarized, etc. But it's a different type of facilitation -- possibly more process oriented than content focused?

  6. @cdeck77 As you say, the "struggle" is worth so much. I think of all the interviews I've conducted where I want to toss the resumes out the window and simply ask: Are you resourceful? Can you figure things out for yourself? Are you interested in learning new things? Can you work in a messy environment and with no direction? Then you're hired! :-)

  7. Hey! we are accomplishing one of the suggestions for this course. Organize some 2 or 3 person groups. We aren't quite organized but this is a start. Meeting on a blog can lead to a bit of group activity.

  8. Even though visitong different blogs is taking me a lot more time than if the conversation was just happening in a forum or email forum, I still think it's a really good way to keep us connected.I also loved the idea of having us select which blogs we want to follow. That requires us to accept that we cannot be part of every conversation and then naturally group according to criteria??? afinity??? chance??? I haven't cleared that out, yet.


  9. @das Really good points! Lately I've been thinking about TIME and blog conversations -- that there is a life of a blog post. Comments come immediately after a post but rarely on older posts. Well you just blew that observation out the window! :-D

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  11. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Anyway,just wanted to say great blog!