Sunday, April 30, 2017

Introductory posts in online courses

We're heading into a 2-week Facilitator Development Online (FDO) workshop so I've spent the last few days getting the course space organized and reviewing the activities. These workshops can be a mouthful to explain because they're super extra meta. FDO is about learning how to (co)facilitate the FLO (Facilitating Learning Online) workshops, which are workshops about learning how to facilitate online learning more effectively.

Many of the activities in FDO are intended to both provide an opportunity to experience good facilitation, and also give you a head start when it comes time to facilitating your own FLO workshop. For example, there are two separate introductions:

1. As your entry into the FDO learning community. The instructions include prompts:
  • a bit about yourself, and why you are taking FDO
  • what, specifically, you are hoping to learn in the FDO
  • one (or more) things about your FLO participant experience that you really enjoyed, and one (or more) things you did not enjoy.
2. As if you are facilitating FLO right now -- how would you introduce yourself? The idea is to end up with a draft that is ready to go. And additional step in the FLO intro activity is to provide constructive feedback to peers, considering the following questions. So it's also an exercise in giving good feedback.
  • Does the post help establish instructor presence?
  • Is it clear? too long? or too short? just right?
  • Is the quality "good enough" (these need not be oscar winning presentations, but the quality shouldn't interfere with the message, e.g., lots of background noise, too light or too dark images, etc)
  • As a viewer, what is the impression you are left with?
  • Is there something else that you (as an imaginary FLO participant) would have liked to know about them, as a facilitator?
In both introductory posts, participants are encouraged to be adventurous with format and use of multimedia, and to model an "attitude of fearless experimentation". This is your "first impression".

While I do believe multimedia can help so much in this getting-to-know-you effort, I've noticed mixed results with this approach. Some participants spend too long fiddling with new tools and become frustrated. Have you ever sat down to prepare presentation slides in PowerPoint and found that an hour later you're still searching for the perfect theme and in colour combinations? This can happen with just about every new tool we try out.

It's also interesting to watch how much the first post, especially if it's the instructor's post, will influence how others chime in. Given we want the introductions to occur right at the beginning of the workshop, perhaps we should lighten up on the expectations and model something less embellished. Ideally we want to raise the bar from a straight text and also ensure we don't intimidate other learners.

With this in mind, in the November, 2016 FDO I made an effort to keep the multimedia part of my FDO intro very low tech, but changed up the format from a typical "about me" post to something more interactive. It was well received, so I'm planning to reuse it for the May 2017 FDO. (Tip: reuse is always a good thing!)

Here's my original FDO introductory post:

I participated in a fun "intro" exercise in a recent workshop. Rather than tell others about our own work and life as a way of introduction, we shared images. Then we took turns asking questions based on what we saw in the photos and drawings. I realize I'm not directly answering the guiding questions for this FDO Introductions activity -- I'll try to weave that in later! (And let this serve as an example of how some people don't follow instructions, for whatever reason!)

What are your experiences with introductory posts?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Course Congruence: What’s so Important about Ducks?

Earlier this year Beth Cougler Blom mentioned a conversation she had with Suzanne Flannigan, a faculty member in the School of Education and Technology at Royal Roads University.

Suzanne has done some fascinating work around cultural congruence. I suggested to her that you two should speak!
I was intrigued by the topic and how it might fit with our Facilitating Learning Online series, and I had already witnessed Suzanne in action as an active and exemplary participant in those workshops. I knew it would be enlightening! I connected with Suzanne to find out more.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Suzanne told a story about "losing a window" at the beginning of a course, then struggling later to find ways to reintroduce herself. She went on to explain group formation and how it is impacted by both the course design, and the facilitation right from the get-go. I scribbled notes and kept thinking wow, this is important. And complex. How can we learn more?

I invited Suzanne to share her research and ideas, and engage us in some thinking around cultural congruence in our upcoming Facilitator Development Workshop (FDO) May 1 - 12, 2017. Despite being crazy busy with her own teaching, she agreed.


“Ducks” by Jam Smooth is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Course Congruence: What’s so Important about Ducks? 

When: Tuesday, May 2,  12:00 - 1:00
Facilitator: Suzanne Flannigan (bio)

We’ll discuss the cultural congruence of a course, why it is important and what you can do to increase congruence in your own courses. 

a. In what ways does the design of your course reinforce the learning outcomes of your course? 
b. What are the five most common written words used in your course (not including articles or prepositions)?

This web conference is hosted by the Educational Technology Users Group and the FLO Facilitator Development Community.