Friday, December 8, 2017

Sharing design stories in the FLO-Design course

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

At BCcampus we're currently offering the 4-week Facilitating Learning Online (FLO)-Design course for the first time since running the pilot in January/February of this year.

During the first round, the course designer and facilitator, Sylvia Riessner, invited a group of Facilitator Development Online (FDO) alumni to join in a 'splainers activity where we each shared design stories, online, in 7 minutes. We also shared written outlines, and were available afterwards for a Q&A in the forum. The 'splainers were Bonnie Nicholas, Beth Cougler Blom, and Stephanie Boychuk. Sylvia Riessner also shared a story.

Preparation for this session was almost as much work as PechaKucha! As 'splained by Lee LeFever of Common Craft, "explainers don't simply explain ideas, they bring focus and attention to making an idea easy to understand. Their communication is intentional and goal oriented." So we needed to be concise, zone in on important details, and keep it to 7 minutes. 

I really enjoyed the activity, and feedback from the course participants showed that they found it valuable. From one participant: 

The Explainers, with the attached forum, was very useful. They made "Design" real and applicable. 
During this offering of FLO-Design Sylvia Riessner and Emma Bourassa shared a couple of the stories from the past session. (I don't think they could fit the full 'splainers activity in this round because we have almost double the number of registrants.) This got me thinking about FLO and the challenges of open practices.

With FLO workshops, we are always playing with this tension of closed versus open learning spaces. It's a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately as I imagine the future of FLO courses and the facilitator community.

'Splainers is an example of an activity that would benefit faculty and learning designers outside of the course. Why put in the effort when such a small number of people (15) benefit?

For many reasons, this activity rightly belonged in a closed space. For one, the individuals who were listening and engaging in the stories were strongly relating to their purpose -- at that moment these people were living and breathing course design. It wasn't an activity that someone could happen upon and make sense of without adequate context. A second reason is that, despite best efforts for anonymity, some stories that were shared contained details that might be recognized by design clients or university faculty.

This experience stands out for me because, as someone who has felt challenged by moving from facilitating in the open to working in password-protected cohort-based learning spaces, I am appreciating more and more how difficult moving in the other direction can be -- from closed to open. We need to consider the trade-offs, and not feel pressured to adopt open practices. Open does not mean better.

I shared the story of SCoPE seminars, a series spanning 10 years and came to a close in 2015. This was uncomplicated because those activities were all designed to be open from the start. This is the outline I worked from.



SCoPE - an open, emergent, sharing community

I’m part of the professional learning team at BCcampus. My focus these days is mostly on supporting all things related to Facilitating Learning Online workshops.


I designed this as a coordinator, moderator, and facilitator, in collaboration with participants.

Purpose of Design

I wanted to provide flexible, open opportunities for educators to learn together about topics relevant to their work as teachers, educational technologists, administrators, and researchers. I also wanted to engage educators in the design process.

The “problem” I was trying to address was the limited number of authentic and emergent learning opportunities for educational practitioners. For example, face-to-face “training” to learn how to teach online was/is commonplace.

Scope and Delivery Mode

The format was informal, open enrolment, and non-credit. However, many of the design principles can be applied to credit courses.

This was more like an online series than a course, spanning 10 years! It has been described as one of the first, and an extra long, MOOC. We called it a seminar series. Although the home base for these (almost) monthly, topic-based, events was an LMS (Moodle,) the access was completely open. We also experimented wildly (not a typo :) ) with other tools and platforms. An account and login were required to contribute to forum discussions and manage participation settings, but otherwise anyone could read along, download resources, etc.

SCoPE Seminars in a Nutshell

  • Monthly (almost) asynchronous discussions and other learning activities
  • Facilitated by volunteers, ranging from novice to expert 
  • Free and open to the public, no registration required
  • No obligations to "actively" participate

Design Considerations

  • Participation on the periphery
  • Attention to history
  • Rhythm and variety, build anticipation
  • Focus on people and dialogue, not content
  • Focus on structure, not what to "cover"
  • Ideas for activities ermerge through participation
  • Mutual exchange of services / collaboration
  • Different modes and levels of engagement

Number of Learners

The seminars were designed for busy professionals, and it was expected that learners would come and go according to their own schedule and interests. As such, the numbers varied from one seminar to the next, but also seemed to self-regulate. In other words, we were never overwhelmed with numbers despite the large number of accounts (+5000)

How often the course/workshop design has been tested?

The basic format was repeated each month, for 10 years.

Unique, Innovative, Interesting, Challenging?

This model relied completely on volunteer involvement, and keeping a pulse on the conversations to see what topics might be suitable for future seminars, and who was developing as a potential facilitator. While the structure of scheduled, facilitated discussions was carried throughout, there was a great deal of flexibility, experimentation, and risk. Not only did the topics for discussion emerge, so did decisions about design. In other words, we designed for redesign.

Outcomes? Intentions?

  • Build a community with the common goal of learning together
  • Sustain with limited administrative overhead, governance, and cost 
  • Share resources, practices, ideas across institutions / borders
  • Identify over time: Immediate value, potential value, applied value, realized value, reframing value (see Wenger et al resource below)

What did you learn about your design approach?

  • Build in ongoing and scheduled conversations about design
  • Trust that things will work out (For example, don’t design for worst case scenarios; we never had to delete posts!)
  • Don’t base the success of your design on what you see in front of you in the moment. Impact can show up later and elsewhere.
  • I keep these design elements in mind always: Open, flexible, emergent, experimental. And I never use the word “delivery” when talking about learning :)


SCoPE Seminar Discussions

Wenger, E., Trayner, B., and de Laat, M. (2011) Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework. Rapport 18, Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open University of the Netherlands.