Facilitating FLO at ABEABC conference – in two part harmony…

Harrison Hot Springs hotel

Location – ABEABC Conference

Location – ABEABC Conference[/caption]Last week really proved the value and benefits of co-facilitation! Sylvia Currie and I had been invited to share what FLO (Facilitating Learning Online) was all about with a group of adult basic education instructors at their annual conference in Harrison Hot Springs. Normally I would have hesitated to take on something like the conference session while I was in the middle (Week 3!) of a FLO workshop. But I was able to plan ahead with my co-facilitator Beth Cougler-Blom and she covered my absence during the 3 days I was in Harrison. And my previous co-facilitation of FLO with Sylvia Currie meant that our planning went smoothly and I knew we’d work well together during the conference session.

The Adult Basic Education Association of BC (ABEABC) formed in 1979 and today, 37 years later, is run by an amazing group of committed, knowledgeable adult basic education and literacy instructors. The organizer of this year’s conference was Leonne Beebe, currently an ABE-Math instructor at University of Fraser Valley and an FLO-FDO facilitator (Facilitating Learning Online-Facilitator Development Online)

FLO LogoLeonne invited us to the conference as she knew that many of the topics that we deal with throughout the five week FLO workshop are relevant in adult basic education contexts. We selected three important topics to focus our 90 minute session on Thursday afternoon (April 21):

  • workload management,
  • assessment approaches, and
  • responsive facilitation.

We began with a brief explanation and illustration of FLO’s weekly themes and topics and tried to convey the sense of community that we try to develop and the emphasis on participation and reflective practice the workshop offers.

FLO ThemesSylvia and I tried a “string” of micro-structures drawn from Liberating Structures menu (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/ls) to engage the ABEABC audience members in sharing and analysis of elements of student success and instructor challenges in online ABE courses.

Impromptu NetworkingWhat, So what, Now what1-2-4-ALLMin Specs




We began the session with Impromptu Networking, asking participants to introduce themselves and share a statement of what they wanted to “get out of the session” with other participants. This structure can be done in different ways but we chose to divide the participants into two small circles; each person was given a minute to share, a minute to listen and then they were asked to move on to the next person. On the last cycle, we asked them to exchange cards and, explained that we would re-unite them at the end of the session so they could do a personal “check-in” to see if the other person achieved what they wanted at the beginning.  I think that the participants found this energizing and connecting but, as a facilitator, I think I need to find a way to capture the outcomes for my own satisfaction. Did our participants achieve what they wanted? Were they satisfied with what they learned?

We used the “What?-So what?-Now what?” structure to help participants identify important questions around the three main topics (Assessment, Workload Management, Responsive Facilitation). We used those questions to pre-load three stations around the room; participants were asked to move to the station that was of most interest to them and engage in a modified 1-2-4-ALL and Min Specs. They had had a chance to reflect on their questions (1) and we began their station discussions in pairs, then moved them to station groups (4) and then shared back their discoveries or questions to the large group. The Min Specs was used to draw out ideas for what could be done to address the question they decided to focus on at each station.

An interesting exercise and I think most of the participants left with some new insights and ideas into important areas of ABE practice in online environments. We had an opportunity to try another way to engage learners and discovered ways to refine and adjust our next use of micro-structures. And we learned a great deal about the challenges these educators face in trying to support learning and success for their diverse students!


Looking good – coasting into the end of Week 2

Wow, last week was a whirlwind – I know I spent more time than I should but I was fussing like a mother hen. I'm so invested in the FLO workshop and believe so strongly that the changes we made were important, that I kept poking into things trying to see what I could improve or to think of things that might not be clear to participants. My co-facilitator, Beth Cougler-Blom, found the same thing (although I don't think she fussed as much as I did as she has other contracts going at the same time – no way she could.).

I happy to report that we're looking good – things are going great. Everyone is hanging in there and participating more and more. We have a great group of thoughtful educators who have such a diversity of knowledge and experience to share. We're only beginning to mine the depth of knowledge here – our weekly "nuggets" are only the shiny bits for now. Looking back in Week 5 may show us how widely (and deeply) we roamed.

Did we reduce the stress-level, the confusion and anxiety for newcomers to the Moodle environment AND for participants who might never have participated in a course like Facilitating Learning Online? FLO is truly experiential and participatory; we know it's unusual for participants to be expected to check in every couple of days – if not every day. But to create an environment where they can facilitate mini-session activities each week and develop and practice new approaches, we believe that we have to work even harder to "walk the talk" and model the stronger initial "instructor presence" required to connect them into the beginnings of an online learning community. Some may think that that's an old-fashioned concept in this age of "just-in-time" learning, but recent research published in International Research Review in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL) and the U.S.-based Journal of Online Learning and Technology (JOLT) seemed to give new credence to the notion that online community can help students learn more effectively (as well as increase their satisfaction). Of course there's one article that says "community" isn't as necessary as instructor presence in the beginning, a well-designed course, and quick response time for questions, marks and other feedback. Note:  this was a basic introductory course – not a higher level, complex issues course.

At the beginning of this week, I was feeling somewhat anxious at the "nuggets" people were sharing; words like "frustrated" and "stressed" and "stretched" were coming up – although it was just a few people (and no one had given up and unenrolled – bonus!)

By the middle of the week, I was starting to feel lots better. Our first mini-session team was "rocking and rolling"; they appreciated the pre-scripted example and the support (I was the FLO support facilitator – FLO workshops are co-facilitated by two experienced instructor/facilitators) and came up with some unique twists of their own (what we'd hoped for but hadn't been sure would happen). This week's activity involves dividing the participants into three "bucket" groups to engage in an analysis of issues connected with diverse adult learners online. I'm looking forward to the posting of summaries today.

Another new approach that my co-facilitator and I will try this time around is to be "present" in the end of week constructive feedback forum. Participants are asked ahead of time to keep notes and reflect on what worked and what didn't in their roles as learners. They share that feedback in a forum on Saturday; this time around we've agreed to try and expand/extend the comments to try and tease out some more depth and constructive discussion. With this group we may not need to do much (fingers crossed).

Another new event this week is the Stream Team, supported by a volunteer facilitator (FDO grad Leonne Beebe). They are the only participant team that will "perform" throughout the 5 weeks of the course. Their focus is on helping participant use structured methods to self-assess their participation in FLO, using the pre-designed FLO Rubric. They'll report on their experiences and invited further discussion from their peers in Week 5 (the final week of the course).

As a co-facilitator I have access to the upcoming teams' planning (it takes place in private forums) and it's looking as though the strategy of providing detailed Activity Plans is working for them as well. With the double bonus of a pre-done lesson plan and the luxury of another week or so of experience in the course environment, the teams are already starting to "tweak" their designs and try new ways of facilitating. Looking forward to seeing what unfolds.

More as the workshop unrolls.

Sylvia Riessner, Facilitating Learning Online
Apr 4-May 8, 2016



Launching a “NEW FLO” workshop

Well…we’re underway – today we launched the April 2016 offering of Facilitating Learning Online (offered through BCcampus). It’s an exciting new approach and some significant changes in content and facilitation – at least that’s what Beth Cougler-Blom, Sylvia Currie, Leonne Beebe and Myra Rhodes will be testing and supporting in the next five weeks!Warm-up

Back in early February, BCCampus and Royal Roads University invited FLO afficionados (Faclitating Learning Online workshop) and FDO grads (Facilitator Development Online) to participate in a two-day Design Sprint at the beautiful RRU campus, tucked into the trees and overlooking the water on the northwest side of Victoria. What a place to disconnect from regular work demands and focus on improvement and innovation! A bit of an overview can be found here: https://proflearn.bccampus.ca/flo-design-sprint/

Sustained by the awesome snacks, lunches and beverages organized by the Professional Learning Team from BCcampus, we did a “deep dive” into the collected FLO feedback and our own experiences of Facilitating Learning Online – the five week workshop that RRU developed in-house and then shared through an OER contract and BCcampus took to the educators of BC and adapted and molded and reshaped since early 2015. We all recognized that we had to address the “overload” issues reported by facilitators and participants – despite the enthusiastic feedback about the transformational learning that occurred for many students, we wanted to make it better and more “do-able” for teachers who needed a chance to practice and develop their skills as online instructors.

So, what are we able to test this time? What’s different?FLO Themes

  • removed the cursory consideration of online design – set aside for future development into a stand-alone (or complementary model) so that people could really focus and learn about issues of online design/development in terms of learner success;
  • agreed on a primary focus/purpose:  to develop a foundation of skills and knowledge about facilitating learning online;
  • reduced workload and start-up anxiety for facilitation teams by scripting examples of instructions and scheduling and ideas for structuring learning activities for peers within FLO;
  • eliminated duelling sessions within a week – reduced weekly facilitated learning activities to three – Week 2,3,4;
  • converted the two weekly mini-sessions to “stream team” activities and added one (workload and time management) – facilitation tasks will be spread out over the five weeks (raises potential questions about “noise” for learners – we’re going slowly with this model);
  • test drive one of the “new” types of facilitating activities – a “stream” team supported by LeonneB, that will encourage and support a specific topic throughout the five weeks of the workshop (in contrast to the “weekly” boundaries around the other facilitated sessions).
  • other changes to reduce confusion and allow participants to focus and build community and practice facilitation techniques and strategies!

Wheww!  We’ve taken on a lot but it should make this an amazing and constructive learning experience for participants – and for all of us. So many possibilities and richness of learning. I’ll be keeping a personal journal and trying to report regularly in these blog posts. We hope to have a lot to debrief and share with our guiding Committee and others.

Stay tuned!