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