I liked the video Seven key skills of workshop facilitation by Jan Delmas. She summarises the skills by saying that a facilitator:
- Leads the process
- Creates a safe environment
- Trusts the group.
Jan talks about the skills being analogous to the function of a conductor of an orchestra. However, the analogy breaks down for me in that an orchestra usually plays a score written by an external composer, whereas in the group situation, who writes the score? To what extent is the score improvised during the life of the group?
I have been pondering how Jan’s face-to-face skills transition into an online environment, and how they differ in synchronous and asynchronous situations.
In face-to-face situations, the facilitator has the full range of verbal and non-verbal cues - verbal content, voice tone, timing, breathing, body language, and what I can only call ‘psychic’ clues. In this situation, ‘Listening’ means not only active listening to content,but, at least as importantly, listening to the ‘music’ behind the words. Online, some or most of these cues are missing. Thus, in text interchanges, one only has the written content to go on - for me, ‘emoticons’ and text abbreviations such as ‘lol’ are a poor substitute for non verbal content. The saving grace of asynchronous text such as e-mail and discussion boards are that the time scale involved in ‘listening’ and responding allows one to ponder and make a more considered reply than is often the case with real time interactions.
Other media, such as audio and video Skype allow more ‘real’ listening to go on, and communicate cues such as intonation, timing and facial expression. However, bandwidth limitations can limit fidelity of transmission of these cues - voice communication can be distorted, and video is usually not properly synchronised with voice. A downside of such synchronous communication is that, as in face-to-face situations, one has to think more ‘on one’s feet’ than in the asynchronous environments.
How does one support in f2f situations? By open body language, smiling, nodding, mirroring, listening, asking clarifying questions, being non judgemental, etc. In asynchronous text situations, few of these modes are available - and the main ways of supporting are by prompt response, and by asking for clarification. Significant delays in responding can result in the group members wondering if they are supported, or if they have ‘gone too far’ and alienated the facilitator. In the synchronous audio or video environment, more of the ways of showing support, using verbal and non verbal cues, are available.
I understand summarising to mean both the activity of asking clarifying questions to help the facilitator (and other group members) understand a particular individual’s contribution; and more lengthy summary of a chunk of the proceedings to check progress and the level of understanding, consensus or agreement of the participants. It seems to me that the skills involved, both synchronously and asynchronously are similar, in that the facilitator needs to ‘stand apart from’ the discussion and to develop the skill of ‘seeing the whole’ of the argument and express it clearly Text based environments require the facilitator to express the summary lucidly and clearly in writing, a different skill from delivering a verbal summary. Again, in synchronous situations there is less opportunity to review, reflect on and summarise the range of contributions than in asynchronous.
Run out of time… More later on this if I get time!
I am in awe of the facilitators - Jillian and Chris - you did a great job. I was the evaluator for the SLENZ project, and found the whole project fascinating - from the dynaimcs of the project team right through to the responses of the midwifery and foundation studies students who used the project builds. The environment of Second Life is highly engaging and immersive, and gives a sense of being ‘really there’. Some of the students seemed less inhibited and more ‘out there’ than in the real life situation.
One example was a mature Muslim woman student who dressed for face-to-face classes in traditional Muslim dress, complete with burka. Her avatar was a fully fledged young punk woman, complete with face studs, spiked hair etc. When I asked her why she chose this avatar, she said that ‘It makes me feel more free’!
However, for me the environment has disadvantages of being fairly cumbersome, taking a long time to get the hang of building one’s own avatar, and having high demands in terms of hardware specs and broadband connectivity.
I have tried to answer Sarah’s questions both in a MindMap and under bullet points:
- What do you want to learn to facilitate?
I want to improve my ability to facilitate my online working with work groups, including planning, and to become more effective in online coaching and mentoring. I want to learn how to design and run online courses and programmes, It would also be good to understand more of the theory and research findings on good practice in online facilitation. Also, the opportunity to make useful connections worldwide is a big plus!
- What are you doing now in terms of online facilitation?
I use Skype and wikis for online planning (and have used Elluminate once). I have also used FlashMeeting with a peer group involved in counselling. In my work, I have set up an online community on Ning (which is in the process of being transferred to Grouply). I would like to understand the principles of making olc sites easy to navigate!!
- What would you like to achieve, change or do more of?
I’d like to learn, make connections (as mentioned earlier), and understand what gets reluctant onliners engaged, and how to retain learners. I want to become more enthused about the possibilities, and get over the ‘it’s too much work’ attitude!! I’d like to blog more and fluently!! (It’s great that folk make comments on my ramblings - gives me a real buzz!)
- What do you need to do or make happen to achieve your goal?
I need more: Confidence that I have something worthwhile to offer and can do it,
Practice to improve my skills
Knowledge - based on the wisdom of others, and of the whole art of online facilitation. I also need knowledge of the capabilities of different online applications, how easy (or not!) they are for both facilitators and facilitatees(??) to use, and their costs in $$, time and angst!
I really enjoyed the online session yesterday - even though it seemed to last forever! It was great to put voices to names - and to meet online with folk I know from other contexts.
I greatly appreciated being talked through the Elluminate software - having facilitated a planning meeting with it earlier in the day. Thanks to our facilitators, a lot of the features are now much clearer - great job.
During the earlier meeting, I was unaware of the opportunity to have more than one mike on at a time, or how to record the session. My colleagues fed back that they prefer to work on Skype and voted to use it next time.
I have been working on the Primary Science Teachers’ project that I mentioned before. There is a f2f and an online component, the latter was hosted on Ning, but funding cuts and Ning’s charging rates mean moving to Grouply. Because we have a new group of teachers starting in a couple of weeks, I have set up a wiki to tide things over in the interim, till the Grouply site is ready.
I am intending to get the new group to set up individual blogs to reflect on their progress, as well as asking them to contribute to the group’s online space.
I am concerned that in moving from Ning to Grouply, we might lose some of the teachers in earlier groups, some of whom are resistant to working online, because of the hassle involved in moving. I hope that having a 3 month overlap between Ning and Grouply will allow time for the change to be made with minimal disruption.
I’m blown away (Kiwi expression) with the number of folk enrolling, where you all are round the globe,and the breadth of experience you all bring to the course. I have been trying to read everyone’s blogs and to comment. It’s difficult - the number of participants seems to increase faster than I can read and comment! I very much hope we can work around the issues folk are mentioning - time zones, bandwidth, technical problems; and can build something really special. My thoughts are with Sarah as she tries to cope with over 50 participants!!!
I have been thinking about difference between online and face-to-face (f2f) facilitation and have been comparing it with the differences between online, phone and f2f communication, drawing on my counselling experience. When working f2f, all the channels of communication are available - visual ( body language, expressions etc), auditory (tone, rhythm, breathing etc), verbal content, and other (such as olfactory and the ‘atmosphere’). Phone communication ( and hence facilitation) affords verbal content, plus auditory information. The visual is not available, so one’s auditory channel has to work extra hard. E-mail communication (and text) limits information to purely verbal text content, so less and different information is transmitted and received. However, asynchronous text communication, whilst removing the visual cues, has the advantage over synchronous communication of allowing time for considered responses.
In f2f facilitation, key factors that encourage participants engaging in productive learning include safety, respect, honesty, active inquiry, suspended judgement, clarity of purpose, active listening, empathy, openness, inclusion and using evidence (Dalton and Anderson, unpublished material). I imagine that these factors can be adapted to the online environment, taking into account the different limitations that working virtually imposes.
A couple of years ago, I experimented with FlashMeeting - an online conferencing site developed by the Open University, and (then) made available free due to European Union funding. Three of us held regular online meetings and shared our experiences and some resources about Psychosynthesis - a counselling and psychotherapy approach developed by Roberto Assagioli.
At the beginning of 2010, I set up an online community to support the Primary Science Teacher Fellows (PSTF), which I mentioned in my previous post. I used Ning - a facility designed for online communities. I have had a number of challenges - such as engaging reluctant Fellows in the community, designing an easily navigable site, and setting privacy levels.
In May, Ning announced that they were to cease offering free sites, although they subsequently said that free sites would still be available for educational organisations. However it soon became clear that these free sites were only available to organisations in North America. It would cost us hundreds of dollars per year for the type of facilities we had previously enjoyed free.
A search for alternatives revealed that Grouply - another online social group provider - had a facility to transfer Ning sites to Grouply automatically. Furthermore they also provide ‘premium’ educational sites for free - and we qualify.
So I am currently exploring Grouply and redesigning our online community in the light of experience, and to accommodate a new group of Fellows as well as previous groups.
When I set up the Ning site, I had a Main (home) page, and areas for the two cohorts of Fellows that existed at that time. In order to encourage discussion, I made the whole site private - the Main Page to both cohorts, and the two group pages for each cohort. That was a mistake, because there are advantages in the Fellowship having a public face. It has proved difficult to negotiate making the Main Page public.
With Grouply, we have the chance to change the rules. However, there are some issues I need to work through - such as the fact that some of the postings that on Ning were in the individual group areas now appear to be publicly visible after importation into Grouply.
I also use Skype regularly with the PSTF workshop planning group, backed up with e-mails and pb works wiki. We also used Skype to carry out a National link up of PSTF cluster groups in Wellington. Christchurch and Taranaki.
I have also participated in a number of online professional development sessions with my colleagues in CORE across New Zealand. For these, we have used a variety of platforms such as Skype, DimDim and videoconferencing. A couple of years ago I was involved in sessions in SecondLife - but do not like that medium for online learning.
As well as the above personal experience, I have been involved in evaluating a number of online learning initiatives. I joined this course because I need to learn more to do a better job with the PSTF’s, and because I need experience of what I evaluate!!!
Six months ago I wrote the following post to a new blog. Alas, it went no further:
Putting my money where my mouth is
Well it has come to this - after several failed attempts at blogging, I need to get one going for work.
So I am going to establish a discipline of blogging regularly…
What has induced this change of behaviour?
After 5 or so years working at CORE Ed, mainly involved in researching various initiatives in educational applications of ICTs, and getting increasingly restless because I was not using my people skills or my science background as much as I would like, along came the ideal opportunity! We secured a contract with the Royal Society of New Zealand to provide curriculum support for their Primary Science Fellows! A chance to work to raise the profile and teaching of science where it really matters. A chance to help teachers enthuse kids about this vital aspect of our culture.
In this blog, I will write about this work, and other aspects of my journey. I may weave in bits about wine making, drying and using herbs, soft systems ideas, and all sorts of other stuff asising out of a mis-spent six and a half decades on this beautiful but imperilled planet.
So bear with the musings of a semi-geriatric…
For me, blogging is like losing weight, or takimg regular exercise - I know I should do it, but I find it hard to keep motivated. I hope that enrolling in this facilitation course will provide me with the incentive to keep it up!
Watch this space to find out if it works!!