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!