MFO TERM 1, 2002 - FACILITATOR'S EVALUATION

First and foremost I would like to say that I feel like I let you, myself, and the course down by not being able to keep up. This was largely due to the two conferences I attended mid-course. I did read everything that people posted, but I was unable to contribute as much as I wanted. My dearth of contribution is also partly due to the constructivist nature of this exercise - I did deliberately hang back to see if others would take up the slack. Fortunately, towards the end of the course this was certainly the case and I am grateful to those of you who hung in there till the end and kept things ticking over.

There was a lack of finality though. Many issues were raised and discussed, but perhaps each person needed to summarise what they had learnt in the course. This of course would be easier if we were able to measure our progress against a set of pre-determined outcomes. I have decided that following versions of this course will have a set of outcomes upfront.

Structure

Having run this course in a 'structure free' fashion twice now, or at least beginning with the assumption that the structure will evolve based on input of participants, I would not try this approach again. I think it was made clear from the outset that we were building a course together, but some were clearly not comfortable about this and wanted some imposed structure from the start. I suspect that this lack of structure is why some people dropped out but I make no apologies for this as one of the objects of this approach was to build that structure together.†

Lack of technical instruction re WebCT

There were several comments about this. I am at fault here. It was clear in my mind that anyone entering this course had a good understanding of WebCT basics, but I don't think that was made clear enough before the course started. I just assumed that everyone had the requisite skills in this area. This is partly due to the fact too that I knew in advance that I simply would not have the time to successfully facilitate this course and assist people with technical problems and skill development. My apologies for not making this clearer from the outset.

Daily Doses

As you may have noticed I stopped posting them on a regular basis because they seemed to generate more flak than praise. I was a bit surprised by this as they were optional, but it seems that people feel there is some compulsion to join in any discussion they generate, and can't just ignore them. From the facilitator's point of view I think they are a handy way of providing some content, and raising relevant issues.

Finding resources

Simply, this does not seem to work. This exercise - where each person was asked to find appropriate resources for posting on the course website was a flop. Maybe itís just a function of time, but very few people bothered with this task, or were perhaps unable to. Again, the nature of this course was to 'build it together' and developing a resource bank is crucial in this process. Perhaps I assumed wrongly that people are competent enough using Net search tools to find relevant resources. Some comments in the evaluations bemoaned the lack of resources, and I do too, but I did not see it as my job alone to find them. And some of the resources suggested had only a tenuous link to emoderation. I would be interested in hearing any feedback as to why this part of the course failed. Is it so hard (time consuming?) to find relevant resources?

Dropping out due to lack of challenge

At least one person dropped out because they did not find the course challenging. This rather dumbfounded me. In an exercise like this surely it is up to the participants, together with the facilitator, to make the course challenging. If such a course is not challenging enough, then it is up to participants to make it so.

Lack of discussion of offended student

As you know one of the low moments of the course was when someone dropped out because they were offended by the tenor of the discussion prompted by a sleazy graphic I posted. I certainly accept some responsibility for this, but I also thought this event would generate some healthy discussion about what happened. One person apologized to the person concerned, and one other pretty much dismissed the concerns of the person who dropped out. Many just carried on as if nothing had happened. I really think we missed a golden opportunity here to tease out many issues that relate to the task of emoderation. Maybe I should have tried harder to make this happenÖÖ..

Email game

There were 2 problems here.

1)      Only 8 people decided to take part

2)      I think I commented on this at the time but email games like the one we tried here are meant to be more like one day cricket games - fast paced and with a quick result. In my opinion replies took too long to get back to me and it dragged on and the momentum was lost.

However, the replies that people eventually posted in response to Andy were excellent examples of good communication with a troubled student and some would serve as good models of emoderation in practice.

Chats

I scheduled a few chats during the course but they were poorly attended. This was partly because I was unable to advertise confirmed times too far in advance and many just could not attend. It was my intention to model some strategies for effective emoderation in these chats but they were required more than 3 people to participate and that never happened. Next time I will have times and dates for these chats locked in at the start of the course.

Summaries needed

A crucial skill in emoderation is that of summarizing online discussions. I simply did not have the time to do this, and I suspect that is probably why no one summarised any of the group discussions, though it was asked that each group arrange for someone to do this. The lack of attention to this important skill was a gaping omission in this course in my opinion.

Email list v WebCT Environment

One of the more interesting issues raised was whether or not we should just use the WebCT course site for all parts of the course. There were strong opinions from some that having your attention divided by also having to monitor and participate in the email list discussions fragmented the experience. I canít argue with that. All I can do is explain why I like to use an email list in conjunction with the website.

1)      email is push technology. It prompts faster responses, and it is harder for participants to let days go but without focusing on the course.

2)      much online discussion these days takes place on such email lists, and exposure to this form of communication is essential for potential emoderators. We need to be conversant with all the tools people use to communicate online.

Facilitator's role - a constructivist cop out?!

I am aware that in a constructivist exercise of this nature that I, as the facilitator, can conveniently apportion responsibility for any shortcomings of this course to the fact that participants didn't pull their weight! Yes it was a collaborative venture where ALL were encouraged to create forum topics, summarise discussions, locate and advocate resources, suggest learning activities, etc, but I acknowledge that the notion of running a course this way was my idea, and a more energetic and sustained input from me may have generated better outcomes for all. I have learnt from the experience and think I have a far better idea now of how to approach this course.

Numbers

Not too impressive - 22 starters (3 of whom were observers) and just 5 made it to the finish line.

The New Course - how will it look?

First and foremost there will be a course structure in place. This should allow participants to feel more comfortable and will leave me as facilitator with more time for 'instruction'.

  • it will be renamed Moderating Online (I think the facilitation aspect is a much larger beast that cannot be adequately dealt with in a course of this length.)
  • there will be aims/outcomes stated at the outset, and they will have a dedicated associated forum (if you have ideas about what outcomes and aims could be please send them to me); participants can add and negotiate these outcomes
  • assessment requirements will be explicit from the outset but these can be negotiated
  • key resources will already be posted though participants will be encouraged to contribute more
  • special interest forums will already be established eg graphics forum
  • I will persist with the daily doses but get participants to take over provision of these as the course progresses
  • group tasks will be more concrete; groups could perhaps self-select around a range of specific set tasks
  • the need for regular participation will be stressed upfront; this course can only work if people are committed to visiting more than once a week
  • scheduled chats will be announced at the start of the course with some expectation that all participants will attend at least one of them
  • participants will be asked to summarise their learning, either as part of an evaluation or as a group discussion, with some discussion of how this learning will be applied after the course

If you have any other suggestions please let me know.

In closing, let me thank you all for the privilege of your company, and for giving me the opportunity to experiment with facilitating a course of this nature. I learnt a great deal, but I still suspect that participants learnt more about building a course than about emoderation!

Cheers,

- Michael C (April, 2002)