As part of my new (although not so new anymore) job, I was asked to attend the Instructional Skills Workshop and the Facilitator Development Workshop. Both workshops were run and facilitated by my department, the Centre for Leadership in Learning. Here’s some reflections about my reflections.
While the skills based workshop is interesting, it was fun to play around with time and planning. I did learn that I need to be able to tighten up my timing when I instruct with new material. However, my daily life doesn’t necessarily need this constraint. The workshops I lead are typically fairly prescribed, have a flow and a rhythm all their own. I suppose I can add some more interactive elements, more discussion about the needs of users – which in turn would allow for deeper embedding of the skills I typically teach.
The facilitation workshop was far more involved, much more draining (never mind being five straight days, rather than the four days interspersed) and far more revealing. It was interesting that in facilitation feedback circles, I tended to be much more reflective, taking much more time to respond than when I would be facilitating, or teaching where I would be able to respond almost immediately. It’s an interesting difference, because I always thought I was a bit of a ponderer, taking time to craft my answers carefully, almost labouring over the language and words. I’m still thinking about what the difference is.
The really key point that I came away with was that facilitation is difficult to do in person, it does rely on non-verbal cues to really work well. As a facilitator you have to gather the mood of the room, have some sense of how things are going. Are those possible online? Is it possible to sense how someone feels online? I suppose, but it’s fundamentally different. The mediation that occurs makes it more difficult to get a sense, or to “feel” how something is going. I suspect that reducing the transactional distance is one strategy that helps, but still I can’t imagine facilitation face-to-face has a great effect on one’s skill online.
So, I leave you with this: what skills does a facilitator need online, in addition to the ones that they would need in a face-to-face environment?
Slate recently published an article that was brought to my attention by Harold Jarche on Twitter – the article blasted the monolithic IT policies that exist in the corporate world. After reading it, it was amazing drawing the parallels to how some teachers treat their students in the classroom. Where corporate IT policies restrict people to browse what they want, some teachers want to cut off the Internet entirely from their students. I understand that idea in a testing situation, but otherwise, if someone has paid money to sit in your class, I think it’s your job to convince them to pay attention to you. Whether that’s through logical reasoning, or providing interesting, captivating commentary on issues, or engaging activities. If they’re surfing while you’re talking, clearly what you’re talking about isn’t demanding their attention.
So you have to get them to pay attention. Make the connections to relevance. Much like how in the article the first paragraph contains an example of why using Firefox is better, you need to give your students why this subject is relevant. A lot of professors forget this – they know why recursion is important to a programming example or why the subject and verb need to agree in a sentence. Your student, on the other hand, may not. If you’re not giving them this relevance, they might just be checking on the Internet to find out why. Or, more likely, they don’t see the relevance, and give up and go do something that matters. Instructors, teachers, professors, whatever you call them have to recognize that the Internet isn’t going away, it’s going to become more pervasive. You can shut off their desktop’s access to the Internet, but not the laptop grabbing a wireless connection nor a phone or another device…
Why not turn it into a game? Tell your class in groups to find out how to do stuff and teach it to the rest in mini-sessions. You can guide them easily, and the knowledge is out there. You can then fill in the blanks, if they miss bits. And that strategy works for every skill, idea, course and concept. Need to teach Word? It works. Need to teach thermodynamics? Still works. Connectivism? Yep.
There’s a lot of talk out there amongst y’all about distributed learning. Considering that we’re on the web and all, that’s a fairly insightful statement. Crowd sourcing was an interesting concept that I hadn’t heard about before, of course I’m not up to date on my marketing theories. I started thinking about how this is partially a business to individuals relationship and how it really emphasizes the power of crowds. Of course, marketing has always been about public opinion and (in my opinion) the power of many to influence.
Originally I read crowd sourcing as crowd surfing, which in my head, could describe the way individuals survey ideas on the web. Pick and choose from search results, go on facebook and ask your network of people questions, search on twitter for tweets about it, read wikipedia – you get the idea. Anyways, like a crowd surfer – you ride the crowd like a wave, eventually crashing to the floor when you have enough information to make a concrete connection to reality again – whether that’s to buy a product, engage in a service, or not do any of that at all.
I like that description of how online activities work sometimes. Plus it’s a nice tie-in to edupunk.
1. What influenced your perceptions and beliefs about faciliation roles and responsiblities in relation to context?
Well, simply, roles of facilitators will change depending on the context they are facilitating. For instance, if a facilitator faces a particularly acrimonious setting, they will need to take a different role on than one who is going into a meeting to push forward a stalled project that has no acrimonious tone.
2. How aware were you / are you about the affect of these influences?
I am usually very aware of external influences on how you approach situations. Working in a political environment, one has to be aware of their audience, and how to approach them with suggestions and constructive criticism. I expected that a poor facilitator would be able to miss many of these points when dealing with a group; whereas a good facilitator would be able to innately sense them, and capitalize on their existence.
3. What do you suppose is the basis for your perception?
I would further the theory that knowing how emotional people can get when things involve their personal work is the basis for my understanding of how facilitators work well.
4. What new learning do you take from this exercise?
I am taking a few new methods of dealing with different situations as a facilitator.
5. How might you apply your learning?
I will take some of the scenarios that were played out as good and bad examples of facilitation – especially how one facilitator ensured that all parties had an opportunity to speak and kept everyone involved. He was particularly aware of body language and facial expressions as cues to encourage people to speak.
1. Think about your teaching practise, what are you passionate about?
I really love those moments where you can see the learner just grasping the material and taking it somewhere that you never envisioned. That moment where they realize they get it, and you in turn can give yourself a short little pat on the back (which is a bit higher than one probably deserves).
2. How is that evidenced in your practise?
Well, I try to build in those a-ha moments and allow learners to run with the ball I’ve tossed them. I’m not locked into my material, and we have plenty of time to deviate from what I bring to class. In fact, I’m liable to be short when we don’t deviate from the planned course of action, which is why I’ve always brought in some sort of back up “oh, this is an interesting sidebar to the topic tonight” kind of moments.
3. Where do you hope this will all lead?
I’m kind of fortunate in that I get to teach computer skills that are probably going to be life skills. Searching the Internet is a very fundamental skill to have in a modern society, so it’s important to understand what you’re doing when you’re searching and what you’ve got when you find it. It’s very open ended. I hope my introduction to this huge topic begins their journey to being able to discover whatever information they need to that’s out there, and to have some level of confidence in the information that they’ve found. Hopefully, when things change in the future, they won’t have to take a class to figure out the new way of doing things, they can discover it themselves.