Where does education learn?

In the FOC08 course our week 6 task is to examine some forums and look for evidence of community and consider options to further develop community in the groups formed around these forums. OK – so lots of community activity might be happening but not evident in a group’s online forum but the idea of the task is to surface important issues of community. The comparative process used in this week will be reused with different modes of communication over the next 4 weeks (blogs, virtual worlds etc).

So many of us in education are used to closed forums, where members participate because it is part of an assessment process. In the online Elluminate meeting we discussed where we should find these online forums. And this point worries me. We do not have a monopoly on online learning and certainly not community development just because we work in the educational domain. As an educator I have found that we have to tear off the blinkers we wear and look beyond educational contexts to see some of the exemplary knowledge sharing practices visible and published in not-for-profit, corporate, civic, support group and fan communities.

OK so I am going to put my money where my mouth is and focus the week 6 task (now in week 7 – a week behind) in those other domains. What about others – can you look beyond our own domain to consider how community might be lived elsewhere?

Lost or left behind in online learning?

Last week I was facing what many of our online learners must face – a guilt trip about not devoting enough time to a course and  being overwhelmed by decisions. Do I try to catch it all up after being inattentive for a few weeks?  Do I try and contact someone, perhaps a buddy, and try to get the abridged version of what has passed me by? If everyone else is keeping up why am I so inadequate? Do I just pick up from here and ignore or let slide what has passed me by? Or do I just give up because I feel too far behind?

I know in the Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop in which I am a leader and coach, we have have been acutely aware of this kind of problem. How do we allow people easy reentry into the hub of the learning when they have been absent (physically or mentally)? This is particularly important when courses like Foundations and the FOC08 and CCK08 have a frequent phase changes that make returning your attentions like picking up a movie plot part way through the screening. We have never really found a satisfactory answer. How do other online programs deal with this?

The very first online learning course I took, in dream interpretation, I was spurred back into action when another member of the course emailed me to ask how I found the second assignment (which I had not done). It struck me then that both the physical gathering of face-to-face classes and the personal bonds keeps us on track. This whole self-managed learner thing is all fat and fine but the online  embodiment leaves us able to drop our priorities and let “real life” impinge. Learning face-to-face I would push back and say “No I cannot attend that meeting as I have a class that night”. But online, where we are snatching the time where and when we can, it is so easy to  procrastinate  – ah manyana!

What did I end up doing? After reflection I went back to the face-to-face equivalent and attended the Elluminate meeting last week. This really re-energised me and I felt that I could pick up the focus from here and carry on.  The synchronous meeting was one act in time that put me and my thinking in the centre of the current learning agenda. So this post is my way of sharing my lost and found path and perhaps normalizing this feeling for others. My advice if you feel as i did would be to join the next synchronous meeting or contact a buddy (I can be one) to find a way back in.

The next posts are my attempt, albeit still lagging by one week, to be back on track with the course learning trajectory.

When do you know it’s a community?

I have been part of CPsquare (http://www.cpsquare.org) for a number of years. It was a gathering of people working in CoPs and envisioned to be a community of practice.  For the first two years or so  I did not have sense of it as a community. We had a hundred plus members but struggled to have clear ties and to be more than a loosely tied group that talked together online. Then after a few years (in early  2006) we had an event to explore Web2.0 tools in CoPs and called for members to help host, promote and manage the event. People really stepped up to take leadership and support roles and a large globally distributed team pulled off what was a very successful month long event. I really had a sense that through these activities (or what lead to them) that we had finally become a community and were able to rely on each other, to make room for each other and to enjoy a successful shared experience. It is difficult to say that whether this event was a cause or a proof of community 9or both) but it was my first real sense that we had evolved into something more than a dialogic space. I sat back after the event and reflected that many people had really worked for the good of of the group and each other, and to me the sense of community was palpable.

For me the two things surface out of my reflection:

  1. the opportunity to step up and step into roles – that this event provided.
  2. the shared sense of the value of being together – that evolved through the activity

To me these are very important components but what’s your experience of how much is community development is linked to the roles and shared experiences we as facilitators/conveners offer? Are events like this an essential part of the community building? Is this what Leigh Blackall is doing with our group in the FOC08 course?

My path to facilitating online

Mary asked on my last post if I was experienced in the face-to-face world before I came into online facilitation. As I started to reply in a comment I thought this was such a juicy topic it might be more fitting as a new post.

For me online facilitation was a matter of discovering myself; discovering within myself skills and an identity waiting to be tapped. I originally trained as a primary (elementary) school teacher and really loved the years I spent doing that. I then moved into curriculum development, distance education, instructional design and teacher training.  So my whole adult life I have been teaching and the last 20 years of that with technology.  More than 80% of this work was face-to-face teaching or leading. I found I admired people in some very early online communities like the amazing BJ Berquist in Tapped In and Christina Preston in MirandaNet. But I had never explicitly considered myself a facilitator or what I did as facilitation until a lucky chance led me to take Nancy White‘s Online Facilitation Course. Somewhere there, in the shadow of the master, a light turned on for me and I felt a new sense of identity and a hunger to learn. I aggressively sought out events and courses wherever I could volunteer to do online facilitation work and start to feel like I had found a niche.

So in answer to Mary – do you have to have been a facilitator F2F before online – in my case I think no. Although I was a teacher I found this new facilitation role freed me from much of what constrained me in teaching. The online environment really opened up new areas, new networks, new freedoms and new realizations about myself. I also found the online communication made being an Aussie in a global learning space no handicap and through putting myslef out there I have been able to engage in global projects and facilitate along side some of the most exciting people in the community field – Nancy White, Etienne Wenger, Cliff Figallo, Beverley Trayner,  Jenny Ambrozek, Sasha Barab etc.

But the learning is ongoing and there is much to keep up with as new tools and strategies become part of the scene. Still the love of learning and being online has in no way lost its lustre and room for discovery about myself  😉

What about for others? Did you come to facilitate online from a similar background/role in F2F?

Taking a course in Facilitating Online Communities

I am taking 2 “courses” this semester online. I wonder is course is the right word for what these new models of learning events really offer. The first event is Facilitating Online Communities led by Leigh Blackall and the second is Connectivism and Connective Knowledge led by George Siemens and Stephen Downes (more about this one later). The courses are a new and interesting model that bring formal accredited programs into the realm and spirit of Web2.0 learning, by offering free a place to anyone who wants to join, with accredited learning for those who pay the fees and complete formal assessment.

This model of learning is very interesting yet holds many dichotomies. It is firstly free and informal while also being formal and accredited. It has the potential to attract a diverse and critical mass of people in a single conversation about online community facilitation. At the outset it offers an group of unknown size  to take part in a 17 week structured program of learning. It seeks to scaffold people’s learning about facilitating online communities by treating an ad hoc and instantly formed group as a community. It has a formal leader in Leigh who has already signaled that he looks to the group to lead conversations and take up distributed leadership activities.

What do I hope to get out of being a learner in this event?  Well I was firstly attracted by the person leading it – Leigh is a great teacher and thought leader. I have researched online community development with IMCoPs, Internet-mediated communities of practice, being my area of expertise but I want to stay fresh in this game. Being in this event will give me an opportunity to expand my research understandings and further my search for community case studies as part of my fledgling Community Capers blog. The whole Web2.0, social networking, connectivism pedagogy leads us to recognize ourselves as constantly learning but it is interesting that we still crave these landmarks of coming together as opposed to individual and amorphous sets of realtionships we each build over time. So while I can read Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations and follow my favorite thought leader blogs, I still find myself wanting to be part of organized events with structure and boundaries, and to be learning from colleagues and fellow practitioners. One of the findings in my research into successful IMCoP development was that the shared understanding of the value of being together was a strong component. In many cases that shared understanding was drawn from a shared experience like this workshop. So for me it is the teacher, the very fulsome 17 week curriculum and the potential of the group and the shared experience that drew me here.  When I finished my doctorate last year I went into a bit of a learning hiatus but I am back now with a vengeance and keen to participate to the fullest. Bring it on!