Wednesday, 14 November 2007

What have I learned?

"Learning is a collaborative experience where understandings are
developed. Constructing knowledge is not a one-way transmission of information
from the instructor to the learner. Constructing knowledge involves the
opportunity to critically analyze information, dialogue with others about its
meaning, reflect upon how the information fits within a personal belief and
value structure, and arrive at a meaningful understanding of that
information." Maggie McVay Lynch (1998)

To review what I've learned during this paper I'm going to look back at its stated purpose and learning ourcomes.


This course will provide participants with the theory and practical experience to enable them to become effective and reflective facilitators of online communities.

  • online socialisation - ice-breakers
  • cultural differences
  • social presence
  • personas
  • barn-building
  • intructional scaffolding
  • 'third places' (Konrad Goglowski)
  • 'curatorial teaching' (George Siemens)
  • 'learning over the shoulder' (Nancy White)
  • 'virtual communities' (Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach)
  • 'facilitator v teacher' (Leigh Blackall)

Practical experiences


  • email groups
  • blogging (see this video explaining blogs in plain English)
  • creating/editing wikis


  • Second Life (see previous post)
  • Elluminate online conferencing
  • Skype chat


  • RSS
  • online applications
  • YouTube video

Effective and reflective - this remains to be seen! I think this will come with practice just like other teaching or facilitation techniques.

So the above summarises the experiences of this paper, but what have I learned?

Discuss the characteristics of an online community and the implications for learning and teaching online.

We've discussed a range of factors related to online communities. Are we one? Some say 'yes' and some say 'no'. I feel we have developed an online community. A community is generally a group of people with a shared or common interests and this is applicable to our group. We're learners in a programme of study and we're educational professionals - our specific goals may differ but our general ones are common. The word 'community' also seems to suggest something more personal, where individuals rely or depend on interactions from each other for continued progress. I have benefited from blog posts from others (e.g. David, Garry, Sarah, Graeme, Veronique, Debbie, Mark) to keep me involved and stop me from losing motivation when I was feeling 'lost'. In our Elluminate and Second Life experiences I felt part of a group trying to understand a range of new tools.

Characteristics of an online learning community:-

  • participants with a variety of preferred learning styles
  • participants with a variety of ICT skills
  • participants from a variety of cultures
  • participants with a variety of experiences and abilities
  • participants with an understanding of netiquette
  • participants sharing information, resources and ideas
  • participants discussing ideas - agreeing or disagreeing but developing the ideas of the initial topic
  • participants treating the views of others with respect
  • participants giving credit to others when using their ideas
  • participants responding to the questions of others in a timely manner
  • a facilitator easing the process of learning in the community
  • a willingness to accept and welcome new participants to the community
  • a willingness to invite new participants who could add value to learning

Implications for teaching and learning online:-

  • ICT skills are required for learners and facilitators but they can be learned along the way
  • Technology can fail - back-up plans required
  • Learners can feel isolated - the facilitator needs to build in support mechanisms
  • The web holds vast amounts of information - the facilitator must help learners to focus in on relevant material
  • Great potential for learners to develop understanding without the need for a teacher as 'expert' so facilitator needs to foster an attitude of acceptance of learner content instead of criticism against 'criteria' - i.e. support learners in constructing their own knowledge.

See my google docs reflection on using the various Web 2.0 tools for more implications.

Articulate the skills required for maintaining a successful online community.

I have found the concept of 'online community' a little confusing at times. Are we talking about a 'course' community or an 'interest' community or a 'global' community or a 'social' community or an 'intellectual' one? My plan would be to set up an online space for students to learn as an addition or support to classroom learning. The online community in this sense offers the learner the chance to investigate, research, communicate, discuss, question, review, observe and ultimately create their own understanding. (Sounds like constructivism to me). The facilitator's role is to try to make this experience a successful one by guiding learners through the process in a way that maintains motivation and interest, and ultimately results in some new understanding - whether that understanding comes from research or reflection.

Facilitator skills required for this:

  1. An awareness of cultural diversity and how this may relate to student participation.

  2. An ability to participate in the learning with the students and not focus on the 'expert' role. This is a tricky one, especially at secondary level where there tends to be an emphasis on directing learners towards defined knowledge/understanding. I believe this is where the real skill of facilitation can be seen - setting up learning opportunities to allow students to learn over the shoulder of others.

  3. An ability to develop a social presence and model this for learners

  4. Ability to communicate effectively and in a timely manner to students

My experiences as a learner on this paper also lead me to believe that the following are important too:

  • Structure - there is so much material online that it's important to focus in on relevant information to begin with. Students can go searching once they have developed skills to do so effectively. Don't overload students with too much material at the start. Try not to 'teach' like you would in a face-to-face class but instead become a participant in furthering learning and understanding. I think this comes down to relinquishing some of the managment of learning and allowing students to be involved in developing how the learning will happen. [I don't believe this is always a feasible option but it would be interesting to see it in action].

  • Communication/Support - inform students and keep them informed. Provide reminders and ask if there are problems. If student participation is low, follow up. Provide students with numerous means of communication. Be aware that students can feel isolated in this kind of setting and be prepared to encourage and support learners to overcome their misgivings.

  • Participation - learners need to be aware of what is expected of them in terms of participation. This may need to be explicitly stated at the start and reminders given at intervals. Participation doesn't always result in learning but non-participation can give clues to the facilitator that there may be a problem.

  • Feedback - to counteract feelings of isolation, it is important to keep learners informed of their progress, especially when marks/grades are achievable.

For more thoughts on this see this article on "The Role of Online Intstructor/Facilitator" where it is pointed out that "what distinguishes online instruction from entertainment or recreation is the purposefulness of the designers and developers in provoking certain intelligent responses to the learning materials, context, and environment". (Berge. 1995). This and other articles I have read use the term intstructor/teacher interchangeably with facilitator, and although this is at odds with Leigh's view that they are different roles, the information is still useful in understanding the issues related to online learning community development.

Evaluate online communication and collaboration tools in given learning contexts.

I've tried keeping a running reflection - in a Word document and not here on my blog for some reason - about how I can see me applying these online tools into my own teaching. I've uploaded it to google docs . My wiki - on blended learning - also has some evaluation of tools.

Plan and implement online discussions for specific online communities.

Assignment 3 - I've run an asynchronous discussion about the pros and cons of blogging for projects.

Critically evaluate an online discussion, in the context of sound educational principles.

Assignment 4 - see next post!


  1. Berge, Z.L. (1995). Facilitating Computer Conferencing: Recommendations From the Field. Educational Technology. 35(1) 22-30. Retrieved from
  2. McVay Lynch M. (1998). Facilitation Knowledge Construction and Communicaiton on he Internet. The Technology Source. Retrieved from
  3. Online Facilitation. (2002). Retrieved on 2 November 2007 from

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