Saturday, January 4, 2020

Facilitating Blended Learning

To see if the Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) course materials could be adapted for classroom teaching, I started with the FLO Fundamentals course. 

I copied the e-book for "Week 1 Overview". FLO has the e-book broken up into very small segments, each designed to be readable without scrolling. I find this format very annoying, as so many button clicks are needed to get the screen-fulls. Instead I prefer one e-book for a whole module, arranged as conventional long pages, which are scrolled (this also makes editing much easier). So I pasted the Week 1 content into one new e-book page.

Next, as this is to be about more than online teaching, I searched for all occurrences of "online" and deleted them (about 40). As the course may not be in a weekly format, I replaced occurrences of "week" with "module" (thus Module 1, Module 2, instead of Week 1, Week 2). 

The result is mostly readable, but some manual editing would be required, to have this cover both online and classroom teaching. For example this sentence makes little sense for face-to-face teaching (without the word "online"):
 "It is important for learners to understand that we are actually present and active in the online class as we are not visible to them.".

It would be tempting to add "face-to-face" to this. But instead, I suggest generalizing the concept:

 "It is important for learners to understand that we are active helping with their learning, even when we are not speaking to them."

The point here is that students assume that teaching only happens when the teacher is telling the student something. So the teacher needs to give students the sense that they actively monitoring a classroom discussion, be it online or face-to-face. One problem new teachers have is making their presence felt without constantly interrupting the student discussion, stifling it (this is something which many senior professors have never learned). One approach I suggest is to wait for a scheduled, or natural break in the discussion, and then provided feedback which quotes students contributions.

I suggest terms need to be explained in course notes. For example, the section on "feedback" does not actually say what feedback is, or what it is for. There is little point in going into the finer points of good feedback, if the reader doesn't know the basics.

Also I dislike inspirational, and overly long quotes in course notes, so I would want to cut those down. This also avoids having to manually check global edits (such as deleting "online") has not effected a quote. The remaining text is a bit wordy, and I would like to cut it down by about a quarter. However, even with these few simple edits, the notes read reasonably well:

Notes: Facilitating Learning Fundamentals

Building Community


Setting the stage...
We begin by introducing some important topics in teaching and learning:
  • intended learning outcomes
  • building and sustaining an learning community
  • providing feedback
Throughout the workshop you'll be asked to participate in or facilitate specific learning activities. Take time to reflect on these important topics and see how they affect the learning experience - both from a facilitator's and a participant's perspective.

During Module 1, you'll explore concepts and research associated with facilitation, learning and the Community of Inquiry framework. You'll begin to develop and participate in the learning community. By the end of the Module, you'll be connecting with the other members of your facilitation team, sharing your first "nuggets" of learning, and self-assessing your participation.

Notice what the facilitators and your colleagues did this Module to develop the learning community. What worked for you (e.g., features of the course itself, activities, timing, certain moments or postings)? What could have been done differently?

Learning Outcomes

A learning outcome provides a description of what learners should know, understand, and be able to do in a course or program (Huba and Freed, 2000). Learning outcomes place the emphasis on what learners will obtain in the learning process, not on what the instructor is attempting to do in the course or unit.

A learning outcome establishes the basis for fair learner evaluation. Formal and informal assessment processes provide both participants and facilitators with opportunities to check that learning is aligned with learning outcomes. As learning facilitators, we have a challenging task to incorporate assessment in a way that is both constructive and supportive of our learners. This is especially true in the environment where our learners may feel increased isolation and concern. You made find it helpful to reflect on the following questions as you prepare to teach your course:
  • How do the outcomes inform and focus the course's learning activities?
  • How do I keep learners focused on the outcomes?
  • How do I ensure that ongoing assessment and feedback aligns with the learning outcomes?

Module Activities

During this first Module, the Facilitators will guide you in a demonstration learning activity about community. The purpose of this activity is to show you one way of facilitating a learning activity in a short period of time.
Note:  Each of you will have an opportunity to facilitate a Module long learning activity during this workshop. You can review the details of the process in the Workshop Handbook:  Activities: facilitating page and you will find further guidance in your team planning forum in the Facilitation Teams Workspace tabbed page.
Your activity facilitation team will post detailed instructions and a schedule above the activity forum.
Focus for the Activity
You’ll be asked to explore your own perceptions of learning communities and the role an instructor can play in building community.
During this Module's discussions, you'll be asked to:
  • share your ideas and experiences around learning communities
  • explore different aspects of the Community of Inquiry model
  • think of ways that an instructor can develop and maintain an learning community

Community Building

Developing a supportive and connected learning community is a key factor in helping learners feel comfortable and willing to fully engage in learning activities. Preparing a statement on a given topic and posting it for everyone to see can be an intimidating experience for a learner in a new group, particularly for those who are relatively new to the environment. When people know a bit about each other and have had an opportunity to interact informally, a sense of camaraderie can develop which encourages people to feel comfortable enough to take risks and explore ideas.

Many programs begin with a face-to-face course or residency so learners have met each other in person and have begun to form a cohesive learning community. As an instructor you might be the "stranger" who needs to get to know your learners.
We build a sense of connection with our learners through presence, interaction and commitment to a common purpose in a given space and time. Non-verbal and verbal cues of welcome, invitation and encouragement contribute to the tone of a face to face class. In the environment most of these communication tools are at our disposal if we just know how to employ them:

  • Providing brief audio and video introductions to both the course and yourself as an instructor help bring your voice and personality to the class. Learners can do the same.
  • Make your intentions and expectations explicit.
  • "Silence" in an course, (a lack of messages, responses to messages or other interactions), can be construed – and misconstrued. In addition, it is easy to misunderstand a written message and draw negative conclusions. When a person is feeling anxious, the likelihood that they will interpret things negatively increases.
Mike Thompson (1:24)
Our job as learning facilitators is to be obviously supportive, both of the group and of the individual. The kinds of learning activities we choose play a significant part in the development of a sense of community. Learners cannot be passive knowledge-absorbers who rely on the instructor to feed information to them. It is imperative that they be active knowledge-generators who assume responsibility for constructing and managing their own learning experience. In a learner-centred environment, many of the traditional instructor responsibilities such as generating resources and leading discussion shifts to the learners. Success in an learning environment depends on the use of instructional strategies that support this shift in roles.
How do you create and sustain communities?
Patricia McClelland (3:46)
Beth Cougler Blom (3:41)

Presence and Learning

It is important for learners to understand that we are active helping with their learning, even when we are not speaking to them. We want them to know that we are reading their postings, watching activities unfold, and taking note of the process of learning. This is referred to as "instructor presence". Throughout this course you will find tips and strategies to establish and maintain presence without being overbearing or stifling learner initiative.
Doug Hamilton (1:03)

Developing a sense of community can begin from providing opportunities to create connections between participants and between participants and the course content. Don't be afraid to use your imagination and get creative; bring who you are to the online environment. At the same time watch that you don't overwhelm the group with additional activities that burden them. Keep it simple and make much of it optional.
Beth Cougler Blom (2:43) 
Alicia Wilkes (1:20)
Doug Hamilton (1:28)


This resource contains five very short video clips (three on this page, two on the next) from faculty. Sit down and take a relaxing 10 minutes to hear a few of their thoughts. Keep their insights in mind as you work through this Module's activities.

Doug Hamilton (1:02)

Jen Walinga (1:18)

Alicia Wilkes (1:28)

Providing Feedback

Feedback is essential to learning. It lets people know whether they are mastering the outcomes and indicates whether or not remedial or additional action is required. Feedback can also encourage learners to stretch and reach new heights. Feedback is like water or air for learners; they need it to survive.
Feedback can be inspiring to learners. It can assist struggling learners who need more encouragement and positive reinforcement. It can also help learners better appreciate the specific strategies they need to use to improve their skill level or performance. Nevertheless, if not done with sensitivity, respect, and empathy, feedback can also be devastating. Poorly planned, or awkwardly phrased feedback can confuse and demoralize a learner.
To be effective, feedback should be positive, concrete, and specific. Feedback should also be instructive. Like asking good questions, providing feedback also enables participants to reflect on their learning and determine possible follow-up actions and strategies.
Alicia Wilkes (1:04)

Optional Reading and Viewing

The following optional readings and videos are provided as references for the topics discussed in this Module's Overview.
  • Excerpts from 2008 Facilitation Strategies video - (6 min, Youtube)
    0:11 - "How do you help students interact effectively in an course?"
    1:20 - "How do you sustain discussions?"
    1:45 - How do you keep a presence in discussions without taking over the conversations?"
And just for fun....
  • (3:08 YouTube video)
    Note: Calling all Elvis fans....(funny because it's true?)
Community of Inquiry Model

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