Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reflection of the different facets of online communities

What is an online community? For me it is many things and I am now finding it difficult to comment on this without overstepping into the realms of the other topics. This online community has been a mixture of Etienne Wenger’s community of practice, Downe’s networks, Dunbar’s groups and Tonnie’s theoretical framework of the purpose and function of a community. The difference being that the location was online in/on/via many different platforms. I have met, peers, colleagues and friends via this course and like Debra M and Hervè, I will be keeping an eye on FOC10. I feel that a bond has developed within the community and feel honoured to have experienced this course with this particular group of individuals.

Facilitating, moderating, or teaching. Now this one flummoxed me and I thought that it was the red herring to encourage engaged debate. I did haunt me though, even when I was ‘facilitating’ my online session the little voice inside my head was chanting Debra - facilitate, facilitate, facilitate! I posed the question to one of the presenters in an online session, conducted an e-interview with someone who helps moderate (her term) a very active discussion forum. It appears that we all have different views. My view is that they are all skills needed to participate in an online community or to run an online event. We have to do a bit of teaching/facilitating as we assist attendees to the session or newcomers to the forum to navigate the technology of choice. Moderating was the most clear cut for me as it has connotations of power. Interestingly the discussion forum interviewee perceived a facilitator as holding the power.

Discussion forums. I consider myself to be an establish forum participant. I was the medium of choice when I sought advice regarding my move to NZ. I recall being in the lurking phase for a very long time but once I took the plunge it was plain sailing. I would join another discussion forum for advice, I guess this relates to the subject – object debate and crosses over into the realms of networking. On reflection the object focus of the forum is maybe it was so successful for me. I use the discussion forum on the CPIT Moodle site, again this object focused as it was developed for a Metrogroup collaboration. Does this mean that I am an objectionist?

Blog networks. The only blog network I have used is this one. I have found it very helpful in maintaining the online community and I have learned a lot from reading the posts of my peers. I did have a bit of a wobble part way through the course as my workload picked up and my posting intentions suffered. This has also been useful for me when reflecting as I can see how my thoughts have changed over time and through the use of the blogging network. A great way to share links to resources as well as thoughts and feelings.

Wiki collaborators. I struggled with this which is annoying because I want to use them in my work. I found the user interface demanding and I guess this is because other platforms are so user friendly. I can use a wiki, I just need to discipline myself to get into using the html codes. I have two pages in wikieducator that I haven’t quite completed.

Virtual Worlds. I loved this and it’s part of the reason for not blogging as much as I should have. I found it totally engaging. I was disappointed to miss Sarah’s session but very grateful to bump into her on second life and have a tour around the birthing unit. Dr Scott Diener gave a presentation on second life at Ascilite 2009. Interestingly, one of the questions from the participants was along the lines of ‘but if second life is so good, why have you built a lecture theatre?’ Loved his response – it’s what people in education relate to so that’s a good starting point. Having said all that, second life does have its limitations, it requires an advanced computer system. My laptop is a few years old and so the background takes a while to load up. If I was to use it for educational purposes, I would need to ensure that it is accessible for all. Fantastic potential.

Social networking platforms. Here I dove in to the deep end. In 2009 I joined NING; Dim Dim; Cloudworks; LinkedIN; GRO.UPS; Second life; twitter; friends reunited (again). I have been on Facebook for a couple of years now so that is my choice of platform. I find it confusing to have all the various platforms on the go. I am giving twitter a good try and will keep up to speed with Facebook as that’s my man channel of communication with my family around the world. I take note of Herve and Krishnan’s words of caution, I am cautious/suspicious so I do not have full personal details up and only use the basic functions in Facebook as it serves my purpose.

Reflecting on the different kinds of online communities. I guess that this in integrated into the above I will travel between the dichotomies of subject versus object based communities as it suits my needs. This is the beginning of my journey.

Facilitate an event for the course mini conference. What a learning curve this was, it included the good, the bad and the ugly. Like Catherine, it was probably one of the highlights of the course and I enjoyed it even though it did go pear shared in the middle.

Evaluate the facilitation of an online event. I used Bronwyn Hegarty’s framework which I found very useful. I now have clear ideas of what my nest online session will be like. I would do it very differently but it’s all learning so nothing can be taken for granted. The cats out of the bag and it ain’t going back in.

The course overall

It was hard work, time consuming, and challenging as others have noted in their blogs but you get out of it what you put in. I feel as though I have got a great deal out of this learning experience. I enjoyed attending the online sessions, thank you colleagues. I felt frustrated when I couldn’t access Skype at work or had forgotten to bring my microphone home with me so text was the limited mode of participation. But it has given me the authentic experience of being an online student and some valuable learning that I will share, hopefully for the benefit of students. Sarah, you have been a great role model. I think an online session at the beginning of 2010 might the graduates of FOC09 might be in order to share some of our experiences. As James Clay said at Ascilite, technologies are changing and so is learning.

Step 3 - Take Action

Reflect on what you learned and how you will use this

What did I learn and Why?


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I learned that not all platforms are the same. I am quite comfortable with elluminate having used it through this course and observed other s use it for their presentations. I learned that the wimba classroom was too basic for my needs; its limitations had an impact on my session. I learned that the sharing applications function was my nemesis. I learned that the recording function did not record all the activity in the session. I could only see who attended by their contribution in the text area. The ‘Room pulse’ participant activity area does not record activity so I was unable to archive my facilitation skills in terms to responding to raised hands, ticks, crosses or emoticons. This meant that the two mexican waves were not recorded either and I was very proud of those.


I learned that I am able to engage participants in an online environment. I learned that I coped in a crisis, when times got tough and things started to go awry, I acted fast to continue to facilitate the session. I think that I successfully facilitated the session in that I engaged with all the participants, guided questions and prompted responses from the presenters. I acted on signals from the text box, the symbols and audio streams. I very much enjoyed the experience, even thought it was stressful in parts. I have gained a deeper understanding and experience of being a facilitator and can share this with my peers in an attempt to support them through their first steps too.

How will I use this experience?
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This is the beginning of my online journey as a facilitator, I have participated in various online forums but now it’s time to step up to the mark and put into practice my learning and experience from this paper. In my role, I will attempt to model effective practice in flexible delivery via the medium of online learning which inevitably will involve facilitating an online community.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Step 2 Analyse the Experience

Implications of your decisions, actions, reactions


It was my decision to control the resources used. I did this as I thought as facilitator, it was part of my role. I uploaded them to eMIT so that I had control should we need to change to elluminate. After all this was my assessment. I wanted to share the applications with the presenters but was advised that I should have access. It was my decision to put the new platform to the test. It was my decision to showcase the interactive flash resources.

What happened and why?

The introductions went smoothly I welcomed everyone. The microphone was a bit tricky as I needed to hold the button down which meant that I couldn’t change the powerpoint slides without turning the microphone off. So there were gaps in the audio when I changed slides. At precisely 23.39 minutes in it all started to happen. The second presenter lost audio. The screen was staggered when loading as demonstrated in the image above. The sharing application facility resulted in six screens appearing on the archive yet only one on my screen during the session.

Google image (Sound)
 When I listened back to the recording, it is evident that there was a delay between me clicking on the talk button and the audio coming through. The beginning of some of my words/sentences were inaudible on the recording. When playing back the session from the archive, some of the visuals were lost. I could see the presentation and although some took time to load they were visible.                                                                     

What could I have done better?
The resources could have been loaded onto the platform so the presenters could control the slides from the platform. Maybe I should have had an internal and external run through to test the bandwidth and speed demands. Maybe I should have run the full session, recorded it and played it back to check the audio etc. If I had done this I would have realised the difficulties involved and the limitations of the platform.

Did my actions and decisions help or hinder?
On reflection some of my decisions hindered the smooth running of the session. I had to set up the sharing applications facility several times as the screen shot shows. Other decisions helped, I gave my headset to one of the presenters when his failed. However, this left me with a dilemma, I had to take someone else’s place to be able to facilitate. This meant taking the place of one of the other presenters. At one point, when I was attempting to reinstate the application sharing and the system or platform really slowed, I asked the participants to continue their discussion. In an attempt to keep morale high I arranged a Mexican wave of smiley faces, which went down well.

What did others do and why?

You may recall that Lisa (one of the presenters) is the trainer for Wimba create. Lisa sprung into action when things started to go awry. I think that this was a natural reaction for her. It was a test of nerves for me, I felt that I should have been rectifying the situation. This meant that Lisa used my log in to rectify problems and I used her log in to continue the communication. The participants helped me greatly in maintaining the momentum through the use of the text box. I can only assume that this was because they felt comfortable enough to be able to continue. All supported me in my hour of need.

What assumptions did I make and why?

I made the assumption that I was safe, I had the NZ trainer for the platform; I had two presenters who had great resources to share; I was using the platform that my employers had invested in for our flexible delivery. I assumed that I was among friends, I was. The FOC09 group knew exactly how I was feeling and was supportive. I made the assumption that the hard work had been completed in the preparation, how wrong I was. I made the assumption that the bandwidth and speed would accommodate my needs. I made the assumption that that the platform would meet my needs and the needs of the participants. I made the assumption that the participants could see and hear what I could.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Evaluation of my online event

I am going to use Bronwyn Hegarty’s 2007 reflective framework using the event as a critical incident.

Step 1: Take notice and describe the experience through a description of evidence

Background: I looked at last year’s sessions and what my colleagues were noting on the wiki as their topics. I had made my decision early but did not get around to putting it on the wiki until later. When there are so many of us conducting online sessions it is difficult to be different. I wanted to cover a topic that had not been covered by anyone else. I knew that due to workload my session would be towards the end of the semester so I ran the risk of people being online session weary. I also wanted to make it relevant to my work and to as many participants as possible. If it was a good session, I could use the recording for staff development later. When I saw Lisa Ransom extolling the virtues of the Wimba Classroom paired with the fact that she is the only accredited trainer in NZ I thought I have a winner. The selfish driver of using the event as a staff development tool lead me to invite Erle Harris and Cameron Hynes as presenters of their wonderful work with teaching staff at MIT. There you have it a double whammy – it could not fail – or could it?

Promotion of the event: I promoted the event on the wiki, without a date in the first instance as I wanted to get interest among the online community. I also ran two polls on my blog to gauge the availability of the FOC09 participants. I used the platform of choice, namely wimba create for the first wave of promotion. I sent a voice mail one week prior to the event. This was an event in itself. Three takes and I still wasn’t happy but I was in a hotel and it was late so it had to do. 24 hours prior to the event I sent a reminder out via the group email. This included all the necessary links to the platform and the details of plan B should wimba fail me. Fifteen minutes prior to the event I sent out another reminder. At the 24 hour reminder I promoted the event to people at MIT who I knew were early adopters of technology as I saw it as an opportunity for them to see what MIT had to offer regarding the platform.

Preparation for the event: I had three meetings planned with the presenters. The first to seek their participation. The second to map out the session and test the platform. The third to have a final run through. The first was successful, the second only part happened due to unforeseen circumstances (work commitments and sickness). Following this meeting a course was set up in eMIT (Blackboard at MIT ) to access the Wimba Classroom. Also all the facilitating online communities enrolled participants had access to emit. The third happened prior to the session, more prior than planned actually. I loaded the presentations in eMIT and prepared my powerpoint lead in and introductory slides. I duly ran through the testing of the resources to make sure that we had a seamless session.

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Participation: Fourteen people participated in the event, this included the presenters, participants from the facilitating online communities course and members of MIT staff from the wider invitation.

Reflection on feelings: How did I feel, prepared, unprepared, excited, nervous that no-one would turn up, anxious in case the discussion dried up. My back up plan was to ask people what they thought about the Ascilite conference as I know that some participants had attended.

Reflection on actions and decisions: Having access to the resources at MIT helped. They had a vested interest in the session being a success too as it could be used as a platform to engage more staff with the Learning Technology Centre. From Lisa’s perspective, this is the only accredited trainer in NZ so this could and would be a launch pad of her skills as a trainer and the qualities of the platform. Erle and Cameron both were showcasing their work. This was also a test of their skills and promotion of their tools. Having willing participants both from the course at within MIT helped. They had attended to see the new platform that they were encouraged to use in the quest to produce interactive sessions and provide flexible delivery. My perspective was to demonstrate my skills as a facilitator hence the need for active participants who are willing to get involved. It was my second assessment on the course and I naturally wanted to do well.

Social Networking Platforms

I am a member of the following social networking platforms, Facebook, LinkedIn and Friends Reunited. I joined Ning to take part in Debra M’s online session.

Facebook: I was ‘allowed’ by my children to join only because I was moving to the other side of the planet and they were going travelling. They said it was a good way of keeping in touch. BUT, I was to be monitored and ‘had better not show them up’.

That was just over two years ago and I am regularly moderated. It allows me to see what they are up to, the good, the bad and the ugly.
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This works both ways as I use it to keep my mum in touch with what I’m up to. She has a computer but is not online so I load my pics up (14 albums to date) and someone else downloads them to a disc and takes them to her. My sister and nieces in Canada also have their own pages. It’s quite interesting, I found out that I am going to be a great aunt and that two of my family are moving house via Facebook. I have 49 friends, mainly family and ex colleagues in the UK.
I am very particular about who I allow full access to my pages. I do not make full use of all the paraphernalia that goes with Facebook as you need to allow external access to make use of them. I have mentioned this in previous posts, I am not comfortable sharing personal details online. I recall Herve having some words of wisdom about the dangers of putting too much information online too. A speaker at Ascilite this week made an interesting comment about the ego platforms versus the object platforms. I think it was Grainne Conole, she was pushing the cloudworks platform. Worth a look as it is described as a place to share, find and discuss learning and teaching ideas and experiences.

Friends Reunited, I was a member of this network before they started charging for the privilege and it was the place to be, I met up with my school friends and found out about events etc. I dropped my membership when they started charging, I joined again this year as it is free again now but there was very little chatter. I expect that Facebook has taken its place.

Ning: It’s early days yet, I do like the feel of it though as it is intuitive. I didn’t get to grips with GROU.PS or LinkedIn. I guess that I have been spoiled by Facebook. I have high expectations of a social network.

Online forum interview summary

I applied an asynchronous interview.

I have been a member of the forum since 2005 so was familiar with the type of personality of its users. It is a forum used by people wishing to migrate to New Zealand. Please refer back to my blog for details. The person I chose to interview was ‘Mother Bear’ we all have alter egos on the forum. Mine is hotpots being from Lancashire. I hadn’t been online for a while, after all the forum had served its purpose as I am now a permanent resident of New Zealand. Remember the Gesellschaft versus Gemeinschaft discussion way back in August? Anyway my Gesellschaft days were over and I hadn’t quite moved to the Gemeinschaft mode, not on this forum.

I contacted ‘Mother Bear’ to ask the following questions:
1. Please give your own definition of a:
1.1. Moderator
1.2. Facilitator
2. When might the role of a moderator undermine the role of a facilitator?
3. When might the role of a facilitator undermine the role of a teacher or moderator?
4. What are the skills required to carry out the different roles?
5. Do you think that the forum would benefit from facilitation services?

In summary:
The focus of the response was on the role of moderation as a policing role on the forum. Monitoring the activities and ensuring that the participants maintain netiquette. The role of facilitator was defined as the owner of the forum and the person of authority. This is quite different to my perceptions of moderation and facilitation. Once these definitions had been set the other responses were predictable in that the hierarchical relationship between the owner (facilitator), moderator and the participants.

The skills required for the roles aligned with many noted in our online discussion; tact, patience, ethical behaviour and an ability to deal with difficult or sensitive situations. Mother bear said that she didn’t see the need for facilitation services on such as small forum.
It is worth noting that this (small) forum has 27,165 Threads; 326,815 Posts, and 9,660 Members!

I have uploaded the original email and response to googledocs for your information should you wish to read the full response.

I also did the same for two other forums but did not receive a reply, I was going to be all studious and triangulate the responses. The jewel in the crown was to be someone who had taken over a forum but they when I went online to post my case, the forum was down again, still not up and running yet.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Slideshow of photographs