Week 1 Readings and Resources

Site: SCoPE - BCcampus Learning + Teaching
Group: Facilitating Learning Online - FEB2015-OER
Book: Week 1 Readings and Resources
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Date: Sunday, 19 May 2024, 7:03 AM


Week 1 Readings and Resources  (Building Community)

Community Building

To know someone here or there with whom you can feel there is understanding, in spite of distances or thoughts expressed, can make of this earth a garden. ~ Goethe

Developing a supportive and connected online 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 online 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 online instructor you might be the "stranger" who needs to get to know your learners.

Jen Walinga (0:34)

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 online 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 online 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 online learning environment depends on the use of instructional strategies that support this shift in roles.

This shift in roles is very important when team-based learning in integrated into the online environment. Learning teams may look to faculty for their leadership initially and expect in-depth involvement in discussions and activities. The focus, however, should remain on the learners. With the best of intentions, we as faculty run the risk of interfering with group development when we participate too much in the group dialogue and discussion. The opportunity and challenge for the online facilitator is to find a balance between providing too much and too little support. The wisdom of the Tao Te Ching can be aptly applied in the online learning environment:

The teacher guides his students best, by allowing them to lead. ~ Lao Tzu, Chapter 66

Jen Walinga (1:11)

Read and View


Time challenged? Read the first two on the list. 

  • Schwier, Richard A. (2002). Shaping the Metaphor of Community in Online Learning Environments (pdf). University of Saskatchewan, Paper presented to the International Symposium on Educational Conferencing. The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, June 1, 2002. 8 pages.
    Note: This fairly short paper discusses the elements of community and suggests implications for online learning communities. It is a fast, enjoyable read that, while pointing to challenges, also suggests ways to meet them.

  • RRU - CTET. (2008, Fall). Facilitating Online Learning (PDF) Tools for Teaching (T4T) Tipsheet, 1(2), 1-2.
    Note: This is a quick read and a must for for online facilitators!

  • Vesely, Pam, Bloom, Lisa, & Sherlock, John. (2007). Key Elements of Building Online Community: Comparing Faculty and Student Perceptions. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 3(3), 234-246.

  • Cowley, J., Chanley, S., Downes, S., Holstrom, L., Ressel, D., Siemens, G., & Weisburgh, M. (2002, October 21). Online Facilitation pdf, elearnspace
    Note: This post briefly discusses 'Facilitation', from what it means to roles and responsibilities.


And just for fun....

Presence and Learning

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. 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 the four weeks, you will find tips and strategies to establish and maintain presence without being overbearing or stifling learner initiative.

Doug Hamilton (1:03)

Developing a Learning Community

Often there is a place, such as a Café forum, set aside for social interactions. This is an area where learners can share their lives a bit, and have discussions that are not related to the course curriculum. It serves as a place for conversations that might occur outside of the classroom.

Social activities are best framed as optional so that learners feel they can choose to what extent they want to be involved in extra-curricular socializing. Examples of connecting activities include:

  • A thread (or Flickr space) set up to share photos from people's home, work, family, and special events.
  • Threads for learners to talk about what they are going to do on holiday break, after the course is done, etc.
  • An exchange of links to personal blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages.

A course forum for questions and answers (Q&A) can be useful as a place to ask questions and get clarification. Learners often answer each other’s questions before the instructor has time to respond. This helps your learners begin to develop skills that will transfer to other online learning - both formal and informal.

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.

Doug Hamilton (:47)

Paramount to creating a learning community is creating a sense of safety. As a facilitator, the tenor of all your postings should model the kind of respectful, constructive communications you want to foster between learners. Be appreciative and acknowledging of the group's efforts and contributions. Be judicious about singling people out and never berate or criticize an individual or group publicly. In Unit Three, we will be looking more deeply into the issue of group dynamics in an online environment.

A Facilitation Tip

Before you begin a weekly unit, preview the required learning activities, including online discussions, to look for opportunities to enrich or enhance the unit's materials. Think about how you will “add value” to the participants' learning process. Adding value might be accomplished through the suggestion of a timely resource to read, a “practical tip”, or a personal story that helps illustrate a key point.

About 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). It provides direction for the design of instructional activities and clearly communicates to learners the end-product of the learning experience. A learning outcome is also learner-focused. It places emphasis on what learners will obtain in the learning process, not on what the instructor is attempting to do in the course or unit.

The following is a passage written by Palloff and Pratt (2001):

In a collaborative learning environment, learning and learning outcomes are much more than the simple acquisition of knowledge. The co-creation of meaning and knowledge that can occur in the collaborative online classroom can serve to create a level of reflection that results in what is called transformative learning. In transformative learning, students are able to begin to reflect on the following question: How am I growing and changing as a learner and as a person through my involvement in this course? If the course has been designed to incorporate and invite real life experience into the classroom, students can begin to explore the material being studied not just from an academic standpoint but through the personal meaning they derive from it. As facilitators of the online classroom process, instructors can encourage students to engage in this level of reflection by creating assignments and asking questions that allow students to apply material to their work or life situations.

(Palloff and Pratt, 2001, p. 83)

Furthermore, a learning outcome establishes the basis for learner evaluation by aligning assessment criteria with specific learning outcomes. Assessment criteria are descriptive statements that enable instructors and learners to measure the achievement of specific learning outcomes. Formal and informal assessment processes provide both participants and facilitators with opportunities to evaluate if learning is aligned with pre-set learning outcomes. Often, assessment is viewed with trepidation, and even fear, rather than as part of a learning development process. 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 online environment where our learners may feel increased isolation and concern.

Jen Walinga (1:21)

You made find it helpful to reflect on the following questions as you prepare to teach your online 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?

Effective Questioning Strategies

Asking questions — either in discussion forums or as a feedback technique in reviewing a learner’s paper or assignment — can help learners clarify their thinking, shift perspectives, go to a deeper level of analysis, and reflect on their learning. When learners get stuck, effective facilitators can use questions to enhance learning. By posing convergent or divergent, open or closed, high or low level and structured or unstructured questions they enhance learners’ knowledge and comprehension.

Asking good questions helps to ensure that learners assume and maintain responsibility for their own learning and reinforces the instructor’s role in guiding, not directing, the individual’s learning.

Doug Hamilton (0:40)

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 online 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, organized or 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)

Providing ongoing feedback is one strategy for coaching learners. Rather than saying what is wrong or deficient, facilitators provide specific advice that is relevant and respectful on how learners can improve their work.

Gathering formative feedback from learners while the course is running (through check-ins and informal surveys) is often the most important means of ascertaining how the strategies you’re using to establish and maintain presence are actually impacting the learners in the course and allows you to make mid-course adjustments.

Furthermore, as you’ll note from your mini-sessions, you've been introduced to the FLIF model of providing feedback. Before teaching your next online course, it may be helpful for you to determine what kind of feedback model you would like to test out with your learners.