Sunday, February 3, 2008

Facilitating Online Learning Communities: Assignment 3

As some of you know, I joined an open access course last year: Facilitating Online Learning Communities. I am now officially enrolled and am in the process of completing the four assignments.

Assignment 3: Plan how I will facilitate an online discussion.

Considerations of the group
The plan was to facilitate two synchronous sessions using Elluminate on Wednesday 21st November and Thursday 29th November 2007. The meetings were designed to interest midwives and students with a global rather than local midwifery focus. I often see brilliant midwifery meeting advertised in the UK and feel that those of us who do not live in the UK miss out. I feel especially isolated as a midwifery PhD candidate with so few midwives researching at PhD level here in New Zealand or even Australia. So my aims for the sessions were to:
  • build networks and connections, especially between midwives who are not directly involved with communities in the UK, amongst midwives, students and researchers.
  • generate interest in online synchronous midwifery meetings
  • teach midwives (and myself) about how to use Elluminate.
The topics of the meetings were designed to reach two groups. The first topic was 'New Zealand Midwifery' aiming for anyone interested in midwifery in New Zealand. This had the specific intent of informing people about how the maternity services were structured and the midwife's role. There is a lot of interest in New Zealand midwifery because we have full autonomy compared to midwives in many other countries who have limited autonomy. And a lot of English midwives are moving to New Zealand, so I saw this as a way of getting information to them.

The second meeting was aimed more specially at midwifery researchers and students: 'Midwifery Research in New Zealand'. This had less of a structure and was aimed to be more of a 'meet and greet' and share information about the research midwives are doing.

The times of the conferences were difficult to plan because of international time zones, so in an attempt to capture as big an audience as possible I planned to have the sessions at different times of the day 9am and 10pm (NZ). But both times were particularly planned to suit people in Australia and the UK because of the potential audience there, as well as the people who had already indicated an interest in attending. The plan was for the meetings to be one hour long.

I advertised the meetings in all the online midwifery communities I knew about. I invited members of the online communities course to attend for moral support and to give me technical help if I needed it. I also asked Carolyn to be co-facilitator to help me keep an eye on comments, especially when I was speaking.

I had no idea how many people to expect but it could not be any more than 50 because of the restrictions of Elluminate. I was hoping for about 15-20 people - enough to generate some useful conversation but not too many to have to 'handle' from a technological point of view.

Reasons for selecting Elluminate
  • I wanted to gain experience in using Elluminate as I plan to use it more in my teaching
  • Wanted to 'broadcast' the word about the potential of Elluminate for networking to midwives
  • Synchronous communication feels a little more personal than asynchronous emails
  • I have 'free' access to the Elluminate software through Otago Polytechnic
  • Experiment to see how much interest there would be (and how it would work technologically) in a future series of meetings to be held in 2008.
As far as I know, similar approaches are used at various institutions to teach midwifery education. But apart from the MIDIRS Webinar sessions there are no regular open synchronous meetings being held for midwives, so this was very much an experiment in using Elluminate and developing an online learning/support community.

Strategies to be employed

I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible (technology and subject for discussion) so that I could facilitate effectively and the midwives would enjoy the session and become enthusiastic about doing this again and building a synchronous community. The same format was used both the sessions.

Explanation of the technology:
  • How to use the microphone
  • How to set microphone and speaker levels
  • How to indicate when you want to speak
  • How to use the instant messaging
  • How to leave the meeting
Ice breaker/Introduction round:
  • Who are you?
  • Where do you came from?
  • what is your job?
  • What do you hope to gain from this session?
Midwives are very used to this format of a 'round' before the session gets going so I see no need to use a complicated ice breaker.

10 Minute Lecture: In the first meeting I planned to give a talk about New Zealand midwifery for 10 minutes using a PowerPoint presentation. This is modeled on the '10 minute lecture' series that is used in this course. Carolyn was going to keep an eye on the synchronous chat and answer any questions that came up on the instant messaging element of Elluminate. I planned to be connected to Skype at the same time in case people could not get through to me via Elluminate and would use Carolyn to help solve any technological problems that may crop up. This was especially important because we had had an experience of technological melt down in a previous meeting, so it was important to have back up in case the Elluminate program did not work properly.

In the second session I planned to give a talk about research that is being carried out in New Zealand. Carolyn was unable to attend so I was going to be by myself.

Wrap up after one hour or before if conversation drys up.
  • Summary of main points of discussion
  • How did you feel about this session using Elluminate?
  • How do you feel we can progress from here?
  • How did you feel about my role as a facilitator?
  • Thank you for support

I was not really concerned about getting feedback about my talks as such, but was more interested to hear how people felt about the use of the technology as a tool for building a synchronous midwifery network. I was also interested to get feedback on my role as facilitator as I had never facilitated in this environment before.

I saw my role very clearly as a facilitator rather than teacher. So I did not feel able to develop concrete questions to ask because I wanted to 'allow' people to go where ever they wanted with the conversation. So I was prepared to ask spontaneous 'how', ' what' and 'where' questions to generate discussion and keeps things on a midwifery track in case they wondered off. Knowing how midwives like to talk, I did not see that that would be a problem!

Information about use of technology

Information about using Elluminate and how to contact me was posted along with the invitations to join the meeting. I was very concerned that the main barrier to people was the use of Elluminate so I gave out my Skype contact details in order to encourage people to contact me if they having problems. I also posted a number of links to information on how to use the technology.

Image: 'flickr contacts - March 28, 2005 {notes}' hobvias sudoneigh


Claire Thompson said...

So, how did the sessions go?

I started using Elluminate in September for my grade 8 - 10 math and science students. My school is a distributed learning school and students are working asynchronously.

The Elluminate sessions allow me to connect with the kids and for them to connect with each other. Because they are all at different points in their courses, I do a brief mini lesson, and then it becomes a discussion where we go over any questions they may have. I record the sessions and post them on the school website for students to refer back to and for students who couldn't attend. You can go here to see some past sessions. I'm still learning, and I don't always think very well on my feet, but for what it's worth you can take a look.

I also use Elluminate to tutor my students. This is especially helpful in math, where it is harder to discuss a question over the phone. We get on Elluminate and use the interactive whiteboard. The students who've bought in really love it.

I'd really like to hear how your explorations in Elluminate go. Best of luck!

Sarah Stewart said...

My experience of Elluminate per se was great. I certainly like using it and love its functionality. But the sessions didn't really get off the ground-see my next post, Clare, for reflection on that.