Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Organizing chaos

My other little job at the moment is facilitating an online course “Facilitating Online”. Leigh Blackall is the teacher – he has put the course together and is marking all the assignments. I am facilitating, which means I am responsible for the every day running of the course, keeping a track of the formal students and ensuring that everyone has access to the course materials.

Open access learning
The course itself is made up of about 35 people – half are formally enrolled students doing the course for a qualification, and the other half are informal students doing the course for free and for the fun of learning. This is my first experience of this sort of facilitation. Up to now, I have been the ‘teacher’ in very structured online courses that have had no informal students.

This is also my first experience of blogs as learning/reflection tools from the point of view of the facilitator as opposed to the student. So there’s lots of learning going on in this course, for myself as well as the students.

Chaos is good
We are only into our third week but what is fascinating me at the moment is how students are organizing themselves in terms of how they will communicate to support each other and share resources. As a student in courses such as this, I have found that it takes me a few weeks to work out what best suits me as a communication tool and who I like to work with.

The students of this course are currently going though the same process. It is looking chaotic at the moment and feels quite painful – I feel like a parent to the toddler who is learning to walk and keeps falling over – I want to take the pain away. I know that the students will eventually learn how to walk but have to go through the ‘falling over’ process first. So the lesson I am learning about facilitating in this context is that it is my job to guide students and provide access to tools and resources; not to restrict them but to let them get on and organize themselves. But I find it really hard not to interfere :)

Over-whelming newbies
At the same time, I also have to be mindful of the students who are new to online courses and communication, and must ensure that they do not become overwhelmed by what is going on and the plethora of information and tools.

Formal and informal students
The other thing that I am learning is how to manage formal and informal students. The bottom line is that I am being paid to support formal students but it is very tempting to get heavily involved with the informal students because they are so enthusiastic about the course. The five hours a week that I am contracted for could easily become twice as long if I am not careful. So I have to be very disciplined about how much time I devote to supporting informal students, which at the moment I am finding hard to do.

For me personally I feel a tension between the model of free and open access education and the actual reality of delivering it. I’d be very interested to hear from people who are delivering similar models of education – how do you maintain the balance between supplying free quality education that engages students and balancing the budget?

Image: 'in the red #25' clickykbd


Claire Thompson said...

I understand your struggle with supporting formal vs informal students. On the one hand, any student you support is going to add to the discussions and enhance everyone's learning. On the other, you've got a life to live too!! I'd be interested in how things progress from your point of view and your students. Best of luck!

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks, Claire...I'll blog about it as I go. I think it's the same old chest's easy when you know how. The question much time you can devote to informal students supporting them to 'know how'. I think the trick as facilitator is to ensure they teach each other...a 'teach the teacher' type approach.

willie campbell said...

I do love the variety of images you use in your posts Sarah- alwaus my eye is drawn to these and you have hooked me in.I am also interested in your dilema- matching people is so sound.
Go well.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you, Willie for your ongoing support, now...what can I get you to facilitate for me? :)

Bronwyn hegarty said...

Sarah I just love your posts - so much so that I use several of them to show other students how to post. A comment I have had recently from a couple of audiences is "boy she must spend a lot of time online". This was in reference to your PLE diagrams. My response was not really as the PLE helps Sarah to be more efficient in how she uses her time online. Is this true or have I been speaking with a "forked tongue"? :(

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Bronwyn

Yes, to a great extent I do spend a lot of time online because, as you know, that's my job and my research.

But you are right about my time efficiency - I have had to invest a lot of time initially to find the 'right' tools and modes of communication that suit me. But now I find that these tools work really well for me for bringing me information & allowing me to pass it on. It is the way I learn & communicate with the world and is, as with everything, I get out of it what I put in :)