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 :)
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