Taking Otago Polytechnic’s Designing for Flexible Learning Practice course before Facilitating Online Communities has definitely been a huge advantage to me in that I was already aware and partially competent in the use of many of the web-based technologies that we have used in the course.  This has freed me up to concentrate on content rather than technicalities, and I am aware that the need to develop competency in the use of these technologies has been a barrier to some of my classmates which to their credit they have overcome.  The observation of this has really reinforced my belief in the need for computer pre-requisite skills for online courses or at least significant computer support built into online courses.

In the early stages I was quite actively involved in following the structure of the course as defined by Blackboard and the course blog.  My experience of this was somewhat frustrating.  I initially wasn’t able to login to Blackboard due to password/user-name problems.  Once I finally got involved, I found some of the exercises and readings to be quite interesting and others to be seemingly less relevant and overly theoretical.  I did like the idea of marking the focus of activities as being individual, group, or class. 

Bronwyn & Leigh – Do you know if we can use the images that are used for this within the Blackboard shell?

I really enjoyed Geert Hofstede’s article on Cultural Differences in Teaching and Learning.  I was keen to try out communicating through the Blackboard discussion forums, but actually found this to be fairly awkward.  Also there was a fairly low level of participation in the forums which meant that our learning projects made little process which was frustrating, and in the end I gave up on this aspect of the course.

By this stage the group had mostly decided to move the focus of the course outside of Blackboard anyway.  So we moved on to a series of guest lectures, which have been generally fairly thought provoking.

Some participants have expressed some concern and dissatisfaction with the seemingly unstructured nature of the course from this point forwards.  Personally I came into the course with few expectations, and have been happy to ride the wave of learning experiences.  I think that most of my learning has actually come from engaging with the technology, communicating with other participants, and observing other people doing the same rather than the course content.  It’s been somewhat useful to be introduced to different speakers, ideas and theories, but I think that most of my learning has come through the discussion & observation of the discussion that has wrapped these experiences.
                  

Has a community of learners developed in this course?

The course google group was the first place where group communication really happened on a regular basis, and I think that this communication channel has probably been an contributor to the development of community, however…

I first noticed that I was getting a sense of a community through blogging.  From the start of the course I been browsing everyone’s postings through my bloglines RSS reader, and after about 5-6 weeks of doing this I felt that I was really getting a sense of the other participants although there was still only a little cross-posting happening at this stage.  Interestingly enough I commented on this on my blog and in the group email forum and feedback from other participants was that most people did not have this same experience of a community.  I’m interested to know how many course participants now have the experience of being part of a learning community.

 

Have we developed a community of learnersPersonally I’ve really enjoyed the experience of blogging in this community of learners.  It’s been great putting my ideas out there and (lately) getting fairly instantaneous responses from other people in the course giving their perspective on my thoughts.  I think the reason that I’ve found blogging to be more effective than email communication in creating a sense of relationship with other learners is that blog postings are typically more considered than emails.  They take you deeper into the thought processes of other people, and you get more of a sense of who they are and where they’re coming from.

The elluminate sessions and skype channel have also been fantastic communication options.  It’s been good to have some synchronous options.  With the 10 minute elluminate lecture series we’ve all had the opportunity to meet around a shared conversational topic and to discuss in realtime the issues that were important to us.  Skype’s also been a great way of communicating with other participants and getting a response fairly instantaneously – generally I’ve found that we’ve used it to discuss issues that we’re thinking about, or having trouble with.

So I guess that each of the communication channels that we’ve used have had their benefits.  They’ve each allowed us to communicate in a slightly different form, and I believe that all of them have been useful in community development.

Lately I’ve been guilty of following my own interests to large degree, and have treated the course offerings as food for thought and stimulation of my own processes rather than basing my learning around them.  On reflection, perhaps this is a good thing.  I guess that in a real-world learning community people will follow their own interests, and their motivation for being involved in the community will presumably to be inspiration, motivation, reflection and food for thought.

I think I’ve noticed that as the group matures (& becomes more of a community?) other participants are also focusing on the issues that are important to them, and I believe that our communications have more depth as a result.

There has been controversy, and at times it’s seemed to be potentially divisive, but to the credit of the course facilitators any controversy and criticism has not been taken personally, and the conflict seems to have strengthened the community if anything.

So in response to my initial question.  I believe a community has developed, and is getting stronger by the week.  Although I probably won’t choose to facilitate any of my online teaching in such an unstructured manner, I actually believe that it’s been a valuable learning experience for us.  It’s been useful to experience & observe others struggling with technology and reflect on the implications of this to my teaching.  Being relatively unguided has presented us with the opportunity to follow our own interests, and to try to find our own meaning.  Perhaps this has actually helped to stimulate the creation of community & relationship?  It has certainly provided plenty of scope for discussion of many issues relevant to facilitating online.

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