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After my first trial of using the blogging rubric, I’ve decided that the rubric and the process both need tweaking.

In a post I made last December, I talked about our process of assessing blogging.  I decided that we would have two submission dates.  On the first submission date, the students would submit a draft, and I would give them feedback on if they had met competetncy (based on their demonstrated knowledge of the subject area).  They would then have a chance to polish their post & I would regrade it at the second submission date.  Sounds complicated?  Well surprisingly enough it is.  It seemed like a good idea to me at the time, but after running through it once I’m going to revert to our standard approach which is allow them to submit an assessment, mark it completely, then if anyone is marked as not competent they are allowed one resubmission.  Simpler for the students.  Easier for me.  (I don’t know what I was thinking).

The other thing that needs tweaking is the actual rubric.

After using it once I’ve decided that grading of community involvement is over-weighted.  In fact, requiring this has just made a natural process into an unnatural process.  It hasn’t seemed to increase authentic community involvement at all, but rather has led to a few students incorporating references into their blogs, and making comments on others blogs which are fairly pointless apart from the gaining of marks (I know Leigh, I know).

Another problem is that the use of reflection isn’t particularly relevant to this assessment, so I’ve modified the rubric to create

Oh well, one step at a time.  We’ll get there in the end.  😉


I’m getting into the specifics of designing my assessments.  Last night I was thinking about how to structure my blogging assessment.  In my research methods class, I want to use blog posts in the early days to assess their development of knowledge and skills of research.  To do this, I want them to make four posts

  1. Describe the research process (Week 9)
  2. Describe how information from different sources may vary in quality and how to differentiate good quality information from poor quality (Week 10)
  3. (Given the choice of several topics)  Describe your search process including the creation of your search query, databases accessed, sources found and information quality (Week 12)
  4. (Given several research articles of different types)  Assess the quality of the research findings in each case (Week 13)

I think these four posts will help to scaffold them into the task of performing first a joint literature review, then an individual literature review (more on the joint literature review later).

So that’s all fine, but when considering our assessment policies I realised that for every assessment, our students have the opportunity to resit the assessment if they’re marked as not competent on the first attempt.  At first glance, I thought that this was going to create a monster, however with a bit of thinking I’ve come up with a solution which I think might work.

The plan is to give the students two submission dates, one week apart.  To meet competency, the students will need to make a post on the topic, and have that post graded at a minimum of 2 on the blogging rubric.  The marker will need to review the post of everyone in the class briefly, record key points of misunderstanding, and provide individual feedback on the blogs of students who have not met the competency requirement.  They will then create generalised feedback for the class as a whole which clarifies the main areas of understanding.

The students will then have a week before their final assessment to read the posts of other students, to develop their understanding, and update their original post if they like.  My hope is that this period of reflection will help to stimulate cross-fertilisation of ideas.  At the end of this week the blog post will be graded using the complete rubric.  This rubric has been updated based on the feedback of Whitney & Leigh – thanks guys.  Here is the updated version.

This process will be reasonably time-intensive, but I think it should be managable.  It strikes me as a teaching model much more along the lines of George Siemen’s curator.

A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don’t adhere to traditional in-class teacher-centric power structures. A curator balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. (Siemens, 2007)

Siemens talks about the role of the curator being to locate and structure an “exhibition” of learning objects or resources which the students are then free to explore.  The teacher as a guide rather than the font of all knowledge.

Carrying on from my last post, I’ve developed  a rubric for assessing the blog posts of my students.

Initially I intended that the rubric should motivate the students to

  1. Develop understanding of key subject areas
  2. Act in ways which will support the development of a learning community

However as I got into the process of nutting-out how this was going to work, I realised that it’s also important that it motivates the students to write well, reflect on their process, and develop good scholarly habits (i.e. referencing and referring to sources outside of the ones provided in class).

The rubric is a work-in-process rather than a finished product.  It contains 5 categories with a total of 20 marks.

One of the problems I’ve identified is that understanding of the subject of the blog post is perhaps not weighted heavily enough.  I think it should probably have a weighting of 2 or so, but I do like that nice round number 20 as a total, so I’d need to either merge two of the other categories or weight two of them with ½ weights.

Perhaps the second option is the best.  This would provide me with a certain degree of flexibility.  If I was using this rubric in a  course where reflection was particularly important, I could weight writing quality and scholarship with ½ weights.  If in another course scholarship and writing quality were particularly important, I could weight community involvement and reflection with ½ weights.

What do you think?

I’m getting into writing assessments for next year, and it’s clear that some aspects of our assessment model need to change. The main drivers for me are the need to increase engagement in online learning activities, workload reduction, and improving feedback.

Assess them and they will come

In my review of how things have gone this year, one of the things that’s really stood out for me is the fact that the level of participation in the learning activities that I set for my students this year was not even close to a level that I would be satisfied with. It’s clear to me that their learning has been impaired as a result (or at least their learning of the material that I wanted them to learn), and I’m pretty sure that the one thing that would have led to more participation would be more assessment.

Taming the workload beast

But we already spend too much time marking assessment! In a recent staff meeting, we talked at length about workload reduction. One thing that takes up a considerable amount of our time is marking assessment. I’m sure that I can design assessments to involve less workload for the assessor.

Anderson describes a range of methods that may act to reduce assessment-related workload for teachers (2008)

  • Automated assessment processes – ranging from formative tests (simple) to virtual labs and simulation exercises (complex)
  • Online automated tutors
  • Use of neural networks & other artificial intelligence methods
  • Peer review (of either students within a specific course, or students within a network of similar courses)
  • Student creation of open educational resources which are then assessed by lifelong learners who are using the resources (Farmer, 2005 as cited by Anderson, 2008)

Formative tests are fairly straightforward to implement. They take some time to set up, but then they’re there to use year on year. I have thought about creating a simulated clinical environment in second life, but at this point, the creation of automatically marked simulations is well out of my financial ballpark, so I’ll move on.

The next two are also a bit too high tech, and high budget.

The last two options are possible if the students of the course are a part of a learning network. (Anderson, 2008). One of my goals for the future is to develop this network, but I think it’ll take at least a couple of years of students moving through the programme before this happens to any particular degree.


Feedback is crucial to the learning process, and this is something that we can definitely improve on. Formative tests that provide feedback directly following the student’s performance provide a wonderful development opportunity for students, and I believe that this is one of the real strengths of online education. According to Shepard (2000 as cited in Caplan & Graham, 2008), and Wiggins (2004), providing detailed feedback as close as possible to the performance of the assessed behaviour enhances student learning.

We should strive to “create assessments that provide better feedback by design” (Wiggins, 2004). I was inspired last year by the way in which Montessori school activities are based on this principle. Learning activities can be designed to provide feedback to students in the absence of the teacher. This can be facilitated through instructional design (Wiggins, 2004), or through social networks (Anderson, 2008). In my experience when courses I’ve been engaged with have required blogging, a community of learners has developed, where the learners have begun to support each other in their learning.

3 phase assessment process

After considering all of this, I’ve come up with a three phase assessment process that I think would be fairly ideal for most of our online courses. Phase 1 and 2 here test different grades of knowledge (simple/moderate complexity) & overlap in temporal space.

  1. Automated formative testing to test knowledge of discrete chunks of knowledge.
    Facilitator’s role: establish test, monitor results
  2. Reflective blogging on key concepts in the first ½ of the course. Students required to post on each topic, rewarded for commenting, updating the work they’ve done based on future learning, and referencing.
    Facilitator’s role: Monitor class activity, encourage engagement, Provide generalised feedback
  3. Final theoretical assessment which integrates learning.
    Facilitator’s role: Mark assessment, provide feedback & opportunity for resubmission

Students are therefore rewarded for acting as good community members, are given feedback on their developing understanding & are assessed for their integration of knowledge.

The one slight issue with this model is that if anything, I can see myself doing more assessing in this than I was doing previously. However the formative assessment that I’ll do in the early stages of the courses will be integrated with my teaching, so in effect I believe I could save time with this approach.

What do you think? Can you see any big holes in my thinking here?


Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a theory of online learning. In T. Anderson (Eds.). The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., p. 45-74). Canada: AU Press, Athabasca University.

Caplan, D., Graham, R. (2008). The development of online courses. In T. Anderson (Eds.), The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., p. 245-264). Canada: AU Press, Athabasca University.

Wiggins, G. (2004). Assessment as feedback. Retrieved December 11, 2008 from

Those who follow this blog will know that I’m big on providing students with scaffolding for the academic and computer literacy requirements of their educational programmes.  I’ve been thinking more about this recently, and have come up with the following vision of where I’d like to move towards.  I’m not sure if it’s achieveable because it relies on some other parties within the polytechnic making changes to the way they do things, but I’m just putting it out there.


Either during the first week of course or ideally before this I’d like our students to be assessed for their computer literacy level and academic skills.  The community learning centres are the logical party to perform the computer literacy assessment, and the learning centre would be the logical party to implement the academic assessment.  In my ideal world, I’d like the learning centre to be completely integrated with the community learning centres (and possibly foundation studies) so that our academic and computer support services were distributed throughout Otago.

Developing academic skills & computer literacy

There are a range of ways in which students can develop academic skills and computer literacy.  Our students are currently able to access to online self-directed learning modules, learning centre support for academic skills (both workshops & tutoring), and the support of staff in the community learning centres in their academic development.

I’d like to see more flexibility in the computer support offered by the community learning centres.  My understanding of the current learning model is that it’s based on workbooks which the student works through one step at a time.  The workbooks are fairly comprehensive, and it’s fine for courses which can afford the time that it takes for their students to work through the books, but the credit value of the courses is unfortunately not able to be reasonably incorporated within our programmes.  Could the supports be made more generic and modular so that they were able to support the students in the tasks associated with their course of study rather than directing them to work through exercises whose point is only the development of computer literacy?  This would alleviate the problem to a large degree.  It would also be handy if the CLCs had their learning resources online, offered online support to enrolled students, and supported commonly used online services such as Google documents.  (I don’t ask for much do I?)

Support for the development of literacy

Ideally, students should be assigned a peer-tutor (2nd year?) to support them in their academic study skill development.  This would be organised through the learning centre.

I’ve been thinking about computer-support of students, and the most effective way that I can think of providing this support is to organise a pool of peer-tutors which draws from all programmes involved in elearning.  This pool of tutors would have a centralised communcation channel (probably a google group).  Any students needing help would post to the group, and hopefully receive a fairly rapid response (this is after all what you need when you have a computer-related issue).  Because computer-support needs will peak and trough from programme to programme, this distributed support should act to smooth the peaks and troughs of demand.

Baseline competency

Every programme has a (usually implicit) level of baseline academic study skills and often computer literacy which is required to engage with and be successful in the programme.  It may be advisable to reassess the students at the completion of the study skills programme to determine if they have reached this minimum level.  This may be done through the CLCs and the learning centre again, or evidence may be provided through the use of e-portfolios.  If they haven’t, then clearly the student would need further support.

Integration of academic and computer-related study skill

There’s some fairly good evidence showing that study skills programmes are not particularly effective unless they’re integrated with the main course of study (Wingate, 2006).  So academic staff throughout the programme should make efforts to encourage the use of these study skills.  One way of doing this is to initially remind students on a weekly basis of the study skills techniques that they could be utilising, then to gradually reduce the frequency of these reminders as the skills (hopefully) become second nature.

How would this work for your programme?


Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with ‘study skills’. Teaching in Higher Education, 11, 457-469.

Research Aims

The research project has a number of related aims.

1. To review on an ongoing basis the experience (satisfaction vs. dissatisfaction) and achievement of students in the blended programme

2. To implement changes to improve student experience and achievement.

3.Is blended learning effective in massage education?



In recent years an increasing number of educational institutions have begun to offer their courses by online or blended delivery. Massage educators have been slow to adopt these contemporary approaches to learning, but there are now a number of educational institutions offering massage therapy education either purely online or with a blended style of delivery (Remedial massage, 2008; How can you, 2008). Within New Zealand a number of educational institutions are considering the exploration of educational options within this area (J. Morgan, personal communication June 14, 2008; B. Bernie, personal communication June 14, 2008; H. Lofthouse, personal communication June 29, 2008; T. Rodgers, personal communication June 14, 2008). Many massage education providers consider online and/or blended delivery education for massage therapy to be inferior to traditional class-room-based delivery models (P. Charlton, personal communication June 14, 2008; T. Rodgers, personal communication June 14,2008; A. Palmer, personal communication June 14, 2008).

The online environment is rapidly changing, and a course which aims to utilise the richness of contemporary online applications may often be involved in the use of a technology in a way which has not been documented previously. An experimental educational delivery style is therefore called for, where the teachers involved in online education trial the use of an online application with a group of students in a particular way, then assess how effective this educational experience has been. The integrated group of technologies which are used to deliver the course is described here as the online learning environment.

The Otago Polytechnic massage therapy programme has recently undergone the transition from a purely face-to-face delivery style to a blended delivery style. The programme’s delivery style is making use of contemporary online applications such as wikis, blogs, collaborative document editing, voice-over-internet-protocols (such as MSN messenger and skype). This is new ground for massage therapy education, and in many ways for education in general. The department feels that there is a need to monitor the student’s experience and achievement in this new context and to make changes to improve that experience over time.

Literature review

I’ve been having a good time with Survey Monkey – Thanks Leigh. 🙂
Monkey picture comes courtesy of S.A.M. Licensed under CC-BY.

Survey Monkey

I just set up my online experience survey on the web this morning, and am already getting the kind of information I need. The questions are

  1. Which of the learning modules have you started and which have you completed?
    The Study Skills course (which is what I’m assessing at present) is composed of a series of learning modules which have been built on the WikiEducator platform (still a work in progress) .
  2. How would you rate the difficulty of your online learning experience so far?
  3. What if anything are you finding difficult about studying online?
  4. What if anything are you finding enjoyable about studying online?

I’ve just checked in & 10 students have replied. 10/23 – I’m almost happy to treat that as a representative sample. I’m very happy with the class progress so far, and the quality of the information.

It’s funny – I’ve had the impression that much of the class was struggling, and I see now that it’s only because most of the class have been able to get on with it without needing to talk with me much. There is always a risk that the students who are less familiar with computer use will be lagging the others getting to the survey, I might need to touch base with them over the next couple of days to check.

I’m hoping to use this type of surveying as a type of action research, but I’ll need to go through the ethical approval process before embarking on it.

For now, it’s functional. I’m planning to run through an Introduction to Sustainability module soon. Before they get to the module they must be able to search effectively for information on the internet, and to communicate effectively online (as each group will include a distance student). Luckily it looks like most of them are already there. 🙂

This is the first of what I hope will be many progress report logs.

We had the first practical block from Friday 22 – Monday 25 Feb. The students mostly seem to be pretty happy. There are several people within the class who are finding the idea of using computers fairly daunting. But they’re willing to give it a go, so I’ve been spending a bit of time reassuring them and pointing out the support options which are available to them (i.e. me, CLCs, Helpdesk, Open Access Suite).  It’s not helping that almost all students have had problems with their initial passwords not working, but we’re working through that.

We have 23 students enrolled.  Of these 5 are part-time and 4 live outside of Dunedin.  One of our students was planning to be full-time, but has had to move to Auckland at the last minute, and so is planning to study Bioscience 1 & 2 this year (which he can do by distance), then to come back next year or the year after & pick up the rest.

The online programme started on Tuesday. We’ve decided to only have Study Skills online in between Block 1 & Block 2 to give the students some time to get comfortable with communicating in the online environment.  I’ve been communicating purely via email so far, and today have started nudging the students into the use of Windows Live Spaces & messenger.

The students have a wikipage which contains all of the learning modules which make up the course. It’s a work in progress, but it’s not far away from being completed.  I’ve been working late most nights trying to pull it together – I’m just trying to keep a few steps ahead of the students. 🙂

The other resource which they have to guide their learning is their assessment. For the study skills course, the students have ten assessment tasks to complete. Click here to see the assessment overview.  Each assessment task has learning modules that support it. The students have been told that most of the learning modules are optional.  If they can complete the assessment without running through the learning modules, then I’m happy for them to do this.

We’re now three days into the programme.  Yesterday I did an audit of our email group, and found that four students were not receiving the emails that they should be, so I’ve added them in. Through marking the first assessment task I’ve picked up that 6 of the students are not participating as yet.  Some of those will be composed of the 4 that were not in the email group, but there are some others as well. So first thing tomorrow I’m going to ring them all, and find out what’s going on.

I’ve also realised that I need a regular feedback process to determine how the students are progressing through the programme, how they are feeling about the programme, and what problems they’re experiencing (if any).  It’s hard to get a sense of these things from where I’m sitting right now, but they’re so important in these early stages.  So I’ve drafted a survey up & am running it by our local expert before sending it out to the students.

So I’m mostly happy with how things are going.  I am a little concerned that so many students have not managed to participate at all, but I’m fairly sure that we should be able to work through whatever issues are there.  I’m also a little worried that some of the more competent computer users may be getting a bit bored, however the self-paced nature of most of the activities should suit them.  It’s definitely a learning curve.  🙂

We had our Elluminate-based session yesterday. Unfortunately I forgot to record the session. I think I should be able to adequately describe the session nonetheless.

The session was roughly composed of and can be considered in three phases – Access, Experience & Discussion.


Phase One – Access

Most of the problems with the session were computer-related (surprise).
Fifteen minutes from the session start time, I discovered that Irene didn’t have a headset. We managed to source one, and logged into the computer at the computer suite that I had booked for the purpose. Unfortunately the computer within this suite was blocked from accessing Elluminate. With five minutes to go, I returned to my office and managed to log in one minute before we were due to start. Irene now needed to install the java application to her computer, and log in to Elluminate. While walking through the audio-set up she discovered that she was unable to turn up the volume slider when trying to listen. As all of this was going on, Karole was having trouble with her mike. We had discovered previously that Irene’s headset didn’t have a mike, so here I was about to start on an Elluminate session (now 10 minutes late), and only 1 out of my three participants actually had a mike. One also couldn’t hear anything through her headset, but luckily enough was sitting next to me. Lucky for me I’m a bit of a stress management expert – BREATHE. 😉

On the upside, three out of three people were able to log into the session.


I tried to ensure easy access to the Elluminate session for the participants (through directing them to the auto-setup wizards on the Elluminate site, and instructing them to allow time for downloading software) and although there were still problems with access, most of these were due to me trying to use a computer that I hadn’t used/tested previously for this purpose (pretty silly in retrospect). In the future I’ll endeavour to pre-test any computer and or network that I intend to use for educational purposes.

I think that I managed the needs of the participants pretty well. I’m happy that external participants had no major problems connecting with the session, as I believe that minimising technology-related issues is of prime importance in online education (Pillay, Irving, Tones, 2007). I was able to direct the participants who were already logged in to play around with the interface while I helped Irene get logged in.

I didn’t get stressed by the situation, and so was able to be calm & collected in communication with my students.

Phase 2 – Experience Technology

Once we were in the session, the participants were able to use messaging, and Ash (with the sole microphone) got the hang of talking fairly quickly. I demonstrated the use of power point in Elluminate, but unfortunately there was a lack of participation when I asked for people’s impressions of the proposed delivery model. I wanted the participants to type text-related impressions onto the screen, and then to use these as a basis for discussion but I didn’t get anything much to work with, so I moved on.

As we moved out of Elluminate into WikiEducator, blogs, and finally Pageflakes I used the hands up tool to determine if people could see on their screen what they needed for each stage of the directed exercise, and this was very successful. At each stage I was describing how each of these platforms would be used in the course. In the blog stage of the exercise, participants were supposed to login to their course blog, then copy & paste material from their WikiEd course page to their blog.

Unfortunately only one out of the three participants had managed to read their email prior to the session & set themselves up with a google account. As a result only one person was able to log into their blog & make their post. I made the most out of this by talking everyone through the process, and to finish off, we moved to look at the pageflakes-based course hub. The post that I had just made through my blog showed up, but it was at this stage that I found out the post made by the other participant had not been made correctly, as it didn’t show up (both here & on the course blog).


The lack of participation in the group discussion was disappointing despite my use of open-ended questions, and encouragement of open discussion (Dobson, 2006). I am really interested to know what my staffs impressions are of this “brave new world”. I can interpret this in two contradictory ways

  1. When I asked for discussion, they were struggling with figuring out the communication interface, and this was distracting them from actually engaging with what I wanted to talk about (McQuillan, 2007b).
  2. They’re happy with what I’m proposing, and trust me enough to jump in & make the best of the experience

It was also disappointing that the blog-posting exercise wasn’t particularly successful. In retrospect perhaps I could have been more directive with my instructions on how to go about setting up a google account, or perhaps we could have spent some time at the start of the session. The participants are all very busy people, and probably saw this as just another thing to do. If I had either made it easier for them (being more directive), or embedded the process within the session this might have been more successful.

I’m surprised that there was a problem with the blog posting because I thought that the process was fairly simple. I did give step-by-step instructions but perhaps my familiarity with blogging has led me to see this process as easier and less complex than it actually is? I guess the main thing that I can take away from this is that engaging with computer applications will probably be more difficult than I expect it to be for a considerable proportion of the group that I am involved in facilitating. I probably need to drop my expectations of participants in terms of how self-directed they are able to be (given that self-effiacy is a pre-requisite of self-directed learning (Connor, 2004)).

However with those negatives in mind, it seems that the participants did get a sense of how the software applications will fit together in the delivery process, and were not overwhelmed with the prospect of gaining familiarity with these platforms. As these were the main objectives of the session, I still rate this section of the session a success.

Phase 3 – Discussion & Playtime

After the guided session we had some time to discuss what we’d just done, and how people felt about using these technologies next year. No-one seemed completely freaked out by what I was proposing which was a good sign, although there were requests for regular training/meetings based on working with the technology (already planned).

We spent some time after this just playing with the interface, and I have to say that the participants seemed to learn much more from this than the guided experience that I had designed for them previously.


While participants seemed to develop skills in using the messaging window & in communication using the talk button, they seemed to learn quite a bit more and gain more confidence from the unstructured playtime in the Elluminate environment at the end of the session. This really adds more weight to Derek Chirnside’s suggestion to “practice & play with the tools before you use them” (McQuillan, 2007a), and it’s something I will definitely give more time to in the future.

Overall Reflection

Ithink that the balance of directed activities and facilitation worked fairly well in the session given the time constraints and learning outcomes. In terms of Salmon’s 5-stage model (2004), I think that the group was best characterised by the first level (Access & motivation), and to some degree the second (Online socialisation). Accordingly my aims were to provide access and an introduction to the technological platforms, and then to discuss any issues that arose. The model seemed to be appropriate in this case, and I will use it again.


The reflections in this process have been informed by Bronwyn Hegarty’s three step reflective framework (2005), although the descriptions of reflection above do not follow the structure of the model.


Connor, C. (2004). Developing self-directed learners. Oregan, USA: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved on November 11, 2007 from

The citizen’s handbook – a guide to building community

Hegarty Reflective Framework and Template. Retrieved on 20 November, 2007 from

Managing technology glitches in online education

Time, familiarity and socialisation.

Pillay, H., Irving, K., & Tones, M. (2007). Validation of the diagnostic tool for assessing Tertiary students’ readiness for online learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 26:2, 217 – 234

Salmon, G. (2004). The 5-stage model. Retrieved on 18 November, 2007 from

What skills are required for the maintenance of a successful online learning community? After a review of my experience so far, I have come up with a list of five skills that I believe are important.

  1. Ensuring a shared vision
  2. Removing barriers to participation
  3. Encouraging participation
  4. Facilitating social interaction
  5. Sensitivity to group dynamics


Ensuring there is a shared vision

In a dynamic community, the members of the group will continually change over time as some members leave and others join. The vision of the community, it’s objectives and expectations of both the group as a whole and individuals within that group should be revisited regularly to ensure that they remain coherent with the vision of the community’s participants (

In the educational context the vision and objections are defined to some degree by the course learning outcomes, but within this structure there is still room for individual interpretation. It’s advisable to take time to ensure that the expectations of staff and students remain coherent.

According to )

“healthy communities are self-managing and self-governing. Members have a sense of ownership.”

How do we encourage ownership of the community?

Two ways in which a sense of ownership may be promoted are through encouraging involvement in the process of vision and expectation setting and through encouraging participation in group processes.

Removing barriers to participation

In the online environment, one of the greatest barriers to participation is a lack of computer literacy. This is often more of a psychological barrier than a technical barrier, but nonetheless can have a dramatic effect on the perceived ability (or efficacy) of participants to engage with the online environment.

“One’s personal sense of efficacy is the strongest attitudinal predictor of participation. The more people feel like they can make a difference in solving problems, the more likely they are to be involved in community activities and issues.” (Simons, 2006)

The online facilitator should have some familiarity and competence in the use of a range of communication technologies. This is important so that the facilitator can make informed choices regarding the optimal mix of communication channels (number of communication channels, synchronous vs. asynchronous, text-based vs. voice-based, etc.) and so that the facilitator can provide troubleshooting support to the participants.

Participants should be supported to develop their own technical competency & computer self-effiacy. Facilitators can support this need of participants by ensuring that they provide adequate instructions (McQuillan, 2007b) to new participants, and that they allow time and space for participants to explore any new communication technologies before they are expected to be used for community-related tasks. It has been observed that when a new communication interface is used, most of the attention of new users is absorbed into gaining familiarity with that interface until the user becomes competent. Quality interaction generally occurs after this initial period. (McQuillan, 2007d)

Another way in which participant’s computer literacy and self-effiacy can be developed is through the use of computer literacy programmes (McQuillan, 2007a) that can be independent of or integrated with community activities.

Encouraging participation

) says that one sign of a healthy online community is

“really active and consistent participation within the community. Community members … start to moderate themselves. It isn’t just the (facilitator) that handles…issues…. members… answer questions.”

As participants in online communities become more familiar with the communication technology and the community, they tend to participate more. If an online facilitator understands the stages which people move through when participating in online communities they will be better prepared to encourage them towards greater participation.

Derek Wenmoth (2006) describes a four stage level of participation model which illustrates the different stages participants move through when becoming involved in an online community. Derek’s model seems to best describe a participant that chooses to be involved in an online community out of interest rather than a student who is involved in the community because it is required by their course, however most of the ideas are probably still relevant.


Gilly Salmon’s 5-stage model (2004) provides a practical guide for facilitators, and concentrates on the technical support that is required, and the types of facilitation behaviour which are optimal at each stage of group development.

This model provides a guide to how a facilitator may encourage people to move towards greater participation at different stages of group development, but there are also facilitation techniques that may be applied at any stage for this purpose. Dobson (2006) describes some of these

  • Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak

  • Encourage open discussion
  • Draw people out with open-ended questions
  • Inject humor
  • Paraphrasing & Clarifying

Recognising the contributions of participants should also encourage participation. Both contributions towards the course learning outcomes, and community-focussed contributions should be recognised.

My conversations with online educators have indicated that a common strategy is to make participation a course requirement. This definitely seems to encourage activity, but does this directed rather than self-directed activity foster community & participation?

Some commentators argue that it is important for a community organizer or facilitator to view their role as being a member of the community rather than as an owner or director of the community (; Glogowski, 2007b; Blackall, 2007). The idea is that if someone is taking the role of the teacher, expert, or director of the group, then the participants are encouraged to be passively involved. If the facilitator is rather a participant in the community, the space is provided for others to take ownership of the community, and be more actively involved. Assuming the role of teacher or expert may be a barrier to the creation of an authentic learning community.

Glogowski (2007b) talks of “losing the teacherly voice”, however he says that this “is not the equivalent of losing the voice of an expert”.

“I cannot pretend that I (am not an expert in the topic). In fact, I probably shouldn’t because they are in my class to learn from me, and they expect me to be their guide and introduce them to the topic.” (Glogowski, 2007b)

“the challenge is that when I try to divest myself of my teacherly voice. I need to remember that this process is not about losing the voice of the expert but about losing the voice of the traditional authoritarian teacher who enters the classroom as an official persona armed with a pre-defined set of goals and very specific lesson plans for his students to follow. It is about giving the students the freedom to engage with ideas that they find relevant and interesting, not about dictating every step of their learning process.” (Glogowski, 2007b)

Facilitating social interaction

One of the ways in which an online facilitator my initially help to facilitate social interaction is through the design and establishment of the communication channels which are used by the online community, however once these channels are established there are many other ways in which the online facilitator can be involved in social interactions.

Glogowski (2007a) believes that one of the most important aims of the online facilitator is to “promote all activity, make it visible & easy to access”. By this he alludes to the fact that in the online environment sometimes valuable contributions may be unseen by other participants.

Dobson (2006) describes several ways in which social interaction may be facilitated

  • Encourage work in pairs or groups
  • Make space for social time and activities

Salmon (2004) sees the facilitation needs of the group changing as they gain familiarity with the online context, and describes through her 5-stage model types of facilitation that may be appropriate at each stage.

Be sensitive to group dynamics

A facilitator should consider the dynamics of a group, and should engage with the group differently depending on the group dynamics (McQuillan, 2007c)

  • In the early stages of group formation, a more directive leadership style is generally needed
  • As the group matures and becomes more comfortable in the online environment, and with each other a more facilitative leadership style become appropriate.

Conflict is a natural part of being in a community. A facilitator should know how to deal effectively with conflict. Dobson (2006) has some suggestions

  • If people seem tense because of unvoiced disagreement, you may need to bring concerns out into the open
  • Flare-ups: When two members get into a heated discussion, summarize the points made by each and then turn the discussion back to the group.
  • Grandstanding: Interrupt the one-person show with a statement that gives credit for his or her contribution, but ask the person to reserve other points for later.
  • Broken recording: Paraphrase the contribution of someone who repeats the same point over and over. This lets the person know they have been heard.
  • Interrupting: Step in immediately. “Hold on, let Margaret finish what she has to say.”
  • Continual criticizing: Legitimize negative feelings on difficult issues. You might say, “Yes, it will be tough to reduce traffic congestion on Main Street, but there are successful models we can look at.”
  • Identify areas of common ground

In online communities a participant’s lack of awareness of the principles of netiquette may lead to offense & conflict. An online facilitator should be familiar with the principles of netiquette, and should identify where inappropriate communication is leading to social issues. Simply bringing the attention of the participants involved to what is occurring is likely to alleviate the immediate problem to some degree, but it is probably advisable to direct the participants to netiquette resources where relevant.


There are many skills required to successfully maintain an online learning community. I have outlined the skills which in my recent experience seem to be relevant, and in doing this have realised how much I’ve learnt over the past 4/5 months. This post is not as coherent as I’d like, but I guess that’s probably to do with the nature of my thoughts on this topic at present – Many fragments of knowledge, with some overarching themes that tie the pieces together into some kind of whole.


Blackall, L. (2007). To facilitate or teach. Retrieved on 18 November, 2007 from

Salmon, G. (2004). The 5-stage model. Retrieved on 18 November, 2007 from

Wenmoth, D. (2006). Participation Online – the Four Cs. Retrieved on 18 November, 2007 from