I am currently participating in an offering of the FLO facilitator development, a two-week online course that is geared towards preparing participants to facilitate the Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) courses, either at their institutions, or the provincial offering through BCcampus/SCoPE.
My motivation behind my participation is linked to me moderating an informed debate at my local university, where all campus players need to be involved to decide how we want to head towards more online/ blended teaching in the nearer future and what it will take to equip us for teaching and learning in the digital age.
As part of our weekly activities, we were asked to keep track of our learning by capturing one of our “learning nuggets” each week.
I’ve been thinking more deeply about two things in the first week – one relating to an activity and the other regarding the provision of feedback in FLO courses. In order to develop our FLO facilitation skills, we are taking the role of facilitators in this course who practise our skills through posts and responses we draft to prompts provided by our course facilitators.
Relating to the activity I mentioned, we had to do a few activities and the case study resonated with me the longest. In it, we were asked to read an email message from a student and then compose our response to her. The student had informed us of the time conflicts she was experiencing in her private and professional life, which she anticipated would prevent her from participating fully in our online peer-driven FLO course. While reading this case study, a lot of things went through my mind, but mostly I wished that more my own students would inform me when they needed to minimize or withdraw participation. The question now was how to best respond and that was really not an easy task, mostly because my answer relied so heavily on a decision how flexible I as an online educator want and can be with regards to enabling my students to participate to the fullest possible extend and academic rigour that the course demands. As one co-participant had put it into words so neatly: The case study “strikes at the heart of transitions we are making as educators from the classroom to online teaching/learning and blended modes or to experiential learning modes.” (Janet Webster, Forum post on May 28th, 2019) I found the badging system Janet introduced very helpful as it acknowledges different levels of participation (recognition/ achievement/ competency) and think to employ in future iterations of UofL FLO offerings.
The second item of learning in the first week that despite years of teaching experience I still feel I need to learn so much more about is feedback. Over the years, I have intensified the efforts and time to explore, experiment and constantly evolve my own feedback practice. Within an online environment, however, there are so many more questions that I have as to how I can best redirect focus, guide growth and inspire further learning without the aids of impromptu in-person interactions. A point that was made and stuck was the mentioning of receiving feedback as a skill that we will need help students develop over time similarly to the feedback-giving competency student need to develop as agents of their own learning within an academic setting.
The week ran by fast … travelling while participating in an online course was something new to me. I’ve facilitated courses in the past while being on the move, the difference then was that I had planned bigger chunks of my days for my work to ensure I would do my work professionally.
The nugget I’ve been chewing on was similar to Gina’s who was spending time reflecting on the tone she sets in the communication with her FDO participants/ and or other online students. As someone who’s grown up in Germany and then lived in countries with high and very pronounced hierarchies, I’ve been conditioned to using a (more) formal tone, especially in the beginning of a course. While I get to know my participants better, I notice that my tone and use of language change in accordance with how my relationships with my students develop.
Speaking of relationships with students, I agree with Sandra Mitchell-Holder (2016) who emphasizes the importance of communication as an effective means to enhance the student learning experience in online environment:
“While effectively communicating with the students in your online classes aids in the retention of your students, as educators, we should want to do more than just retain our students. We should provide them with a sense of community while enrolled in online classes to avoid the sense of isolation that some online students experience. The goal of online communications is the same as the goal in face-to-face communications: to bond; to share information; to be heard, and to be understood. Fostering a sense of community in online classes will make the learning experience more meaningful for online students and help them stay connected during the life of the course.”
Since communication can make such a distinct difference, it (and tone as part of it) is clearly an area we need to consciously develop if we wish to foster a sense of community in our courses. The tone, since that was focus in the prompt for this task, is set through a number of things such as the use of CAPS, text formatting, color and emoticons, in addition to the words we use. In order to convey a professional tone, we need to anticipate how our use of the above comes across to the course participants, something that I find can best be derived through student feedback.
In addition to the communication with the FDO facilitators in this course, I’ve also had a few interactions with faculty whose tone in their online delivery was so different from who they were in the classroom, all of which have helped me better identify the features that constitute effective communication in online environments.
Thank you very much Gina and Sally (and all others)
Mitchell-Holder, S. (2016). Let’s talk: Effectively communicating with your online students, Chapter 3. In Whitney Kilgore, Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning. CC-BY 4.0 International