Friday, November 2, 2007

As you prepare to facilitate, try not to teach

The technologies used in this course were never meant to be central I believe, but the dynamics in the questions around facilitation and online communities were.

I'm still ranting and raving to anyone who will listen about the differences I see between facilitation and teaching, and that post I wrote to my blog has attracted quite a few comments (thanks). The question is far from sorted in my head, and I get the feeling that it is not so sorted in the heads of those around me too. So it seems to me that we need to explore this for some time, and perhaps the questions will remain beyond the bounds of this course.

For anyone who may have tuned out of the discussion that sparked on my blog, it might be worth revisiting it. I'm hoping we can keep this issue in our minds as we all prepare to facilitate some form of online communication as part of the assessments in this course.

Some questions:
Why is this course called facilitate online learning communities and not teach online learning communities? Is teaching and facilitation really interchangeable? Is facilitation simply one of many techniques that a teacher employs in their work? Or is teaching just one of many 3rd party services that a facilitator might call on in their work? Is it possible to be both a teacher and a facilitator within the same group of people? What are the differences in the roles and what are the social dynamics in play when they function?

In some ways we debated a related issue very early on in this forum. Remember the ice breaker debate? I think I was wrong to dismiss the value of ice breaker activities. I think the thing I really should have been challenging was the often prescribed and teacherly way in which these types of activities are done. Ever experienced the trite and trivial discussion groups at conferences that people begrudgingly take part in? Or15 minute team building activities? These sorts of things are in my mind poor examples of attempts to build learning communities in short spaces of time. But attempts to create a sense of social bond that we might recognise as a community are important - especially in the online context. I suspect that Aaron Griffiths will be able to talk directly to this when we discuss some of his thinking about Second Life.

So, this post is just a little prompt. One of many that try to shake us from our comfort zones a little and into a zone of questions. Try to put the technologies aside for a spell, step outside them and look at them for what they challenging us with other than skills acquisition. To my mind the disruptive aspects of these technologies (in our profession at least) speak directly towards the facilitate or teach question and other issues to do with social power dynamics.


bronwyn said...

to teach or not to teach. to facilitate or not to facilitate. To moderate or not to moderate!

I believe that all this angst has come about because "a teacher" decided some way back that he or she would replace the word "teach online" with "facilitate online". It means the same!

Because we have all been encouraged to step back a bit and stop pushing information at students and encourage them to do more thinking for themselves and more self-directed learning, teaching is now facilitating.

Learner-centred is the new buzz word along with facilitated learning - it is still about teaching. The teachers, you and I leigh, are still seen as the experts in the discipline we are teaching otherwise we would not be asked to "teach" the course.

So why have we been asked to teach the course and not the local butcher who is equally able to facilitate a jolly good discussion?

Because we have some expertise - like it or not, we have to teach our class something so they can teach themselves. otherwise they will not just be feeling frustrated or confused - too much to learn - they will be really, really angry and p...ed off. Why didn't we just send out the handbook with the instructions for the course and the assessments with a few readings and tell them to get on with it?

Because we have to teach them something. that involves not just facilitating a good ole discussion, it involves giving information, brokering information, helping/facilitating them to find information, setting up systems and facilitating ways for them to develop as a community, directing them towards the things they need to complete to pass the course or not.

Making it interesting and challenging and scary enough to make them come back for more - fear as in the kind you get on a rollercoaster. Fear can be a great stimulant!

In my mind, good teaching is about good facilitating and treating the learners as individuals and as competent intelligent people who can think for themselves and who are encouraged to think critically.

Leigh Blackall said...

A dissapointing response Bron. Of course the butcher is not going to facilitate - unless he is an expert and professional facilitator in his own time. His butchery has little to do with your argument, I don't know why you would use it other than to belittle and disregard the point I am trying to make.

This seems reduced down to a "yes it is, no its not" type of argument now. So to try and extend it somewhat, I start by pointing to the full text to Deschooling Society which I think every teacher should read. And Groups and Networks which I think every facilitator should strive to understand.

I want someone to address (you?) the questions, as I think they will lead to a clearer idea of what we are in disagreement about Bron. Either we are talking past each other here, or there is some fundamental misunderstanding one of us has about something relating to this debate.

bronwyn said...

Leigh there was no intention to belittle or disregard your point only an intention to use an analogy such as the butcher to illustrate that anyone in effect can facilitate if they are good at facilitating, but not anyone can teach without some expertise on the subject they are intending to teach.

Is the debate about facilitation versus teaching or is it really about teaching which I know you don't agree with - you have explained this very eloquently in your previous post about this topic.

You see I don't believe a person can really be taught either unless they teach themselves i.e. learn AND I don't believe a person can only learn from themselves without teachers - so where does that leave us. And where does facilitation come in here?

Leigh Blackall said...

Not anyone can facilitate. I don't think I have met many people in my time who I would call good or even remotely facilitatory in their outlook. But I have met a great many people who can and do teach.