Wednesday, August 20, 2008

To facilitate, teach or moderate

So begins another 2 weeks considering the semantics of words related to the topics in this course.
"Those who can not say what they mean, can not mean what they say"
Peter O'Toole playing Reginald Johnston in The Last Emperor
In the last 2 weeks we have been considering what it is that makes up a community - particularly an online community. Many of us have focused on Wenger's Community of Practice, but some challenged the notion of CoPs, pressing for an understanding of community regardless of a practice or not. Some have given excellent and thought provoking examples of their experiences with online communities; others have bravely tackled the groups and networks debate set up by Stephen Downes. Of course, it is not a question to be resolved, only one to be explored. By exploring this question together we have all brought perspectives and reference points for each other to consider, and so each of us will develop a preferred understanding to work from. There has been some wonderful blog posts relating to this consideration, and its great to see so much commenting and cross referencing happening.

Don't forget to browse and update your subscriptions with some of the 11 late comer's blogs.

To kick off the next two weeks where we will consider the differences and similarities of the practice of facilitating, moderating and teaching, 12 of us met online (link to recordings). 30 minutes of the meeting was spent on a wonderfully colourful round of introductions, with voices and blog links coming in from many corners of the world, including ElderBob from Texas joining us while he cooked up a stew of crookneck squash! :) We had a great discussion about the meaning of community with some very insightful comments made. I offered some advice for the coming weeks, and encouragement to stick with the course through these semantic periods - the fun stuff will be starting soon enough. I suggested that we each start keeping an eye out for interesting topics and ideas for our facilitation projects for the course mini conference in November.

Apologies to those who made it to the meeting session 13 hours earlier. We did have two time frames listed, and we will continue with that idea so as to give people in the various time zones an opportunity to join in. I was absent due to a delayed flight. I hear a meeting was held and that it went well. Unfortunately there is as yet no recording or account of it.

I hope we all find some interesting links and perspectives over the next 2 weeks. Personally, I find this topic one of the more interesting in the course :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Our meeting and our blogs

17 of us made it to the meeting yesterday. Here's the recording. The course wiki been updated with that link also. It was a pretty good discussion I felt.. there were some quiet moments that I tried to pick up with my rather poorly web conferencing facilitation skills. Thankfully there were some people there who were prepared to jump in and make comment and question things. One that sticks in my mind is Bron's tip on facilitation - "knowing what not to do".

I can certainly relate to this. Often, I will feel so uncomfortable with silence that I will fill the void with my own comments or opinions which may or may not be already more developed than the group that is asking for facilitation. This can have a negative impact on people developing confidence to join in discussions as they might start relying on you as the expert, rather than the facilitator looking to draw expertise and awareness out of people. So, knowing what not to do is critical. As a rule of thumb I have set myself, I will try to respond with more questions than answers, and focus my problem solving skills on making sure the technology us working and that everyone has a chance to be heard.

To that end, I have done my best to create a list of all the people doing the course who have a blog. This should assists us in being able to browse participant blogs and subscribe to ones of interest. I wasn't suitably prepared for the amount of interest in the course and so fumbled the maintenance of the list of people and their blogs, so apologies if you are not on there. Please email me directly if you are not on there but should be.

Initially I was keeping a Google Spreadsheet going (and still am) and keeping it up to date as people introduced themselves through the wiki discussion page. But as people kept joining well into week 1, and others were updating their intro with their blog links, it all kinda got out of hand for me here. I shouldn't have used the Google Spreadsheet until now... Anyway, I've learnt for next time - I will use the wiki for creating the list, and ask everyone to update that list by a certain date, and then generate a spreadsheet from there for my own records.

So, I hope you will access the meeting recording and check the blog list for other blogs of interest to add to your RSS news reader. Remember - don't add them all! just some that are of interest to you - that way it will remain managable for you and chaos for me ;)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Orientation complete? What is an online community?

It has been quite a week! The email forum has been going berserk with enthusiasm, confusion, chaos and insights. Reminds me of that moment you first walk into a fun park... trying to do everything at once :) It was good to see all this, and I think we managed to keep a balance in the orientation week's discussions.

The email forum is not a requirement for the course. It is a space for those of us who enjoy discussing the weekly topics and socially constructing our learning. The minimum requirements for the course are listed on the course wiki. In week 1 - Orientation, everyone should have by now set up their own blog, set up an RSS news reader, and introduced themselves to the course wiki with a link to their blogs.

It is now my job to create a list of everyone doing the course with their contact details and blog addresses. This should make it easier for the rest of us to subscribe to each other's blogs. We don't have to subscribe to everyone's blogs - just the one's that interest us. It is my expectation that little networks will naturally form based on what we can make out about each other through our blogs. Some of us will gravitate towards the more technical aspects of what make online communities work, others towards the more human aspects, and so on. So long as we cross reference each other from time to time such as by making hyperlinks to each other's blog posts from our own posts. Through tis linking a good over view of our network forming will emerge - just in time for week 7 - Blogging networks.

As was discussed in week 1 by some of the participants, a tag word for the course is being used as a way to collect and centralise all our dispersed work in this course. FOC08 is a way to label each of our posts so that they can be collected in one place. It is a nice way to quickly come together if any of us are already established online elsewhere and don't want to have to set up a whole new account and space. The search engine technorati is already starting to pick up references to FOC08, and a few of the participants have manually started collecting people's work into the one place for quick reference. To get your blog posts included in those places, just add the FOC08 tag word in the field below where you type up your blog post and it will appear. Its easy networking! I know.. it sounds complicated to those who are not familiar with it.. but it IS a very handy thing for people who are already set up online.. it saves a lot of time.

So, we now begin week 2 and 3 focusing on the question - What is an online community? We are meeting at 3am UTC (That's 3pm NZ time, and other times here). Just click the link to the 24/7 meeting room before that time and you won't need a password to join. A recording will be made available if you can't make it.

Things to do for the next 2 weeks are outlined on the wiki. Please take your time with it, you have 2 whole weeks (10-12 hours) on the question of what is an online communty? I think it is one worth reading up on, discussing in the email forum and posting a response to your blog. Already there has been a promising start to a discussion in the email forum on the subtle differences between blogs and forums for communication. Don't forget to cross reference to other people's posts, and of course to include other reference's in your post that show's you are researching and learning :)

Good luck, and watch this space for updates.. this space being the course blog - add it to your shiny new RSS News Reader ;)