Facilitating, Moderating, or Teaching – is there a difference?

•August 31, 2008 • 3 Comments

Way behind in my blogging this week – apologies to anyone who is reading regularly.  Had to jot down the first 20 pages or so of my comps paper so that I was progressing as I should be :).  This past two weeks has been spent exploring the topic of facilitation and teaching….what they are or aren’t, how they happen or should.  It has been interesting as a lurker on the discussion-board to watch as those who embody the traditional sense of learning (i.e. that which is structured, has a purpose, defined and directed) go about constructing a scenario where those needs can be met (i.e. setting up a meeting with someone in another time zone and keeping it).  While this appears to be meeting the needs of a group of our participants, I have noticed that another group that was once active has taken somewhat of a back seat to all of this.  What I find extremely interesting in this 2 week long observation is that it points out some of the differences in how people learn and what they expect from a teacher in a learning setting.

I happen to believe that teaching IS facilitating.  That learning is the responsiblity of the learner and that the role of the teacher is to guide, inspire, remove barriers, and provide feedback so that the learner meets his/her ultimate goals.  Now the problem with that statement is that we live in a traditional world where the role of teacher has been that of expert, dispenser of knowledge and leader…..almost to the point of the learner having to do nothing at all but complete the assignments.  I think that this world is changing due to the Web 2.0 revolution so that the newer generations are more comfortable with creating their own learning through a global process, understanding how to critique information and utilize it as their own, and participating in social networks to provide feedback, community, and growth.  The work of Henry Jenkins jenkins_white_paper-challenges-of-a-media-culture2 shows us that this requires new skills that we are not necessarily “teaching” in school….in fact, we tend to systematically provide barriers to the tools that facilitate this type of learning under the guise of “safety”.

I happen to hold the title of professor and my formal role at this time is teaching nursing students how to perform clinically.  I teach at the undergraduate level.  My previous role was as hospital administrator and I spent many hours teaching/facilitating in that job also.  This is because I feel my primary job is to help people learn how to think for themselves, how to reason through an issue to come to a conclusion that is grounded in theory, and how to develop a lifelong practice of learning.  I do this mostly through facilitation – by supporting what I call “a spirit of inquiry”.   I encourage difference of opinion – I see it as an open dialogue to learning.  I utilize tools and venues (i.e. discussion boards, second life, reflection blogs) that other teachers do not – which makes them think they are doing more work. Students who have me as an instructor work harder because I don’t just give them the answer, I ask them to understand what they are doing.  It doesn’t make me popular to begin with, but in the end they move forward with tools that will make them successful as nurses as well as people – or at least that is the feedback that comes back to me from former students.

The new role of teaching IS facilitator…….or has it always been and we’ve let the formality of structure and measurement get in the way?  These things are not mutally exclusive.  It is my belief that as teachers we are responsible for keeping up with new ways of learning and being so that we may inspire others to become the learners they need to be to survive in this new global world.


Groups, and Communities, and Networks…..Oh My!!!

•August 12, 2008 • 2 Comments

So in starting this blog I will issue a disclaimer – I’m a big Etienne Wenger fan so my views and comments in this post will be colored with that doctrine. In reviewing the materials that we were assigned for these two weeks the themes that continually come through regarding community of practice are the following:

  • Flexibility: boundaries are permeable, participants can contribute and participate in different ways and to varying degrees
  • Shared learning: learning that creates value for the members, opportunities for experts and novices to interact, mentorship that is NOT power driven but distributed
  • Repository for culture/history: knowledge, language, competencies and identity that are preserved by the practitioners to perpetuate and build the practice

Communities need a space and time to create the type of collaboration that is outlined above. Stephen Downes, 2006 does a nice job of identifying some distinctive characteristics between groups and networks that I saw as a “historical”/”old school” versus “new world”/”Web 2.0” observation of how people interact. What was particularly interesting for me was the identification of the tools and artifacts that are utilized to create and maintain collaboration between people.

Lastly, the observations about how people participate within communities of practice (and I would extend this to online groups) are illustrations of Wenger’s Theory of Legitimate Peripheral Practice. Whether you identify with John Seeley Brown’s Four L’s (Linking, Lurking, Learning, and Leading) or Derek Wenmoth’s The Four C’s of participation in Online communities (Consume, Comment, Contribute, Commentator) they both point to the growth of the practitioner (community participant) from a peripheral role of observer/sponge to an expert/mentor role as he/she grows within the community with the help of the community.

Aliza Sherman’s blog on Building Online Community Brick by Virtual Brick are some nice thoughts about online communities. Basically, the idea is that ownership comes from the participants, that leadership is necessary, and again collaboration, sharing, and history/culture are key ingredients to the successful care and feeding of the community. So the adage “if you build it they will come” does not apply with communities of practice.

Communities of Practice

•August 7, 2008 • 5 Comments

Communities of practice “are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (Wenger, McDermott, Snyder, Cultivating Communities of Practice, 2002 p. 4) This interaction serves as the foundation of learning together – where the community is transformed as much as the individuals through the process of the learning that takes place. The presence of varying levels of expertise within the community allows for this transformation to take place. The community develops a common sense of identity through the interaction, creation of artifacts and tools, and engagement in collaboration.

I am constantly intrigued by the ability of media to facilitate the creation and virtual collaboration that these types of communities need to grow. The type of media utilized provides affordances for that community’s growth – whether the use of blogs for individual expression and formalized commentary to the constant morphing that takes place within the wiki communities to the video mash-ups creating new materials for thought and reflection.

Take this one step further and imagine a world where communities of practice are more than just isolated systems of knowledge, collaboration, and collegiality but are social networks where information that is shared is utilized to inform another community of practice. Howard Reingold’s Vlog featuring Mike Elliot illustrates this very concept – and he says it much better than I ever could.


Connecting Cultures – Engaging the Community

•August 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Excited to be starting to blog again – especially around the subject of facilitating online communities. I am a BIG believer in lifelong learning and see that the wealth of tools available for that within the Web 2.0 culture has endless possibilities for us as instructors and learners. I am particularly interested in the informal learning that is happening in on-line communities and other experiences (i.e. MMORP & Second Life). As instructors, it is important for us to recognize that our role in this type of learning is one of facilitation rather than lecturer. That knowledge creation is driven by the learner and the community through their interactions. More importantly, these new forums allow for us to continue our lifelong learning journey as we teach and facilitate.

This class represents an opportunity for me to continue to explore and learn from expert practitioners in a community that sees the vision for learning of the future. I am excited to begin this exploration with the group!

Coming up to speed

•August 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

It has been fast and furious but I think that I am up to speed with getting RSS feeds to everyone’s blogs…..the reading is yet to come today 🙂 Used another new tool to manage the blog reads – bloglines. I feel organized and ready to proceed with the learning for this course.

Funny how organization needs to proceed the ability to learn. The “noise” and “clutter” that everyone has been mentioning during the preliminary phase of this FOC class is part of the learning process itself. Choosing tools to manage the environment is an individual choice – but what a choice it is given our Web 2.0 world. The key for me is to keep trying new tools and new environments to understand what is available. With that understanding comes the ability to design using appropriate tools when the time comes. Picking the right tools and design enhances the learning environment and must be aligned with the learning goals.

New tools New learning

•August 2, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Well, since i have used blogger before and mastered it I’ve decided to try my skills with WordPress to see if I have improved. Setting up the blog/website is always the hardest part for me. I tend to like a lot of change and variety and the ability to “update” my look – funny, that carries over into my clothes, my avatars, my jobs. I sense a theme here – change = learning = growth. Tend to need the stimulation of creating new ideas, mastering new tools/tasks, and gaining confidence. Think that is the interesting part of working in WoW (and the most addicting) – I get to do new things with each new level. Mastering the skills is the part I like best and I get bored once I have arrived …… or at least I am looking to the next step, or next new use of the tools that I have learned. Definitely a recurring theme in my life….