Rose's Study Blog

September 12, 2009

Online forums FOC09

Filed under: Uncategorized — rosannew @ 4:08 pm

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g294331-i883-Fiji.html

I chose TripAdvisor as it is my favourite site for finding out the details of different accommodation in places that I am intending to visit. I have never used the forums before this though.

This is a very active forum. 6695 topicsfor the Sth Pacific alone which on a first visit is quite daunting. I chose the Fiji forum just so I could get my head around one forum. There are so many forums in this site because there are so many possible destinations. The users must be travellers, hotel owners are officially banned. The users post a topic regarding their travel plans and reply to each other. There are volunteer Fiji destination experts who keep an eye on the postings and reply if a post has not been tended to.

At first glance, you might there there isn’t much of a community here as travel plans come and go and there is no reason for people to stay using the forums. However, when you dig deeper, there is quite a strong community here. People use the forums before and after their travels, and planning a trip can take quite a while. There are also users who volunteer as experts on the forums and are the closest the site gets to facilitators (that I could see).

I interviewed one of these volunteers and asked her why she would volunteer her time on this forum. She said that she was a regular contributor to the forum anyway and spends 6 months of every year in Fiji so she really has good local knowledge of the island. She likes being an official volunteer because it gives her opinions more weight and she can reply to a topic that she thinks is off beam with another point of view. (Some users tend to have favourite gripes about places that they never let go of). As far as feeling part of an online community, she feels very much a part of one, as people are regular contributors to the forums and she is familiar with a lot of the personalities on site. There is also a good social network attached to the forum including private emails, a travel version of facebook, and twitter so she has her group of friends within the forum.

How to improve the forums was a harder question. We both agreed that the amount and size of the forums was definitely a draw back. We decided that more volunteers like her, could help facilitate the site better but you couldn’t pay someone to do this role as it is moving away from the nature of the site being by users, for users. More control over the amount of forums she felt would be good so a stronger moderation role could work here.

In conclusion, this is not a highly facilitated site mainly because of the type of site that it is. The facilitation that occurs is by the users rather than by an actual staff members who act as moderators. To facilitate it by a non user source would interfere with the intent of the forum. Some reduction in the amount of topics posted could improve the forum but it is really hard to see how you could do this without interfering with the nature of the forum.

August 19, 2009

Facilitator, Moderator or Teacher

Filed under: Uncategorized — rosannew @ 8:24 am

We have been ask to try and determine the different roles and behaviours of facilitators, moderators and teachers. So here goes.

Skills a facilitator may have:

  • Able to maintain a background presence that doesn’t influence people’s thinking.
  • Able to help a group work coherently together
  • Have to be very active in keeping up with everyone in a course that they are facilitating
  • Have to keep their own views and opinions to themselves
  • Have to keep people on track (very loosely) in their learning while also allowing for the free-flow of discussion to see where it may lead.

Skills a teacher may have:

  • Pedagogical background
  • Experienced in their field
  • Structured learning
  • Have an empathy with their students
  • Able to put learning materials across clearly in a clear and concise manner
  • Can inspire a passion for learning in a particular subject
  • Take a personal interest in their students
  • Usually work within some formal curricula structure
  • Can have informal teaching style as well

Skills a moderator may have:

  •  Organised
  • Some subject matter knowledge
  • Uninvolved on a content level
  • Unbiased
  • Very clear about the acceptable level of etiquette involved
  • Actively able to maintain their role 

How these roles may undermine each other

Mainly this will happen where levels of skills and responsibility overlap.  It is obviously important at the very beginning, when planning your online activity, that the people chosen for these roles clearly know where their their role ends and another one starts.  Also I believe that personality will play a big part here so chose your people well!

 A moderator may undermine the facilitator if they try to maintain too tight a control over postings. They may decide things are inappropriate rather than letting things go to see where they lead.  They might also delete postings that the teacher would have liked to leave. The same could happen with a teacher. Maybe that is why people often ask friends to be moderators so they can influence what is left in and taken out?

The role of a teacher may undermine the facilitator if the teacher wanted to take control of a session or didn’t agree with the way the group was moving towards the general consensus.

 The role of a facilitator could undermine a teacher if the facilitator has more experience in the field in that they are facilitating than the teacher. If the facilitator had some experience in the field and thought they knew more than the teacher there could end up being a clash between the facilitator and the teacher.h Te facilitator might guide the group towards a general consensus that wasn’t quite what the teacher planned. Also the facilitator may become more involved by injecting themselves into the group and adding opinions.  

 It’s interesting that there isn’t really a facilitator in real life teaching situations (is there?) so maybe fitting the facilitator into the teaching model doesn’t work that well. Which is probably some of the rationale behind this course– how do people learn without a teacher? Given the right tools can we teach ourselves? Do we want to even? Isn’t it easier to have structured learning? But does this by nature make it then prescribed learning. I digress…… 

A teacher is often also a facilitator when it comes to online and F2F learning. So is an online facilitator a unique role that sets the teacher and facilitator up in a conflict situation? Obviously when setting up a course personality and experience would have to be considered regarding the two roles (and the depth of experience they have) when working together.

August 14, 2009

What is an online community

Filed under: Uncategorized — rosannew @ 4:54 pm

The thing that I am struggling with here is why we are using 40 or so individual blogs to try and communicate with each other online?  It seems a very hard way to go about it.  Chris is putting together his pageflakes site so we can see everyone’s blogs in one space but why is the approach being used? I see a blog as something that is more like a reflective journal. I see it as a place where you feel like you have something important to say and so you do so in a blog. It is very strange that I am being forced to blog as part of a course. And the blog is part of an online community made of of many separate blogs. Or am I missing the point? Anyway, that grumble is now over……

On to my thoughts on building online communities

Steven Downes talks about the differences between groups and networks. He seems to be saying that networks are more about the personal learning experience.  He talks about  diversity, autonomy, openness and bridges that connect people online.  He obviously prefers an online networking approach to that of groups which he says are more linear and restricted.  His approach to networks sits nicely within a  constuctive and collaborative approach to learning and information. 

I really like the O’Reilly information on building online communities.  The information is laid out clearly and logically .  I think the most important thing I take from O’Reilly is that you have to have a reason for having an online presence.

O”Reilly says that you have to be very active to maintain a good online site.  You need to know why your site exists and you have to take active control over it. You can’t just expect users to come to your site, you have to attract them there. From my own experience I know that “Build it and they will come” does not work. You do have to attract users to any type of online course, network or community, just like offline. You can create the best course in the world, but if no-one knows about it, no-one will use it. I am interested in finding out how you duplicate the “marketing and sales” role in attracting people to your site.

I also found the concept of users taking ownership of your site really interesting. I suppose you could liken it to people following a celebrity of some sort. They almost take it personally if that celebrity shaves their hair or goes out with the wrong person. I can see how this could happen in a similar way on a successful blog site.

Finally as far as Mark Pesce goes, if a picture paints a thousand words then I wish that was what he had done. Just posted a picture. To me it was a self indulgent rant but Leigh obviously liked it so maybe I am missing the point. I just couldn’t get past the rhetoric. Maybe it is because I come from a writing background.

In conclusion I would say that the following are three ways in which you could determine whether an online community exists or not:

It is fresh. Whatever is happening is recent and current.

It is active. People are using it and interacting in it.

It is relevant. People have strong reasons to become involved in the community. They also take something from it, which means they keep  returning to the site as  long as it remains fresh, relevant and active.

 



July 28, 2009

Facilitating Online Learning

Filed under: Uncategorized — rosannew @ 1:11 am
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