PDFL/Example 3: Facilitating online learning communities

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Guideline TD11 – Should staff use a team approach to develop and teach the course?

Ideally, yes. But I would recommend a preparation process that builds a sense of ownership and investment, clear roles, careful documentation of all work and progress, plenty of recorded communication, and strong agreement before working with course participants.

This course was administered by one institution, and 'delivered' by two facilitators from another. All stake holders have different things to bring to the subject of the course, and given the highly dynamic and changing nature of the subjects in this course, there could have often been contradictions and disagreement. Differing points of view can be an asset in a team teaching environment so long as they are realised and prepared for before the course begins. This is particularly important if the teachers are new to the course or to working with each other.

We chose to actively discourage the expectation and presence of the teacher role in this course, and to promote the more neutral role of facilitator. Ensuring both facilitators maintained this role was an added challenge to that of working in a team. In the preparation phase, and on a regular basis during the course it would be beneficial to negotiate and give feedback on roles.

In this course the content was provided by the administering institution, but a sense of investment and ownership on the course is needed by those who are to 'deliver' it. A preparation process that includes development to some measure would help to build this sense as well as a clear agreement of what to cover, why and how it is to be covered.

Careful documentation by team members is an asset to the course in times of review and reflection on progress. It can assist in mediating communication between team members, and negotiating agreements. This course used a course blog and a wiki to document the running of the course. This time more effort is being placed into the wiki as a way to capture preparation processes.

As a result of the need for clear agreement on roles and content, as well as a documentation, we have chosen to collaboratively write a course outline with a detailed weekly schedule on a wiki. This process is currently underway and has already helped the team members to feel a sense of ownership and investment in the course. Getting the course to a level of simplicity and consistency will be very helpful for communicating and facilitating the course.

Guideline TD12 – Is the design of learning informed by research on effective eLearning?

No. Research into the effectiveness of blogs, and wikis in the design of elearning is scarce. In many ways we have been learning through doing while observing others, including research in other fields like marketing and communication. The current design of the course outline and schedule being in a wiki with simplicity and consistency being of utmost importance has been implemented successfully by Utah State University's Introduction to Open Educational Resources and Havard University's Cyber One and the Court of Public Opinion.

Guideline TO9 - Are staff encouraged to participate in networks and learning communities involved in reviewing, developing or sharing good practice in the use of e-learning?

Yes. Each staff member involved in the course maintains a professional weblog that documents their work and reaches out to other professionals in their field. Through the open access philosophy of the course, all the course content and process can be accessed by anyone online. This also helps in building professional networks and informing various learning communities.