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This month seems to be all about online education for me as I’m currently facilitating a month-long online course for Volunteer Victoria and taking an Instructional Skills Workshop Online course (also one month long) through my work at Royal Roads University. Our ISWO class facilitators have encouraged us to start blogs to post some reflective pieces about online facilitation, so I thought I’d simply add my thoughts to my current blog here. If you’re interested in the art and practice of facilitation online, read on!

One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about these past couple of weeks is my “presence” online within a course as its facilitator. What’s my impact? Am I there enough for the participants, or not enough? Or too much? What will they think about my role that I’m playing as “guide on the side” rather than “sage on the stage”?  Am I meeting their expectations? The act of online facilitation is definitely fraught with self-reflection! And so it should be.

One of my core philosophies around adult education is that the “teacher” is not the only one in the classroom who knows something. Both in online facilitation and in face-to-face facilitation I strive to be a facilitator and convenor, allowing opportunities for those who have questions and those who have knowledge to share their ideas and their experience with each other. I’d rather not be a pitcher, pouring the content from my own head into my participants’ heads. I’m sure everyone would get quite bored quite quickly if I did so (perhaps the pitcher might run dry!), and I’d rather not put myself under all that pressure to have to know it all. Impossible!

One of the ways I have communicated this philosophy to my participants is to explain to them at the start of the class how I view my role as a facilitator. I tell them about my expectations around their participation and let them know that if they don’t participate and interact with each other then the course will not be as rich or robust. We all lose something – myself included – when I as the facilitator do not create opportunities for participants to also be seen as experts and share what they know.  I view facilitation as also a learning activity for myself as much as anything, and always come away with new insights and knowledge from my participants. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In the course I am facilitating right now we have just passed our mid-way point, so I initiated a “check-in” survey to see how things were going for the participants. One of the questions I asked was around my online presence to get an idea of my effectiveness.  I’m lucky to have received mostly good feedback in the results but also was granted the opportunity – after reading a negative comment in a tone through which I could identify the participant – to better support someone in the class. Had I not initiated a mid-way course survey, I never would have known that one participant was clearly struggling somewhat with not just me as a facilitator in some ways but with the online course technology as well. With two weeks left in the course, we still have enough time to work together to make it a more positive experience for them. I’m so glad I made room for this person to give me input before it was too late to do anything about it.

I expect that each time I facilitate online I will be doing a lot of “naval gazing”, constantly gauging how I show up to others in the online classroom. But naval gazing won’t be where I stop. If I set the tone with my participants about what my expectations are for their participation, and then give them the opportunity to give me feedback about my own online presence, at least some of them will likely take me up on it. I’m certain we will all be the better for it in the end.­­­­­