Last October I co-facilitated the “FLO Synchronous” course for the third time, with a class of over 20 people from various BC post-secondary institutions. FLO Synchronous is short for “Facilitating Learning Online: Synchronous”, a three-week online course that helps participants plan for, facilitate and evaluate synchronous online sessions.

What is a ‘synchronous online session’? Well you might know of it as a Skype meeting or a training that you hold via Adobe Connect or other similar platforms. It’s an event where people gather at the same time (synchronously) online from different computers and locations. The course was offered through BCcampus and I originally developed and piloted the course for them just over a year ago. But since the course is an Open Educational Resource (OER) it was shared with Royal Roads University and I was able to co-facilitate a version for them as well earlier last spring.

The RRU offering is coming up again this March, so I thought I’d write about my experiences with this course and what a person might get out of it if they chose to take it. Truthfully it’s one of my favourite courses to teach online right now, perhaps because the synchronous online platform allows me to connect more deeply with my participants and also because I usually can see quite a bit of growth in participants’ comfort with this online technology, even over the duration of a three-week course.

FLO Synchronous is unique because participants can take the course in one of two ways: they can either be a Reviewing Participant or a Practicing Facilitator. Reviewing Participants will spend the three weeks of the course learning about facilitation strategies in the synchronous online mode and watching others practice facilitating, but they won’t actually facilitate themselves. Practicing Facilitators will spend the three weeks of the course also learning about facilitation strategies in that mode, and will work towards facilitating a short (15 – 30 min) session online by the end of the course. I must admit that designing a course with two tracks like this was a total gamble, it was an idea that Sylvie Currie (from BCcampus) and I had and we didn’t know if it would work. But now that I’ve taught three iterations of this course I can say that it does. Somehow we end up having just the right amount of people on both tracks (they have to declare their intention by end of Week 1). We had wondered what we were going to do if no one was brave and signed up to be a Practicing Facilitator – but this never happens!

This is a non-credit course and we ask people to self-assess their own participation by the end of the three weeks. Some of the activities participants spend time doing during the course are having short discussions in online forums (asynchronously), reviewing ‘sample synchros’ of synchronous sessions that we’ve pulled from other places and commenting on them, and participating in three synchronous online sessions that we co-facilitators hold. (We try and model good facilitation strategies of course!) We also hold optional “tech sessions” for participants twice during the course to help them learn the synchronous online platform that we use. (At this time, both BCcampus and RRU are using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – and it really does have some nice features for teaching online.)

If it piques your interest to learn more about facilitating synchronously online, you should know that any member of the public can take the upcoming course through Royal Roads as it’s offered through their Professional & Continuing Studies department. It starts March 26, 2018. Perhaps I’ll see you online!