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Posts Tagged ‘facilitation

This tweet is a reminder in case you missed the memo on the challenges of designing for (and actually facilitating) online learning.

Teaching in person is already a complex skill set that can take years to be competent at. You never master teaching because the sand shifts under your feet — content evolves, learner expectations shift, technology brings change.

But teaching does not always ensure learning. Teaching should be a means to the learning end, but it can sometimes be a barrier.

You can bypass traditional teaching by focusing on how people learn. People might learn in the presence of more informed others, but they can also learn by observing, problem-solving, tinkering, etc. These other ways are more challenging to design and prepare for.

Non-educators whose only reference of teaching is their early schooling or higher education cannot see what it is like on the other side of the table. At best, they can only imagine the work and passion it takes.

Parents who had to monitor or supervise their children during COVID-19’s home-based schooling might have gained a small insight on what a teacher does. But they still do not have the full picture.

Likewise, teachers and administrators who only know the world of conventional teaching do not relate to what online facilitators experience. In case you missed it (ICYMI) read the tweet again.

Mainstream schools are winding down for the end-of-year vacation and universities see this semester coming to a close. I am ramping up as I prepare a new course next semester.

I have lots of notes and resources, but they are linked by two principles that have guided my design and facilitation for almost two decades.

The danger of lectures is that they create the illusion of teaching for teachers, and the illusion of learning for learners.

The first is the focus on the learner and learning. Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown put it best in their book, A New Culture of Learning:

For most of the twentieth century our educational system has been built on the assumption that teaching is necessary for learning to occur. Accordingly, education has been seen as a process of transferring information from a higher authority (the teacher) down to the student. This model, however, just can’t keep up with the rapid rate of change in the twenty-first century. It’s time to shift our thinking from the old model of teaching to a new model of learning.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

The other follows an issue summed up nicely in this tweet:

Closed access and administrative control are antithetical to learner exploration and empowerment. As difficult as being open and embracing uncertainty is, it is more rewarding in the long term.

I am evaluating the lesson plans of future facilitators. Normally I wait till the end of the semester to reflect on the common misconceptions that arise. However, critical patterns have already emerged.

One mistake is not articulating how they form student groups using pedagogical principles. Novice instructors often assume that students will form groups, know how to form different types of groups, and/or know what to do in those groups. This is not true even with learners who have worked in loose cooperative groups before. This is because context and content change the strategy for the type of cooperative work.

What might work with heterogeneous grouping in one context might not work with another class learning the same content. The second class might need different-sized groups, more homogeneous groups, or different group strategies.

I model these strategies in my workshops. Here is one example.

As my learners come from different schools in a university, I make them find peers of similar backgrounds so that they are in more homogenous groups. I get them to play an academic dating game by asking each person to write their school and teaching topic on a piece of paper. Then I ask them to use that paper sign to find birds of similar feather and to flock together. The rest of the session then looks something like this.

My design rationale is simple: My learners uncover generic cooperative and learner-centric strategies during my workshops. However, they need to apply them in specific teaching contexts. What works in one context might not work in another. So the more similar their backgrounds and shared histories, the less cognitive burden my learners have to shoulder when they unpack and repack the strategies.

There is value in using more diverse groups, of course. The cross-fertilisation of ideas when an language historian shares strategies with a theoretical physicist can be wonderful, but this is more likely to work for a group of more advanced participants.

Depending on the group of learners I have that day, I facilitate a rise above of the experience so that we analyse the design of grouping for cooperative learning. Perhaps I should not assume some groups get it and others do not. I should set aside time and space for all groups to rise to this lofty ideal.

I brought my new-ish Chromebook with me on consulting and teaching gigs. What both efforts have in common are:

  1. Connecting to the Internet for shared resources, e.g., Google Slides, Google Sites, other web resources.
  2. Sharing information by projecting it on a large screen.
  3. Highlighting or zooming in to specific information.

Like any laptop computer, a Chromebook is used differently as a facilitation tool compared to when it is used for browsing or creating content. I share how I set it up for facilitation.

Connecting to the Internet
Most organisations offer guest wifi that is as easy as to join as your home network. Institutes of higher learning (IHL), on the other hand, typically offer secure wifi. Their access points have names like AP-SECURE or APx.

Assuming you have been provided a valid user ID and machine-generated password, it might still not be as straightforward as typing these in when prompted. Unlike Mac or Windows systems, Chrome offers a rather intimidating connect dialogue box.

Chromebook join wifi network dialogue box.

I have found that selecting “PEAP” as the EAP method and “do not check” Server CA certificate seems to do the trick, but your mileage may vary.

The IHL might have a technical support site that provides this information, but you need to get this information in advance. Some information may be out-of-date. One site I visited had information for up to Windows 7 and way back to Windows Vista and XP!

Projecting information
My Chromebook has a very high screen resolution (1920×1080) and used to default to extended screens when hooked up to a projector. This would result in a small fuzzy projected image that you could only see if you pulled windows to the extended screen.

Chromebook display settings.

The way to get around this is to lower the projected resolution by trial and error. Each time you compromise between projected screen real estate and detail of information.

In earlier scenarios, I had to manually set the projection to mirror the laptop display each time I connected. Later on, the system defaulted to mirrored mode. This seemed to happen after I made the setting change for zooming.

Highlighting/Zooming information
I tend not to use a laser pointer because most people jiggle the dot to the point of distraction.

Instead, I use the computer cursor to highlight areas of interest, e.g., blocks of text, and/or zoom in to focus areas.

My bugbear when moving from a Mac was how awkward the simple task of zooming in and out is on a Chromebook.

One option is to simply increase the font size and everything else with CTRL+ (zoom in) and CTRL- (zoom out). However, this just makes everything bigger and you cannot focus on something, say, at the top right quadrant of the screen.

I tried a Chrome extension, but it did essentially the same thing.

Chromebook accessibility settings.

Then I found this workaround:

  • Enable accessibility setting: Settings > Show advanced settings > Select the box next to “Enable screen magnifier”
  • CTRL + ALT + brightness keys or CTRL + ALT + two finger swipes up and down on trackpad

The zooming in and out is not as smooth as on a Mac as it jumps in steps instead of pulling in and out like a zoom lens.

The Chromebook can sometimes lose focus too. For example, I zoomed in on a table element in a Google Doc that was embedded in a Google Site. The Chromebook scrolled the display back to the top left of the Google Site.

The main reason I persist with the Chromebook is how light it is when travelling. I do not need to bring the charger along and that saves on the weight I lug around.

I might decide to use my Mac when some presentations and facilitations require a smooth, seasoned look. I will need my Mac at an upcoming keynote as I plan on showing apps on my iPhone via my Mac to the projector.

But for basic presentations and facilitations where I can afford to try something different, I will opt for my Chromebook. This is a nice first world problem to have.

I’ve borrowed the subject from Steve Rosenbaum who wrote about how Content Is No Longer King: Curation Is King in Business Insider.

Video source

I think that Flipboard, an app for the iPad, exemplifies this concept perfectly.

Rosenbaum did not say anything about education, although he hinted at it when he referred to “experts”. Following the same rationale, shouldn’t we be saying that teaching content is no longer king? Facilitation is king.


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