Wednesday, 1 June 2016

An experience of facilitating an online discussion

Further from my post on Etivities for blended, flip or distance learning, here are two Etivities that I did with my apprentices from November 2014 in the form of online discussions.  This post provides a brief insight into how I planned the online discussion and facilitated it.  I used this as part of my eTutoring module for my Technology Enhanced Learning MSc, in which I gained a distinction.  I also did another two Etivities with the topic of 'Quality in eLearning'.

My choice in digital technology was using Moodle’s Forum feature.  I chose this from other social networking tools as it offered a traditional thread-like format, word counts, attaching and embedding multimedia and ease of archiving discussions.  I found the forum offered a broader scope of usability to manage conversations and the flexibility of applying instructional writing, summarising, weaving and critiquing learner contributions.  Below demonstrates the forum I created and the topics within it.

To ensure that the Etivity had purpose and a structure for learning, I used Gilly Salmon’s Etivity invitation as demonstrated below.  I made this into a two part activity that linked to qualification learning outcomes.

As part of the invitation I briefly analysed and annotated some learning theories that are present in the activity.  This is a good exercise I do when I plan online activities and materials as it enables me to effectively apply learning theory.

After I had completed and refined the invitation, I created the activity which was the Moodle Forum. I then created two forum topics and copied both invitations into them.  I then promoted the Etivities to the apprentices so that they could start to participate in them.  I sent an email to them all linking to the topics.  I did this a few times to remind them after they had a slow start.

The apprentices started to contribute and replying back to one and another as required.  I was checking daily if the apprentices were making contributions.  It's quite exciting waiting for the first person to make a comment.  But you can't pounce on them straight away, you need to allow momentum to build up and then make a purposeful reply back to direct discussion or give feedback and guidance.  Below the apprentices are responding back to each other and I have gave feedback and praised a good comment.

The whole eTutoring process involves a significant amount of empathy, motivating, prompting, challenging, weaving and summarising.  Over the years I have developed a wide range of approaches through reading good practice and theories (which could lead to another post!).  These attributes are needed in order to successfully facilitate an online discussion.  Below I responded to an apprentice and developed their thinking by asking questions about their contribution.  In the second example I asked an apprentice for further detail in which they replied back with.


During the activity I kept a log of all contributions in Microsoft Excel.  This was an interesting analysis and helped me assess interactions and evaluate the activity.

After the activity had closed, I issued an online survey using Google Forms to evaluate the activities effectiveness.  I could have asked more specific questions but I wanted to gain a deeper sense of the apprentices experience of participating in an online discussion.

Below is the feedback from the online survey that I used to evaluate the activity and make improvements with.

During this activity, I reflected heavily and created a brief plan that can help outline involvement and facilitation skills within an online discussion.  The duration indicates the length of the activity from start to finish, the Etivity identifies the type of activity (and/or linking to any others) and the action outlines what the learner and eTutor is expected to do.  However, the interactions will differ depending on learner numbers and the amount of replies they contribute.  This example focusses on my recent experience of facilitating an online discussion and the amount of individual contributions that occurred.