In the Facilitating Online course today I received the following question:
When developing an online course, how does one decide how much time it would take to facilitate the course? Does one do an estimate per course participant? Are there other ideas?
I have decided to blog my response for broader conversation. Here’s my response:
I think it depends on the class size and nature of the course, what do other folks think? Do activities require a lot of facilitation for example – think about the intensity of communication around the PDPs for example. You email it to the course team or share in your learning journal, get feedback from the course team and fellow colleagues and then revise it. That’s quite different to just submitting an assignment. The facilitation, activities and course principles should align when developing the course. Like in this course, experiential and reflective learning is very important so interaction between people forms part of most activities. In another kind of course which might be more content driven it will likely be different. The course may also change in nature and be quite heavily facilitated at first and then once a community is established the course participants take on some of this role. David Merrill’s notion of dynamic support is also useful because it allows us to think about this process.
From the perspective of this course, I believe a facilitation team is crucial. With this course we have lead, support and back-up facilitators and we create a schedule of roles before the course. Our facilitators are advised to spend 4-5 hours a week facilitating. Of course in some weeks we take more time depending on the task and/or our roles that week. A lead facilitator for the week generally takes responsibility for posting the announcements for that week (although others generally contribute and check). We have a shared gmail account for course communications so we share that and completing the progress reports. So aside from actual facilitating there is quite a bit of admin too which is easier when the work is shared. This team has been facilitating together for quite some time, so practices around ways of working together emerge. When starting from scratch bear in mind that this will take time to develop practices among your own team and will likely develop further over time.
If you are a course convenor, you’d need to think about how to involve lecturers and tutors. It helps when you’re all working towards a shared goal and knowing your roles and responsibilities. Fellow lecturers and tutors will also need training and support. So a convenor is often double facilitating – for your facilitation team and the people on the course.
In a previous run of this course we had around 60 people and it was hectic. We realised the course may need some redesigning for upscaling. That’s partly why MOOCs have a high dropout rate – upscaling facilitation is not easy – good facilitation is resource intensive (facilitators). 10 people per facilitator on this course I think is a rough guide as we want it to be quite a connected learning experience. But the course is also free because it’s part of a funded project and facilitators are paid per hour. Would this be sustainable in other courses? While facilitating on a volunteer basis to gain experience and connect to like-minded professionals is an obvious win, at the end of the day people need to pay their bills. So asking people to facilitate for free for too many hours without pay (as in the case of some MOOCs) is not sustainable. Developing online courses involves not just designing course content, but designing a learning experience for course participants bearing in mind available human capacity. So while a heavily facilitated learning experience might be first prize, sometimes you have too few people to facilitate with and you don’t want to get burn out. So you go to plan B which is thinking about what you are able to do realistically with current capacity.
This article mentions levels of facilitation and expected number of hours per week. How does this relate to your course? What level do you see your course at? This blog post with the main findings of a recent study on time requirements for developing and facilitating online courses may also be of interest.
Keen to hear what other folks think
The #feesmustfall protests are happening across universities in SA. As I write this, UCT academics are preparing to march to parliament to urge government to provide additional funds to sustain higher education. As many lecturers may be feeling out of touch with teaching and learning at this point, it is highly likely that students are feeling disconnected too. So what can lecturers do?
You could try sending students a voice message using Vocaroo or even making a short narrated presentation using Screencast-o-matic Both of these are free tools which allow you to create an mp3 or video which can then be added to an announcement on an LMS like Sakai (Vula at UCT) or Moodle. Or even shared via social media, WhatsApp or email. Send a few words that acknowledge diverse perspectives and updates on the current situation. Keep your communication neutral and supportive. If you have assignments due for your course or any formative feedback you could share these too. I imagine there will be many extensions. Communicate such processes with patience and understanding. Some of my colleagues and I have sent personalised voice recordings with formative feedback to postgrad students and they reported feeling more connected hearing their lecturer’s voice.
During this difficult time feeling connected is vital so I urge fellow educators to think ‘out of the box’ about how we might support students, foster connection and create spaces for dialogue. Personalise official institutional communications, as these can be experiended by students as bureaucratic and alienating. Your voice counts and your students are likely to trust you more and find your words more accessible. As many of us are working from home this is also the ideal time to get creative and experiment with how we might use the tools at our disposal to facilitate and support students’ learning experiences. We need to come up with innovative ways to do business as usual in unusual ways. Feel free to share some of your strategies for how you are doing so with your students.
The next run of the online course I co-facilitate on is coming up. Here are the details:) Also here on the e/merge Africa website.
We invite applications from educational technologists and educators based in African Higher Education Institutions to participate in a free five week course in online facilitation funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The activities stretch over 8 weeks from 5 October – 27 November including Week 0 to address any technical issues and two consolidation weeks (after Weeks 2 and 4) for reflection and catch-up. A maximum of 50 participants can be accommodated. Course participation will be entirely online and will require up to 8 hours of participation per week. Facilitating Online was developed by the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) at University of Cape Town and is registered as a short course at the University of Cape Town. A certificate of completion will be awarded for successful completion of 75% of the assessed activities of the course.
Application for the October – November run of this course will be open until 18 September 2015. We are also planning to offer further instances of the course during 2016. Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information or for us notify you when registration opens for the 2016 courses.
The course is aimed at experienced educators and educational technologists at higher education institutions in Africa who have reliable internet access and the opportunity to run courses or components of their courses online.
Selection criteria include:
· previous experience of online teaching and learning
· at least five years’ experience as a university educator or educational technologist
· willingness to teach future online facilitation courses in their local/regional context or
· willingness to be a conference host for the e/merge Africa online educational technology network across African universities.
All applicants will require a letter of support from their line manager or Head of Department.
To apply, please use our online application form by 18 September 2015.
You can address queries by e-mail to email@example.com
Endorsements from past course participants:
Dr Judith McKenzie, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Cape Town says “I learned many facilitation skills that I am now able to apply with my own students. I would recommend the course highly to anyone embarking on the online teaching and learning journey.’
Daniel Adeboye, Online Maths Tutor, Tutor for the Future reports that “This course doesn’t just teach you ABOUT online Facilitation, it actually gets you to facilitate, setting this above other online courses I have taken on this subject. It’s a real opportunity to learn and develop. And what’s more? It has an African taste…”
Dr Speranza Ndege, Director of the Institute of Open, Distance and e-Learning, Kenyatta University reflects that “The rigorous demands of the online course you took us through have yielded positive fruits. I find it much easier to handle my students, and my online class activities, forums, assignments, feedback/grading are no longer complex. In fact it is fun facilitating online.”
Thanks a million for sharing this Ian:)
I put together this Prezi presentation and then discovered WordPress doesn’t like iframes. Luckily I found a solution via a blog post on Teaching with images. Any further advice you’d give students who are starting to develop career portfolios? I definitely agree that ePortfolios allow one a way to practice digital literacy skills – after numerous attempts and research I got this right:)