Portfolio Online Facilitator/Mentor
for Community X.net
PORTFOLIO TASK 1: Reflection on what it feels like to be an online learner
In any learning opportunity, it is essential to understand what we (teachers and learners) expect from it. We have put some of our expectations in the module guide... now it is your turn. Having seen what this module is about what are your expectations of it? You may wish to comment on content, the learning outcomes, what do you expect to be doing, what do expect from us, etc? How did it feel to come into the space as an online learner? What worked well for you? What made you feel uncomfortable? Print off copies of comments that show people reacting to being in the online space. Annotate them with your observations as to how the actions and comments of us tutors and facilitators (and others) affected that behaviour and feeling.
The purpose of this portfolio is to explore and critically evaluate different facets of being an online tutor through my experiences. I am currently employed as an expert1 in IT and Music for Community X.net2 this is my evaluation context. My expectations are that the module will inspire critical thoughts about online tutoring and broaden horizons to new teaching ideas and methods.
Children, tend to be excited at the new technology available
to them. When Community Xers are inducted into the new environment, they
are asked what they hope to get out of being in Community X. Time after
time they reply with the excitement at getting a new computer and technology.
Children who have grown up in the computer age have a wonderful ability
to click and explore their online environment, even those with no history
of computing. Hase and Ellis (cited in Bradshaw 2002) state that technology
is not a barrier to a successful online community but for adults this
often takes longer to overcome than children.
Fig. 1.2 likens the online experience to schizophrenia.
Being online can be perceived as a private thing, because it takes place
virtually: It can likened to hearing voices in your head as in fig. 1.3
below. By this token, if the community consists of only a two people,
it can be a frightening experience.
A tutor coming from a F2F3
environment is very often apprehensive of not being able to see people
or gauge their reactions. This, by contrast, can be far more daunting
for the tutor than the pupil. Pratt, (1996) cited in Palloff & Pratt
Research by one of us reveals that the introvert does particularly well online
fig 1.4 Quote from the Think.com Online communities
fig 1.5 Quote from the Mudcat about Online communities
TASK 2: Find examples of styles of learning online.
Audio style of learning
Online communities, through their computer based construction,
have a wealth of multimedia available to enhance the communication potential
of its members. Unfortunately most adults will gravitate towards the written
word for two primary reasons.
1 Text is the familiar medium for most adults who have much more experience of the written word than any other format, even though this format supports only a small width of learning styles.
It is true to say that for most people text is a very quick and easy and benefits from having a small file size. However there is a whole wealth of multimedia at the fingertips of the learner. Certain approaches to online teaching and learning are viewed as simply reproducing what is already done in classrooms, training establishments etc. (Alexander & Boud, 2001). Given the nature of the online environment simply reproducing lesson plans will lead the tutor down a text based route.
In Community X there are currently several researchers on the project who are illiterate. In these cases day to day communication is done using voicemail. To assess the implications of audio-media in a community, the following voice message (fig 2.1) was posted into an adult community;
The text in this example was only included as a transcript for this paper. It is worth noting that this message can be sent without any text at all. The smilie face is a universally understood icon and was sufficient. The responses supported the above criteria. One listener commented;
fig 2.2 Quote from Think.com about learning styles
When the issue of general audio-communication is raised with community
members, the response shows that the members do not know that voicemail
PORTFOLIO TASK 3: Find and analyse examples of learning
Collect examples of discussions. Using the taxonomy provided in unit 3, or other reference material, or your own means, identify where they show learning to be taking place. Print out the examples and annotate them.
Superficially all the participant has done is to send and
reply to e-mails. But in reality they have had to go through the process
of learning how to send mails and attachments.
Although these six objectives were originally laid down to
analyse the questions that a learner asked in a discussion, it can be
adapted just as well to suit learning gains.
fig 3.2 E-mail discussion evaluated using Blooms taxonomy
fig 3.3 Salmons taxonomy
fig 3.4 Discussion in a learning community about a user created background
PORTFOLIO TASK 4: Find and analyse examples of effective stimulus/intervention
Reflect on the styles of both facilitation and tutoring you have experienced, either in this module or from your own practice. What is it that makes the effective tutor or facilitator? What do their interventions look like? Collect examples, compare and contrast interventions of the facilitator or tutor in particular contexts that achieve identified outcomes. You might wish to comment on specific examples. Do so in the conversation on this unit.
Palloff and Pratt (2001) state that students entering
into the online environment are very often unaware of the difference in
learning style compared to more conventional methods. The needs of the
learner need to balanced with their technology skills and their reason
for being in the online community.
fig 4.1 Mentor e-mail to learner - teacher style
Fig 4.1 shows teacher style e-mail, the mentor has asked
the researcher to visit a community, but has not made it easy to find.
The mentor has expressed excitement at the prospect of gaining accreditation,
they have not congratulated the researcher on good work, but just given
more work. It is a communication in a very teacher like style.
fig 4.2 Mentor to online learner - friendly style
The mail is not cluttered, there is a small amount of
text. A picture or some audio would have been advantageous, but it is
certainly better than fig 4.1.
Litzinger and Osif (1993) state that different learning
styles are ways in which adults and children think and learn. Thinking
and learning is broken down into different cognition, conceptualisation
and motivation. It is the latter of these that very often influence Community X
researchers, they have in many cases had bad experiences at school with
the teachers and their learning potential could be compromised by teacher-like
behaviour by the mentors. Fig 4.3 is such an example of inappropriate
fig 4.3 Mentor to Community X.net researcher using inappropriate language
PORTFOLIO TASK 5: Find and analyse examples of online design
Find examples of good online design for learning. Focus on what makes them good in the context of being spaces for learning. Collect examples of at least two different designs for online learning and community spaces. Annotate your examples with your thoughts. Save or print screen shots and identify the purpose of the web space and what you see to be good and bad design points.
A successful community is designed not only to be technically efficient (working fast and stable) but also ergonomically efficient (so that the user realises this efficiency and can navigate well). This task evaluates the ergonomic interface.
A community needs to be eye catching and pleasant to look at, but must also be intuitive to use with easy navigation, fig 5.1 is a very plain and texty community. The conferences are very muddled, there is no sign posting and is generally very uninspiring;
fig 5.1 Text based community
Fig 5.2 shows how the same community could be made to
be more vibrant and lively. Bright colours are used, there are different
areas for the content, for resources and for social communications. A
community needs to draw people in, keep people in and help people navigate
around it. Looking nice may only be a small thing, but can make the difference
between people staying in, or voting with their feet and not participating.
fig 5.3 Whitlocks taxonomy of Community Design
Whitlock does not however, take into account the aspect of community. Asynchronous tools are not enough to keep a community vibrant and its members happy. Chat, whos online4 and personal messaging help to give members a sense of audience, to know who they are communicating with. Many members may not choose to use chat facility, but if it is there it will be used. If there is no messaging between the members or the facility to communicate, the community will not thrive. The Whitlock taxonomy can be adapted to include communication tools, see fig 5.4.
fig 5.4 Adapted taxonomy of Community Design
Fig 5.5 shows a learning community that is split up into
different hierarchical areas by module. There are few members in each
module. This fragments the community and because the members are split
in this way, they dont bother with the main social area. The social
area consists only of one message board. If the members were to use this
message board to any extent it would become long and unreadable.
Fig 5.6 Shows an example of a more open plan style community. Although
predominantly text based, it has clear objectives, clear sign posting,
messaging and chat facility and is vibrant and bustling.
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1 An expert in Community
X.net is a subject specialist that tutors any member of the community
wishing to pursue that discipline.