Portfolio Online Facilitator/Mentor for Community X.net
Vicki Swan 2003
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Portfolio Task 1
Portfolio Task 2
Portfolio Task 3

Portfolio Task 4
Portfolio Task 5
Further Reading
Web Links

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.

The Newbie Experience
The widely accessible internet is barely a decade old and one of it’s psions, online communities is even younger. All who join Community X.net will have something to learn in order to participate,whether it be the adult with years of teaching and learning experience but low I.T. literacy, or the researcher with experience of computer games but low learning and language skills. People joining these communities are often referred to as newbies.

Newbie adults are often far more cautious than children. Adults seem to worry about using IT, they are far more likely to wait and be told where to go.

fig 1.1 Quote from the Mudcat Online Music Community about being a Newbie

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.

There are many different types of learner in an online community and many different types of online communities. However Wenger (1998) claims that learning is fundamentally social. To learn we need to interact with our teachers/tutors and with our peers. It is the interaction with peers that makes a community thrive. In child based educational communities it is vital that the adults in a system do not out number the children. (Duckworth 2002).

fig 1.2 Quote from the Mudcat Online Music Community about being a Newbie

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.

fig 1.3 Quote from the Think.com Online about small communities

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 (2001) says;

“Research by one of us reveals that the introvert does particularly well online”

fig 1.4 Quote from the Think.com Online communities

For a social introvert, an online community can be a wonderful place to build up social skills.

fig 1.5 Quote from the Mudcat about Online communities

Community X.net’s success with phobic researchers is manifest not only in their move to display extrovert characteristics, but also in their domestic environment where they begin to leave their houses and in the case of one elective mute begin to speak again. A successful constructivist based community will be able to support the diverse needs of it’s myriad members.

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PORTFOLIO TASK 2: Find examples of styles of learning online.
Choose a style of learning. How does this work online? What are the implications of this for online tutors and facilitators? Can you find examples in online discussions that show it in practice? Share your thinking in the unit 2 discussion and then post a (max 200-word) description of the style and how it works online. Comment on others'postings. Once all posts have been made... Summarise what you have learnt from this discussion and save it in your portfolio, collating it with any examples you have found that evidence the style of learning you chose.

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.

2 Multimedia options often involve larger file sizes which can discriminate against users with narrow bandwidth.

3 Whereas children will naturally explore their online environment adults will very often need to be shown how to use new and different media.

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;

fig 2.1. Message posted into an adult community to elicit a response

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

A second “listener” similarly noted its advantages - but raised the bandwidth issue (cf point 2 above).

fig 2.3. Reply to fig 2.1. in an adult community about voice mail

When the issue of general audio-communication is raised with community members, the response shows that the members do not know that voicemail is available.

fig 2.4 Reply to fig 2.1 in an adult community about voice mail

A community tool with an easy to use voice communication is a must. Unfortunately a good proportion of community tools as yet do not facilitate audio. The issue of internet speed is less a problem in recent times and although most literature is far behind on this, ISDN2 has been introduced within the last few months and broadband is now available to 80% of the country. These developments, along with better file compression, have made audio communication possible.

The implications for the online tutor is that they must be flexible, there are many different learning styles. With software and hardware advances it is now possible to tutor the visual, audio and kinaesthetic learners. It is now more important for a tutor to be fluent in all these styles as the learner can be so very remote and distant.

Community X.net has attempted to address the issues of compatibility and internet speed by building into its model fast machines, broadband and compatible software. This ensures that help is available to all by anyone in the community. The entire community is on a flat playing field, however it is unlikely that many other communities will be that fortunate.

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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.

fig 3.1 Discussion between tutor and learner



Using traditional taxonomy many learning gains involved in posting online communities is taken for granted.. For example in fig. 3.1 a taxonomy can be applied in two ways. The most obvious place for learning gains is in the creation of the project that the child has made, but a more fundamental learning gain has taken place to get the child to the stage of sending their movie.

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.

Bloom (1956) cited in Frith, D. (1984) lists these six cognitive objectives:
1. Knowledge
2. Comprehension,
3. Application,
4. Analysis,
5. Synthesis,
6. Evaluation.

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.

Using Bloom a basic taxonomy for this e-mail discussion could read;


Learning Gains
Knowledge & Comprehension How to check the connections to ensure the computer is on-line.
How to log on to the internet, including what sequence of tasks is needed to do this how to access a password protected area, manage and change their password.
How to send and receive e-mails
How to post messages
Application & Synthesis The act of logging on and sending e-mails and posts.
Analysis & Evaluation The act of replying to e-mails and posts.

fig 3.2 E-mail discussion evaluated using Blooms taxonomy

For some people these learn gains may have taken place some time prior to the contribution, but it was a learning gain at some stage for everyone.

Salmon's taxonomy (Salmon, 2000) states the criteria for learning gains are;

fig 3.3 Salmon’s taxonomy

A researcher in a Community X.net community designed a background and posted a question as to what the other members of that community thought of it. Analysing the dialogue (fig 3.4) using Salmon’s taxonomy the researcher - (1) offered an idea and (2) invited critique, however did not get any further down the scale. This application of Salmons taxonomy, where the researcher appears to have only achieved the first two criteria, would suggest that learning is not happening in any depth.

fig 3.4 Discussion in a learning community about a user created background

In Community X.net the researchers have been out of the traditional educational system for some time. A taxonomy has been developed to enable these children to be accredited for all the learning that takes place, from setting up their computers to building complicated websites. Analysing both discussions using the Bloom and Salmon taxonomies, show that analysis of dialogue is not always the best way of accrediting learning and that some adaptation is needed.

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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.

Community X.net is an educational project that caters for a very specific audience. The members of the community have in many cases been disaffected by education and therefore have to be treated in a very specific way. This is not necessarily the case for other educational communities. In Community X, we use the terms Mentor and Expert. It is the mentor that fulfils the roll of mentor/facilitator/tutor. It would be wrong to say that they take on the roll of being a teacher. Although they are reengaging the researcher and encouraging them to learn, it is in a very different way to that of a classroom role. The mentors find that they are subject to a paradigm shift in facilitation techniques. The mentors are all qualified teachers, but are no longer teaching full-time. This means that they have been imbibed with qualities of classroom control and lesson plans. It can be very hard for the mentor to throw off this teacher role and take on the role of a facilitator.

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 shows a positive comment at the start of the mail, an instruction on what to do to gain accreditation and help (an internet link) to easily go to an instructional web site.

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.

The researchers in Community X are children that have been out of education for some time. They have chosen not to learn in the normal teacher - pupil way. Community X works along the lines of Wengers’ community of practice (1998). Learning is done in way that suits them, it is constructivist, and researcher lead.

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 language.

fig 4.3 Mentor to Community X.net researcher using inappropriate language

It is vital that in the initial stages of a researcher / mentor relationship that they have a getting to know each other period and from then, a friendly almost buddy like rapport developed. It is a style of teaching that many of the retired teachers find very difficult to come to terms with.

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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.
Online Design
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.

Porter (1997) states that the web user is notoriously impatient, that you need to make the site both attractive and usable and that the information needs to be broken down into easily used chunks that can be found quickly. Whitlock
in Stephenson (2001:188) (cited in McGuire, L.) states that there are 10 criteria for a well-designed online course. Applying this taxonomy against both community designs (fig 5.3) the more colourful mock up wins on each criteria:

Taxonomy Criteria

Criteria Met

clearly specified objectives

2nd Community

attractive presentation

2nd Community

clear sign posting

2nd Community

ease of use

2nd Community

appropriate language


modular structure

2nd Community

variety of questions and problems


feedback on progress




logical sequence

2nd Community

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 it’s members happy. Chat, “who’s online”4 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.

Taxonomy Criteria

Criteria Met
Who's online function Yes - but fragmented within different member groups
Chat facility No
Messaging between the members Yes
E-mail facility No
Attractive presentation, ease of use and clear sign posting Yes
logical sequence and modular structure Yes

Feedback or facilitation


fig 5.4 Adapted taxonomy of Community Design

fig 5.5 Example of hierarchical 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 don’t 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 Example of open plan community design

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.

Wenger (1998) talks about everyone belonging to communities, at home with family, at work with colleagues. These communities are all about belonging, so being in an online community also must then come down to communication, if different methods of communication are available including chat and messaging between members, then a community can be vibrant, even if very text based. The members will want to be there. If it is difficult to communicate or there is a fragmentation of the community, then the community will fail.

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Alexander S. Boud, D. (2001) Learners still learn from experience when online in teaching & learning online London (UK) Kogan Page
Bloom. B, (1956) See Frith, D. et al
Bradshaw, P. (2002) Shared Learning and Issues arising Accessed 22 December 2003
Duckworth, J. (2002) Community X.net external evaluation Chelmsford (UK) Ultralab
Frith, D. Macintosh H.G (1984) A Teachers Guide to Assessment Cheltenham (UK) Stanley Thornes
Hase and Ellis see Bradshaw
Jain, K. (2003) Motivating Factors in E-learning A Case Study of UNITAR Accessed 28 December 2003
Litzinger, M.E. Osif, B. (1993) see Jain, K.
McGuire, L. (2001) Top 10 criteria for a well-designed online course Accessed 22 December 2003
Palloff, R. Pratt, K. (2001) Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom San Francisco (USA) Jossey-Bass
Porter, L. (1997) Creating the Virtual Classroom, distance learning with the internet. New York (USA) Wiley Computer Publishing
Pratt, K (1996). see Pallof R. Pratt, K. (2001)
Salmon,(2000) G. E-Moderating London (UK) Kogan Page
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity Cambridge (UK) Cambridge University Press
Whitlock in Stevenson see McGuire, L.

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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.
2 Community X.net is an online learning community for young people for whom traditional schooling has not worked. Each researcher is assigned a mentor to help reengage them back into the learning process.
3 F2F: acronym for “Face To Face”
4 “who’s online” is a program function that allows the community members to see, at any moment, who else is in that community.