I do believe that it is important that participants know that there is a facilitator available at all times. We always remind our participants we are there to help in any way we can and we are there for them 24/7. It's also really important to know how many newbies or returning participating teachers are within your course. I always feel it's a must to encourage those who are taking an online course for the first time. It's that nurturing piece. It's important for the facilitating person to know if a teacher has taken a previous course and the success within that previous class. As a facilitator, always share new websites or articles that relate to the course to continue to build that connection and to keep the course up-to-date.
You ask about whether a facilitator should give feedback weekly, bi-weekly. The sooner the facilitator replies to a specific question the better connection. We have our participants post their action plans on a weekly basis, so that there can be continuous feedback. That has been very successful and one that our participating teachers really liked. Not only did the facilitators give ideas, it allowed others to also share suggestions. It became more of a team approach, where we were all helping each other. Very successful!
At the beginning of our courses, we invite our teachers to take a pre-survey. This helps the facilitators know just a bit more about each person that they have in the course. I feel it's important to share thoughts, but if there is great discussion within the discussion forums to let the participating teachers take the lead. If there doesn't seem to be much discussion, the facilitator may ask a new question and ask for input from everyone.
Our modules begin on Wednesdays. That has worked quite well. Once a module is opened, it is left opened for review, and opening a module a week, allows our participants to focus just on that module.
We have posted weekly summaries from the discussion forums. Some participants have enjoyed reading the summary as it helped them review. Within our platform for delivery, we set the user defaults so that all within the course receives a nightly digest from the postings. I'm thinking that our participants liked that piece better than the summary.
Have you included live webinars during your courses? That has definitely been a PLUS for the success of our courses. Many shared they loved that piece. We have even encouraged them to register for the engage webinars as well. There have special times where we have even done a face-to-face beginning for a course. That has brought that personal touch and has been great success with many of the small school districts that we help.
If you have further questions, don't hesitate to ask.
Dyane - Online facilitation is challenging, but ultimately very rewarding. Providing timely Feedback "loops" is an important skill for facilitators. Below I've pasted an analogy we often cite at NYIT.
Welcome EVERYONE personally at the door. (Online forum)
Make sure every person feels comfortable in the new environment. (Tone)
Don’t ignore anyone. (Reply to each student throughout the course)
Disagreements are phrased professionally.
No one should be silent, including the host! (Be present in forums)
Serve them something delicious. (Content!)
Invite them back! (To weekly forums, to the next assignment even if they’ve faltered on the previous one, to the university if they’ve finished your course)
Proportionate time with every guest. (Don’t reply to the same students every time)
Spend extra time with needy guests. (Struggling students)
Don’t talk all at once, spread the conversation throughout the party. (Post on various days, keeping the volume consistent)
Start up a new conversation when one is stale! (Add a relevant link to a current event to discuss)
Hosts are visible, immediately attend to guests’ needs, personable, and proactively plan for a great evening!
I tend to respond to my participants every few days but I had a facilitator who responded once a week (I felt I needed more). I recently took a class which made me think about changing my style a little. It revolved around 3 Principles:
Principle 1: Moderating takes place in both a Professional and a Social Context.
Principle 2: The Style: "Guide on the Side" is Most Appropriate for LEading a Virtual Learning Community.
Principle 3: Online Moderation Is a Craft That Has General Principles and Strategies- That Can Be Learned.
*To establish a healthy community from the start, you must define participant guidelines and expectations at the beginning of the course.
*As the Facilitator, you must draw all participants in and guide and focus the class discussions along constructive paths to learning. You must pose questions and give reflective comments to help lead the students into deeper inquiry.
*As Moderator, you must select a Voice to bring to the surface others' ideas, not as a vehicle to your own personal expression. The tone you select for your message must also support this end -"reflection".
I'm currently facilitating the Inquiry in Science course to some rather amazing science teachers. I have noticed that my feedback has been most beneficial when I post two or three questions to the participant along with my suggestions on how to improve their project ideas. If I post some questions, this keeps the dialogue open and pushes the participants to think more deeply on their weekly action plans.
I like to use the 3:1 format. I usually make three observations. I then follow up with one question. I use this both in online learning as well as face-to-face. When I want to get my principal's attention on an idea I find using this format usually brings about a quick conversation. An recent example: I evaluated school wide data regarding at risk students. I made two observations related to students I currently teach. I followed up with one observation relating to conversations I recently made to these students. My question asked if such data might help all "at risk" students in our school somehow. The action from this information led to me directing a discussion with the data at last week's school wide professional development meeting. Teachers were eager to look at data on how they might help these students.
(I, however, am still much more excited when the process leads to more Inquiry in the science classroom.)