The best advice I can give for retaining participants in the online Essentials course is allowing for face to face help sessions. The first time I taught the Essentials course a couple of summers ago, we were able to incorporate face to face time and it made all the difference in the world- no one dropped! I also found that individual conferences were helpful in making sure they were on track with their unit plans.
I am so glad to see this question posted here in Facilitate!
I really do believe that the facilitator can make ALL the difference in keeping online learners around.
- Apart from unexpected events which happen in the lives of participants, they should know up front that they are expected to do a minimum amount of work online to pass the training.
- A checklist of activities should be provided- listing MINIMUM expectations for posts and where do do the posting
- A weekly announcement should be posted at the first point where a group enters the site.
- The weekly announcement should include navigation instructions so learners don't have to remember where to do their work
- The weekly announcement should also include a *suggested* timeline for the week's work. Many learners find this a handy checklist, even though they don't follow the timing exactly.
- Links to areas where work will be done and posts will be made are very handy for the learners.
- There should be some sort of *getting to know you* activity in the first week's discussion area so learners know who else is in there with them and the beginnings of a community of learners can form.
- The facilitator-leader should answer the first post of each learner so they know they are being read.
- After the first *getting to know you* discussion, the facilitator should post clear prompts, then *sit on their hands* and watch the discussion, not directly answering posts unless the questions are directed to them specifically. This is hard and one must develop a repertoire of phrases and responses which will not shut down, but will serve to deepen the discussion, especially if you post now and then in ways which indicate you understand the direction of the discussion and need to intervene or elicit deeper thinking.
- Model posting questions which invite others to post.
- If the leader-facilitator answers a question from a learner, it usually has the effect of shutting down the discussion. "The teacher has spoken... no need for further discussion." Instead, we can craft a response which actually provokes further discussion from the group!
- Ask for deeper thought- especially when a learner posts a brief response such as "Way to go!" "ditto!" or "I agree."
- There are some very specific question types we can learn about by obtaining and reading Facilitating Online Learning (Effective Strategies for Moderators) by George Collison, Bonnie Elbaum, Sarah Haavind, and Robert Tinker. Atwood Publishing, 2000 It is a small but meaty little book for online facilitators.
We could practice creating some of those questions here in "Facilitate," if there is interest. I'd be happy to help bring this discussion into being if there is interest!
We have not had good success with the Online Essentials. People have a very hard time following and completing things in the time allowed. They generally get overwhelmed and didn't stick with it. The people in the class were from a far distance away so it was difficult to do a lot of face to face. We have stopped doing the online version.
In my district, it is so hard to get release time for teachers during the day, so I have been limited to online Essentials. I have had classes that have a great number of drop outs and classes that have been successful. The main complaint I have heard is that there are too many activities to complete (blog, sharing, google docs, etc). I even created a color coded activity sheet for each module to show them that every module was set up the same. Meaning you post to the blog, you post to the sharing tab, etc. It takes them a while to get into the sequence, usually about module 4 .
I am planning on a face to face essentials this summer even though I only work 9 months. I am hoping for greater successes with this model.
I do believe that you will find a greater measure of success with your face-to-face course this summer. Many of the problems associated with online learning will obviously not be an issue and you will be able to provide immediate support to those who are struggling.One of the greatest benefits I found with face to face Essentials was the hands on assistance with developing the curriculum framing questions. We were able to take some time and really discuss the concept, which made a huge difference in the quality of their unit plans.
Linda, when I do an MI or PT Hybrid, I start with two days of face to face. We work in the online environment and are able to work out the navigation problems before they take off on their own. I also hold a face to face as we start Module 5. I like to do the Assessing Projects face to face. It's much easier to show them the navigation of the site. And, finally, the showcase is done face to face and when that is complete, we spend the rest of the time going over the facilitation (if it's an MI training).