Online Facilitation: An email too far?

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A few weeks ago, I ran an online facilitation workshop with a group of teachers & their managers. Together they run a programme that is taught entirely online. As part of this, a draft of some online course protocols was on the table. Most of these had to do with the updating & editing of the courses, but one of the protocols had to do with teaching the courses. It proposed that teachers should use the Course Announcements forum (a News forum in Moodle, our LMS) at least once a week. In the past, some courses (certainly not all, don’t want you to get the wrong idea…) had underused the Course Announcements (and other forums). A rather heated discussion followed this proposal.

The opponents to this protocol seemed to have 2 main objections:

1. They didn’t like to be dictated in when and how they should contact their students,

2. They felt that one course announcement a week would be too invasive, as the students would receive these as an email in their inbox, adding to their “information overload”.

I find that drawing a parallel with the on-campus  situation is always helpful. In this case…

1. We are all used to teachers being timetabled in, to be in a set classroom, at a set time, to teach a set group of students for on-campus classes. This is a ‘protocol’ that teachers accept and in fact, expect. Surely this new expectation to send a course announcement, in a set environment (the Course Announcements forum), at a set time (once a week) to a set group of students (the online students) is not unduly different from the on-campus expectation?

2.  We find it perfectly acceptable to ask students to leave their home, arrange child care or time off work, drive 2-10 kms to our campus, find a parking space, then walk across campus to be in a set room at a set time and sit there for 2-4 hours in a row. But an email in their inbox is too much of an imposition?

I believe that in an online class, communications should happen in a steady stream, flowing freely & flexibly, whether through forums, chat rooms, wikis, blogs or other means, as participants, teachers & students together, come to grips with the topics. I’ve seen the differences in courses I’ve taught. When I’m communicating in a steady stream, so do the students. In cases where I flagged as I got too busy with other commitments, the entire course dynamics sagged like a soufflé when the oven door is opened. I’ve learned from this and now see a weekly email/forum post as an opening shot, rather than a bridge too far. Am I overly optimistic?

Of course it will take a while for all of us to get used to working in these new environments, but I’d like to echo Tomaz Lasic’s thoughts: “The sooner educators move beyond the point of fear & awe of Moodle [or any other tech] and see it as a tool just like a pen, desk, whiteboard, book etc. the sooner they will be used better and more frequently to reach the pedagogical goals”. Just try to picture the Course Announcements forum as that place at the front of the class where you usually stand or sit to communicate with your students.

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4 thoughts on “Online Facilitation: An email too far?

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Smithers and moodlerific, Carol Cooper-Taylor. Carol Cooper-Taylor said: http://tinyurl.com/yajfn8f Is it too much to expect staff to communicate with students at least once a week? I don't think so [...]

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  4. Nancy White says:

    Is there a way to structure the agreement about “instructors should consider the most appropriate way to keep a flow of communication that helps students succeed” rather than some set mandate?

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