This week, I am lead tutor on the Association of Learning Technology’s MOOC, ocTEL – online course in Technology Enhanced Learning. The subject is ‘Supporting Learners with Tutor and Peer Communications‘ and I was delighted that Nancy White, founder of Full Circle Associates, agreed to lead the weekly webinar. Nancy is a highly experienced online interaction designer, facilitator and coach for learning, teams and online communities and you may know her work through the book she has co-authored with Etienne Wenger and John Smith: Digital Habitats: stewarding technology for communities. I have been lucky enough to host webinars by Nancy a number of times and to participate in the enlightening, deep debate and fun atmosphere that she creates.
One of the reasons I was interested in tutoring on a MOOC was to experience tutoring at scale. As I would have expected through previous experiences of participating (or not) in MOOCs, there has been natural attrition in the course but sadly, week 7 has also coincided with a public holiday in the UK (where many of the participants are from) and these factors seems to have had an impact on numbers joining the webinar. However, given the asynchronous nature of many people’s engagement with MOOCs, we know that high numbers are watching the recordings of the webinars and I would highly recommend watching Nancy’s if you have a moment: Nancy White’s ocTEL MOOC Week 7 webinar. It is a great example of an expert facilitator introducing complex concepts and weaving those in to the group discussion that she fosters and manages.
In the webinar, Nancy covered the impact of the contexts we teach and learn within, considering the ‘we, me, many’ – groups, individual, networks. Much of the discussion focused on how to move towards interaction and developing peer support online. Some of the participants described examples of courses they want to develop more peer-to-peer interaction and experiential learning within, sometimes in international contexts, and Nancy and the group came up with a range of suggestions that could help. These included:
- Build the social structure/scaffolding directly
- Offer less initial content
- Pose key questions
- Build in reflective practice
- Check your assumptions about what and how
- Harness serious games dynamics
- Use peer review as a formal activity that can be used to develop peer support in a wider, less formal context
- Provide opportunities for the learners to teach
Here are some references provided by Nancy during the webinar:
- Liberating Structures - resources aimed at enhancing how people work together in organisations
- Knowledge Sharing Toolkit - collection of resources for supporting and enabling knowledge sharing
- Bronwyn Stuckey’s work on games and learning (game dynamics, not just “games”)
- Cynefin Framework - developed by Dave Snowden, further developed with Cynthia Kurtz. Accessed from the Cognitive Edge website
You can access Nancy’s book with Etienne Wenger and John Smith at: http://technologyforcommunities.com/
So, although the turn-out might have been a little disappointing for a free webinar by such a leader in the field of interaction design and facilitation, the smaller group did allow for more targeted advice for the individuals participating. I’m not quite ready to reflect on my experience of tutoring on a MOOC yet – I think I’ll see how the rest of the course develops and if some of the interventions by the organisers will prompt people to return but it’s good to be gaining an ‘inside’ view.
*In the meantime, a large box of chocolates will be winging their way to Nancy. In case you don’t know, her alter-ego is choconancy! You can follow Nancy on @nancywhite
Image by Rutty (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)