MET:On-line Facilitation within Constructivist LE

From UBC Wiki

This page originally authored by Tatiana Petrova (2008)

Constructivist [1] Learning Environments are built on an assumption that knowledge is being aquired by learners in active, socially distributed, experiential process rather than results from mere trasmittion of information from teachers to learners (Jonassen D, 1999).

This assumption ultimately changes the role of a teacher calling for facilitation skills. Facilitation is a pedagogical term that applies to student-centered approaches to learning as opposed to teacher-driven - the teacher's role is moving from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side" (Kempe A, 2001).

Recent economic and technological developments (Globalization, Workplace Changes, Web 2.0 etc) led learning on-line to reach global audiences where and when learning matters. Thus new angle and new set of skills was added to the facilitation domain.

Online facilitation, in broad terms can be described as an act of managing learners and learning through an online medium (Backroad Connections Pty Ltd, 2002). Teachers need to have much more than just technical competence if they are to be successful online. They need an understanding of the dynamics of online communication and interactions and need to learn effective ways of facilitating online.

This article focuses on requirements, challenges and resources for on-line facilitator within Constructivist Learning Environments.

How constructivist framework translates into facilitation skills?

Features of CLE Requirements for a facilitator
Centered around an authentic problem
  • Select an appropriate problem
  • Establish links between individual situation, context and problem to foster learners’ motivation and ownership
  • Manage cognitive uncertainty to capitalize on ill-defined problem
  • Induce diversity of opinions, tap into learners’ prior knowledge
  • Establish network that spreads beyond the course environment (experts from a field, professional communities, etc)
  • Provide problem-related cases / work examples
  • Provide structured yet flexible manipulation space
  • Manage complexity of perspectives, themes, interpretations and implicit issues
  • Provide with model of desired performance
  • Provoke reflection-on-action, provide with challenge and feedback
Learner-selectable information just-in-time
  • Evaluate relevance of information
  • Set up easy navigation through different resources
  • Link information to learner’s tasks
Scaffolded with cognitive and collaboration tools
  • Model cognitive and social processes required for problem-solving and select tools that can enhance it
  • Develop explicit and engaging instructions on how to use the tools, provide ad hoc advice where necessary
  • Set up and maintain technology-supported learning communities (discourse, knowledge-building, communities of learners)
  • Build teams
  • Build relationship Diagnose individual learning needs
  • Adjust tasks and feedback depending on learner’s level of competence
  • Coach
  • Keep individual learners engaged

Challenges specific to on-line delivery

Source: Backroad Connections Pty Ltd, (2002). Effective Online Facilitation

  • Designing the right mix of online and off-line activities
  • Designing solid and self-explanatory instructions
  • Dealing with the pragmatics of teaching online - e.g. administrative and support requirements, and issues of time
  • Dealing with technical issues
  • Facilitating online communications:
    • Establishing social connections in the environment where people do not meet in person
    • Avoiding the dangers of misinterpretation of text (Sherry et al. 2001)
    • Dealing with online silences and getting students to actively participate (Benfield 2000)
    • Finding the optimal balance between private email and public discussion (Collison et al. 2000)
    • Standing back, and allowing students to discover the power and potential of the medium for self and group learning and not purposely or inadvertently dominating or stifling discussion.

Apparantly the role of online facilitator in constructivist learning environment requires for a broad range of pedagogical, social, managerial and technical competences (Berge Z.L, 1995). Below is the list of useful resources for development of those competences. It is not extensive and hopefully will grow with the next reiterations of the wiki.