Your online facilitation plans will be very dependent on the educational context in which you teach. Is it K-12, higher education, technical training, professional development, or something else? The context in which you teach often dictates the types of communications that you can have with your students, the tools that can be used to support learning, and the type of online environment learning takes place in.
If you are teaching in the K-12 system, you may find that firewalls and site blocking become an issue, along with the types of communication tools and types of interactions that are allowed between teacher and students.
Online learning plays a big role in K-12 education today and ranges from individual teachers putting materials online and using web-based tools with their students, to complete graduation programs run by provincial or other governmental ministries or departments. In Canada, most provinces have some type of provincially-supported e-learning program, while the territories tend to piggyback on provincial programs.
Online or e-learning comes in many forms:
- Online support for classroom learning created by individual teachers
- Distance education schools with jurisdiction over multiple districts
- E-learning consortia involving multiple districts
- Virtual schools
In British Columbia about 10% of the 600,000 strong student population is enrolled in at least one distributed learning course—for grades 10 to 12, that number is about 20%. At one time, distributed learning focused on providing programs for students in small schools or in remote home-schooling environments, but that is no longer the case. The majority of students involved in online learning are from metropolitan areas and from the biggest schools in the province.
(2008 K-12 distributed learning statistics provided by Tim Winkelmans, Manager e-Learning Programs Unit, Ministry of Education, Victoria, BC)
There are many reasons why students enrol in online courses including:
- Timetable conflicts
- Work schedules
- Learning preferences
- Directed to online programs because of issues in face-to-face schooling such as absenteeism and behaviour problems
- Attractive locally-developed courses offered by other districts
- Upgrading marks
- Advanced placement
- Exemplary online teachers and learning environments
- Filling the gap in a graduation program
If you think about the above list, you can probably see that students in K-12 online education are not always there because they want to be, which can result in motivation issues, challenges for the teacher, and disruption of online classes. Your facilitation model will have to include strategies for dealing with lack of motivation.
The K-12 system uses a variety of tools and systems to support online learning, including Blackboard, D2L, and Web 2.0 applications such as wikis and blogs, but usually in a more controlled environment hosted on servers within the jurisdiction.
Here are a couple of fun videos that show how Moodle and some other interesting tools are being used for learning.
Higher Education and Training
Institutes of higher education and technical training that have an online component to their programs also typically use some kind of learning management system such as Blackboard or Moodle. Some institutions also allow their instructors to embrace a more open environment utilizing tools such as blogs and wikis, which may or may not be under the control of the institution. (See EC&I 831 from the University of Regina) No matter what situation you find yourself in, you will have to customize your facilitation plan to work within the learning environment while considering the needs of the learners. Depending on the environment, the tool set available to you might be different, and the approach to moderating online conversations will be more or less structured. Moving to online teaching can be a disruptive process for institutions, teachers, students, and IT personnel, so you will need to find a way to work well in whatever environment you find yourself.
Many facets of online learning such as counselling services, technical requirements and equipment, assessing student readiness, library services, accessibility, and registration are typically handled by the institution, but you can be sure, as an instructor, you will be called upon to help students with their issues. Your facilitation plans need to include some consideration for student support that is not course- and content-related.
Moisey, S. D., & Hughes, J. A. (2008). Supporting the online learner. In The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., chap. 17). Retrieved March 15, 2010 from http://www.aupress.ca/books/120146/ebook/17_Anderson_2008-Theory_and_Practice_of_Online_Learning.pdf
White, N. (2009, December 29). Designing and facilitating online events. Message posted to http://www.fullcirc.com/resources/facilitation-resources/designing-and-facilitating-online-events/