iFacilitate 2012 Online Workshop: Final Three Weeks

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

(Note: This is the second of two reports on the iFacilitate 2012 online workshop. I participated as a student and opted for the certificate option to make sure that I stayed the course. I created a temporary blog for the coursework, and the excerpts below link to posts in that blog. Click here to see the first report. -js)

The five-week workshop ended last Thursday. It was an exhausting yet exhilarating experience. Greg Walker and his team put together an event that challenged and inspired all of us to address key issues in online teaching and learning with an emphasis on facilitating discussions. As expected, I emerged from the experience with far more questions than answers, and I’ll be addressing some of these in future ETCJ articles. One that remains sticky for me concerns lurking.

The common wisdom is that the ratio for active participants to lurkers is 1 to 10, i.e., only 10 percent of participants actively engage in posting and commenting in online forums. This means that the vast majority, 90 percent, lurk. Is this simply a given, a natural phenomenon that can’t be changed? If yes, then why do we expend so much energy trying to get all our students to become active participants? It seems we’re swimming against a current with no expectation of success.

If, however, lurking is a problem, then what are the implications when educators themselves are lurkers?

I don’t have the answers. My gut tells me that the 1:10 ratio is set in stone. Ninety percent will lurk, no matter what. Furthermore, this ratio may not be necessarily bad. In other words, it may not impact the quality of discussions. In fact, it may be a critical factor for successful discussions. If this is the case, then our expectations for discussions may need to change. That is, the learning context may need to include extra-discussion activities to allow lurkers to express themselves. Here, social media may be the key, providing a wide range of back channel alternatives for lurkers to become active participants.

Thus, the majority may lurk in the main forum, but in a spectrum of side forums, they may be very active. It would be interesting to speculate about what and how these added dimensions add to the notion of discussions. Obviously, when live, we can’t fully participate in more than one channel at a time, but we’ll probably discover ways to include all the various dimensions into a single landscape, and the resulting multidimensional discussion will be a thing to behold.

In any case, here are excerpts that link to posts in my iFacilitate workshop blog:

Comments on Week 3 Resources: Facilitating Discussions
Posted on March 12, 2012
In “How to Build and Lead Successful Online Communities: How Is a Community Different from a Network?“, Nic Laycock (eLearn Magazine, Feb. 2012) says shared goals or “mutuality” is the glue in communities: “It is the mutuality of communities that leads to success.” It is “the, perhaps unspoken, bond that will draw people together into a more close association—one that has an intention of mutual advancement to benefit all.” (Click here to read the entire post.)

Comment on Scott and Greg’s Discussion: Where Is Technology Taking Mentoring?
Posted on March 15, 2012
Scott and Greg are having an interesting discussion in “Scaling Up Mentoring” (in Scott’s blog, Online Learning, 3.14.12). Scott asks, “Can we build a digital mentor?… This is technology that can intelligently design content based on world wide information so that we can do something useful:  learn.  The question is how?” He continues, “In a sea of world-wide information, we need a focus.  We need a context for all the information out (Click here to read the entire post.)

Week 4: Comment on Herrington et al.
Posted on March 20, 2012
The ten-point definition provided by Jan Herrington, Ron Oliver, and Thomas C. Reeves in “Patterns of Engagement in Authentic Online Learning Environments” (Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 2 003 [19.1], 59-71) is a useful place to begin a discussion on authentic learning activities. When viewed as a process, the whole as well as the relationship among the different elements become clearer. (Click here to read the entire post.)

Comments on Week 4 Live Meeting: Authentic Online Learning
Posted on March 22, 2012
I’m relieved that I made it to the meeting on time. I was late to the first that I attended and managed to stumble my way through, finally getting my mike to work halfway through the session. (Sorry for all the commotion, Brent.) This, my second, wasn’t problem free. When I spoke, I kept getting a delayed echo effect in my headset. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s because I chose stereo instead of mono in the setup. (Click here to read the entire post.)

Response to Week 4 Discussion Questions on Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Discussions
Posted on March 27, 2012
In his article, “Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Discussions” (International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, June 2005), Greg mentions the work that researchers at PSU have been doing with “guest facilitators.” By coincidence, in 1995, Morton Cotlar and I wrote a chapter* for a book that featured PSU’s Gerry Phillips as an electronic guest lecturer in Morton’s UH Manoa class. The lectures were delivered and the (Click here to read the entire post.)

Comments on Week 5 Readings: PBL
Posted on April 3, 2012
A useful starting point for SBL may be Elaine’s comment that “scenarios have been used successfully in many realms of education for hundreds of years” (“Scenario-Based Learning: A Commonly Accepted Way to Learn,” 2.3.11). In other words, we all use it in our personal lives as well as professionally as a means to generate critical thinking and effective decisions. It’s what we commonly refer to as a hypothetical situation, an example. When used in a (Click here to read the entire post.)

Comment on Summaries in Online Discussions
Posted on April 4, 2012
On the surface, the definition of a summary is straightforward. For me, it’s a concise reconstruction of the primary intent of a statement. From this perspective, we begin to realize its complexity. The difficulty is in the words “reconstruction” and “intent.” At best, we can only guess at a writer’s intent. That is, what s/he writes (sends, encodes) and what we read (receive, decode) isn’t always the same. As readers, we process (reconstruct) (Click here to read the entire post.)

4 Responses

  1. Iam a secondary school teacher in zambia,central Africa and a trade union leader who wishes to learn more on education technological change in order to be aware about the direction new innovations are taking us and the challenges we should expect to face.

  2. Hi Jim, I was a lurker in this course for the first week or so because I joined late. But then I was a dropout. I didn’t look far enough ahead in my calendar when I signed up to realize I didn’t have time for more reading and participating. I think it’s challenging to tell, in this format, who is lurking and who is just not “attending”.

    I do agree with your 10% theory. It seemed to me that in the first MOOC course I took, of the 2000+ registrants about 10% actively participated–maybe more after the first week and then it dropped off toward the end (a semester long course), but an average of 10%. There was a discussion about lurkers and it was decided that they were probably learning something and perhaps conversing with people in person about what they were reading/learning. That was true for me and then I started to engage online, but continued the conversation with others off line. So although it doesn’t contribute to the conversation online, lurking can contribute to the knowledge network in other ways.

    I think it’s tough to compare a free online course with a paid for college course where expectations (and assessments) are different. Jan

    • Hi, Jan. My sense is that lurking online vs. lurking in F2F groups are very different. In the latter, our physical presence and gestures communicate a lot even when we’re verbally silent. Online, however, silence is the equivalent of being absent.

      The issue, for me, is not whether silence is good or bad but, rather, what does it tell us about the value of discussions online? Is a discussion where 100% participate necessarily better than one in which only 50% or 5% post comments?

      The Chronicle article that you mention in your other comment addresses this issue by examining the function of introverts or introversion in the ongoing dialogues that make up each discipline. In other words, is extroversion the necessary goal for learning? Is introversion, then, a sign of failure?

      When we place a higher value on extroversion in online discussions, are we missing a critical element in the learning process?

      As I said in the opening of this article, perhaps the greatest value of a MOOC-like workshop is the way it opens thinking rather than closes it and, thus, leaves us with more questions than answers.

      Thanks for your comments, and I was glad you were there for part of the activities.

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