Facilitating a distributed discussion – an experiment

Get Connected!

The latest course in my Masters is Facilitation and Community Building, and I have an interesting experiential assignment this week. I am working with 2 other members of my cohort to facilitate a discussion with the rest of our cohort.

Our topic is facilitating collaboration in virtual teams and we’re trying something a little bit different and I’m feeling a tad nervous about it (I keep telling myself nervous is good when learning). In the spirit of networked learning, instead of facilitating the discussion in our closed Moodle forum, we are going to try taking the discussion outside of the LMS and onto a couple of blog posts that we found which are related to our topic.

Part of the reason why we decided to do it this way is because all three of us facilitating this week are strong believers in networked learning as a way to engage with a broad array of voices and opinions in our field. While the assignment we have come up with may be a bit more prescriptive than constructivist, it will hopefully give the rest of our cohort a brief opportunity to try their hand at network learning.

For the past couple of days, our cohort has been reading 2 articles on facilitating virtual teams in a collaborative environment. Tonight we posted the second part of the assignment and have asked them to visit (at least) one of three blog posts related to the topic and leave a comment on the blog. The posts we have chosen are:

  • Lurking and Loafing from Steve Wheeler talks about social loafing, lurking and how to encourage participation.
  • Collaboration from Ben Grey questions the differences between collaboration and cooperation.
  • Dysfunctional Teams from Tony Karrer is a nice summary of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Hopefully, these authors won’t mind us practicing a bit of network learning to try to spur some conversation on the topic of collaboration and virtual teamwork. So Steve, Ben and Tony, if you happen to notice a few new comments on these posts this week, take it as a good sign that you’ve engaged some of our cohort. There are 9 of us, so hopefully distributed over three blogs you won’t feel overwhelmed with a sudden influx of comments.

And if anyone in my network reading this would like to join in our conversation, that would be wonderful as well. If you get a chance, pop by these posts, respond to a few comments and help us illustrate the power of networked learning.

Photo: Get Connected by Divergent Learner used under Creative Commons license.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out https://edtechfactotum.com/.


10 thoughts on “Facilitating a distributed discussion – an experiment

  1. Hi All, I'm very pleased that one of the blogposts you chosen to discuss and post comments to is mine. At least you aren't lurking or loafing! šŸ™‚ I hope you all found the article useful and thought provoking… and thanks for the comments. Keep up the good work guys!
    My recent post World Health 2.0

    1. Hi Steve,

      Thank you so much for your participation this past week. You were a brilliant host for the discussion and your willingness to comment and carry the conversation forward on your blog was greatly appreciated. With your help we had a very succesful week and, I think, we able to demonstrate the value of networked learning.

  2. Sam, Joe, Amir, and Chi are in a room and a conversation is in progress. Sam, Joe, and Amir are actively talking about on-line learning and the isolation factor for learners that sitting in front of a computer screen might foster. Chi is listening to the conversation and nods occasionally but does not vocalize. Upon some revelation Sam, Joe, and Amir look at Chi anticipating a comment, and Chi does vocalize. The conversation continues with an occasional comment from Chi primarily induced by the other three using social nuances to retrieve input.

    Deb, Jo, Bao, and Riya are each at home on-line reading a forum that discusses learning styles. Deb, Jo, and Bao all post some comments. All four reflect on the postings and some more dialogue ensues. However Riya does not post. Deb, noticing Riya is on-line, opens a chat session and the two of them discuss the forum. At some point Riya may post to the forum or she may be satisfied to have read the forum and chatted with Deb.

    My point: the on-line environment does not embody the face-to-face interactions, social expectations, visual cues, group dynamics, or belongingness. Am I really a part of this forum’s conversation? I am not receiving any tactile feedback, or encouraging glances. As a self-confessed lurker I am not compelled to jump into a forum and express my thoughts while in-person I am more compelled, primarily by social awareness, to respond and participate.

    1. Thanks for your comments Randy. I guess being compelled to dive into a discussion, wether in person or online, is primarily driven by the feeling that you have something to add to the conversation. While it is true that online doesn't have the same tactile clues that f2f interaction does, there are still clues for participation. Perhaps these are more explicit (say a direct question from a facilitator like "what do you think" to prompt participation), but those signals are there. The very fact someone has a blog that allows comments is a good signal that they want you to participate.

      As for group dynamics and belongingness, I believe that online discussions have these characteristics – in buckets. For example, one online group I belong to is The Voyageurs, which are the supporters of the Canadian mens national soccer team. Many of these people have never met, but the forums are a hugely lively place with plenty of group dynamics (both positive and negative). And there is a huge sense of belonging hinging on the fact that we all have a common interest – soccer in Canada. When I first started hanging out in those forums, I lurked for the better part of a year before I felt compelled to jump in and make my first post. But in that year, I didn't feel like an outsider. In fact, my lurking taught me a great deal about the dynamics of the forum, how it worked, who were the people and what the etiquette of the forum was. In short, while lurking I was forming a sense of what the social expectations for participation were for posting members.

  3. Sylvia pointed me here from SCoPE … seeing your reference to Steve's 'lurking or loafing' post reminded me of a discussion I had with a friend about a (socially based) email list – and the idea of 'listeners' – just as in a classroom debate, we have some people who prefer to listen, synthesise (& often come up with the one line gems at the end of the session).

    They can help to summarise the whole discussion. But, there's a tendency – especialyl at the start, to assume they're lurking, not listening.

    1. It's interesting how my perception of the word "lurker" has changed over the years. In the beginning I did see it as a negative, but in the past few years I see it more akin to "listener" than "lurker". Mind you, I often engage in this behaviour myself…fly under the radar until I feel comfortable and have a sense of a groups or teams identity and where I might fit in.

      I think this gets back to a point Jamie makes in her reply to Steve around the language used to describe these behaviours is important. Listener doesn't sound as negative as lurker.

  4. Yeah Lalonde, way to go – every time I intend to engage in the distributed discussion, I end up visiting the links you've provided here! I just shared the "… best practices for video assignments" with the staff at my school. What is it they say about the affect technology has regarding time on task?

  5. Following along with great interest! Will each participant manage their access to the discussion on their own (subscribing to comment feeds, alerts to new replies, etc), or are you facilitating that for them?

    1. We didn't get into managing comments and setting up alerts mostly because we don't have a ton of time to do this. It's a pretty compressed assignment (one week), so we just told them to check back over the course of the week for responses and, if possible, follow up on their comments manually.

Comments are closed.