Sunday, February 6, 2011

Online communication tools for events

Link to above eLearning presentation tools site

Here's the question: how are online communication tools used to facilitate online?

As far as using tools to facilitate online events there really has to be a short list of requirements. The tool has to be available to most people, easy to use and allow a range of ways to present data. A couple of years ago I would have said too that it would have to be able to project images of people talking but after having used Elluminate I think just aural communication can be quite engaging and do the trick. It means a lot of facilitating depends on picking up non-obvious, non-visual cues from the audience.

There's not much to choose between the biggies of the online facilitation world: Elluminate and Adobe Connect. Having used both recently, I think I'm drifting towards Adobe as it has a better interface that works for me.

During the event presentations I sat through several people, via recordings that I could play back in my own time, speaking about their favourite on-line tools. There were message services like texting and Twitter, chat stuff like MSN even book marking services that allow us to collate and organise highlights of our Internet journeys. Although these are valuable tools they have some limitations compared with, say, Adobe Connect when it comes to an on-line event. It might be interesting to try an email conversation with a group who are simultaneously broadcasting to each member and commenting on received mails. Almost synchronous.

If I were asked about Internet tools as opposed to event facilitation tools, I'd talk about my three current favourites: Chrome, Googledocs and Evernote. Chrome is easily the best browser for me and I find surfing a pleasure and not a fight with clutter now. I use the others: Firefox, Safari, Explorer, Opera and some funny ones I found on the iPad. However I always come back to Chrome that is clean and fast and easy for me. Googledocs is a revelation about the way you can work. Just use the cloud for everything. My third fave is Evernote that collects up all those things you can't quite delete and saves and organisies them for next time you visit and remembers everything.

Back to event software I've not tried WebEX or Blackboard collaborate and my aim after this course is to get good at our Adobe Connect product for which we have an institutional commitment. The difficiencies in online tools of this nature can be compensated for by best teaching practice and student engagement.

Elements of skillful on-line facilitation and the process of facilitating an online event

To some extent what makes a good on-line facilitator is the same as what makes a good face-to-face facilitator.

Engagement. This covers two aspects, the most important being the engagement with the subject matter. An enthusiastic articulate teacher is like gold in almost any situation. Most other elements in the virtuous circle are initiated by this passion. The second part is the direct human to human engagement that is not quite the same thing as engaging with the subject. I have know some very engaging teachers who didn't get their students into the subject matter very well but were loved by students. How to get both sorts of engagement into your on line facilitation? Hmmm.. I think to some extent you're born with a personality that works in this context. But you can work at it and by trying to understand the motivation and like difficulties of the other on-line participants get them to the same place as the profoundly charismatic Nobel prize winners.

Mastery of subject. You have to know your stuff and be good at getting basics across. This is not as obvious as it seems as much of the IT-type subject matter changes very quickly. There is another dimension to this in the on-line world where you have to master the on-line tool if you're the facilitator. At least up to the level required by neophytes who are being facilitated. Going into a classroom and talking is pretty straightforward but going on-line and talking is not the same and both can be pretty deadly to listen to.

Appearing organised and structured. This is a consistent complaint by students in all forms of delivery. They want to see structure and and a non flustered teacher who has a plan and takes command. Not bossy or inflexible just organised and has some contingent plans for when things go awry.

Beyond those above characteristics, I think we can add some special elements that a skilful on-line facilitator will have.

Before the meeting:

Having good idea of time and date.

Booking all equipment for the session

Lining up the speakers and giving them a run through

Advertising the session effectively

Shoulder tapping people who'd be ideal participants

Making notes to have ready when real thing starts

Getting biographical data from relevant people.

Anticipating time differences

Setting up pictures and slides

Thinking about take-home message

Thinking about subsequent sessions

Anticipating the time given over to different activities.

Just before the session

Check in with the main speaker

Have a plan with that speaker

Go over protocols

Test equipment working

Start the timer

Make sure slides and images are ready and seen by early people

Decide on microphone usage and breakout rooms

Start recording

During the session

Introduce speaker

Give structure of session

State purpose and outcomes

Explain simple features of on-line tool

Establish protocols for questions

Say when comments are welcome

Give procedures for when crashes may occur

Keep eye on chat window

Encourage quite ones

Discourage crass ones

Wind up session when nearly finished.

Thanks speaker

Give instructions how to re-hear session.

Engage in elegant departure

Follow up with speaker by email.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What constitutes an excellent on-line site?

Features of on-line communities

Recent upheavals in Tunisia (see image below)and Egypt have thrown up the terms “Twitter Revolution” and the like and this indicates the maturation of social networking into a force comparable to traditional print journalism. I think this is a bit exaggerated but there is something in it.

Now we acknowledge that big sites like Twitter, Google applications, Facebook, Flickr and the usual suspects are excellent sites, in that they are successful with millions of users, what happens when we drill down to ordinary prosaic sites that range from wonderful to horrible? How do we judge them and how do we run the ruler of excellence over them?

More pointedly, what are the features of successful online communities? At first it seems easy enough to answer this because, we have some examples above of very successful online communities in terms of simple parameters like profitability and the number of people who use them. But if we dive into some of the research we see that there are many dimensions to success in this area and non-numeric qualities like engagement are hard to measure.

What is an effective on-line community?

Graph site link.

In the graph above we see that in one survey, people rated the ability to connect with like minded people as the most important attribute in an online community. But there are 10 other attributes that scored well too. They included:

  1. Facilitation
  2. Ability to help others
  3. Exclusive product and service offers
  4. Ability for members to develop reputation
  5. Quality of community and site managers
  6. Community focused around a hot topic

The most comprehensive inquiry into the factors that contribute to a successful on-line community that I found was written by Wise, Thorson and Hamman. And called Features of Online Communities and Their Effects on Participation and Evaluation

Amongst some interesting things I found was that with just text and pictures in a community's meeting place a set of quite sophisticated norms are built up with a variety of methods to cope with departures from the norms. As individuation decreases, flaming and ad hominem practices increase and the whole society associated with that community can collapse. That's one end of the spectrum. The other is wonderful flourishing communities. To investigate what are the precursors to a flourishing on-line community the authors set up experiments at a US university and tested some of the following factors that they assumed to be important in an on-line community:

  • attracting members
  • retaining members
  • encouraging participation
  • the role of moderation
  • structure of the site
  • nature of the content
  • time between posts
  • role of synchronicity

There were no obviously strong conclusions concerning the above factors that came out of their experiments as there were always confounding factors and quite small samples used. However the discussion and the pilot experiments were extremely relevant to this current paper.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Closing thoughts. Part 1

"Finish the course with a closing post with feedback about the course. Did you learn new and useful things? Was it challenging enough? What could have been better? What could you have done better. Did the course facilitator do a good job? How will you apply what you have learned? Who would you recommend to do this course next time?" ... Said Sarah

I'm going to do the other evaluation as well but here are some bloggy, non-structured thoughts.

Yes, I did learn some new and useful things. One of the things I learned, or rather confirmed, is that there's a lot of stuff out there on the Internet and I'm just going to know small bits of it. In a course like this you get to know the mainstream applications that people are using. We tertiary people come from a rigorous academic background and we have to get used to not knowing about how to use some of the tools properly and act like neophytes.

I found that courtesy and temperance are valued in on-line educational communities and patience and support are the norm especially when newbies are involved. There's a hard core of cool powerful on-line people and these have, almost by definition, adopted a collaborative and inclusive approach to their dealings with other people. This has set a standard for protocols and etiquette in on-line sessions.

Be that as it may, I found most on-line people a bit earnest. Not naturally, rather that's the way it comes across. Don't remember hearing much laughter in Elluminate sessions.

I wanted to see real people's faces more. Not family pics, though that's better than nothing. Moving pictures of the people I was talking to. I regard the telephone and texting and emailing and recent Elluminate sessions as what you do if you can't have the real thing... a real conversation with real people. Some research I have seen says that the most powerful teaching tool is a person in a room. I'm afraid I have a hierarchy of delivery preferences. Some of my colleagues are passionate about on-line interactions and good for them but when we want to learn something together with third parties we go into rooms and talk in the old-fashioned way.

Do I want to keep going? Sure. More Elluminate sessions. Smarter use of Google Docs and similar products are the order of the day.

One of the best things was keeping the Elluminate meeting room open. All the time. I ducked in there for several purposes and learned a lot of stuff informally.

There's a certain amount of mucking around with Internet products that's not terribly efficient but has to be gone through to obtain easy familiarity. Curiosity is a powerful motivator but as an ex-manager don't know how to account for the unstructured playing that seems required. When we try to formalise how to learn things in nice sequences, like in Wiki Educator, you can get to the end of the lessons but still not be sure what you've done.

People do courses for lots of reasons. I teach microprocessors and robotics and some students get very involved but others pass quite well in a cold uninvolved way. I don't make them formally reflect. Maybe I should.

I've got lots more thoughts but that will do for today.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reflections #2 on mini event

I'd like to do some reflections on my reflections about advertising the mini-event. Here's a list of how it could have been more widely advertised.

There were a whole lot of fellow learners on the FO2010 course and I feel the event was interesting to some of them.

Colleagues I work with could have been shoulder tapped.

I run a business group very interested in sustainability. Each of them would have been interested.

The wiki page was done late and could have been more zingy.

There was a FO2010 Google Group with over 180 people who may have been interested. Should've contacted them.

My blog has followers and casual readers who wouldn't know there was an event on. Some sort of background and countdown could have been instituted.

I am a man of three tweets in his life and could have tweeted my small circle with a mini announcement.

We have an excellent organ in Dunedin, NZ, called the Otago Daily Times that's always looking for soft news.

I teach an IT class. Could have made viewing compulsory.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflections on mini-event

My "mini-event" for facilitating on-line was held on Wednesday 10 November. I think it went OK as an event and very well in terms of listener engagement, mostly due to the excellent presenter Nicola Bould.

Nicola talked about the impact on the planet and people of all the social networking going on in the world today. Her message was one about being aware rather than ceasing all activity. How much coal gets burned to upload a photo into Facebook? What does Google plan to do about powering and cooling all the servers it needs? All this is on the Elluminate recording whose link is on the previous post.

I prepared a bit for this presentation and Nicola and I went over our roles that morning. I've been winging lessons all my life in a face to face situation but I know that where a lot of technology sits between you and your audience you have to make sure everything works and have a plan B for any eventuality.

Two issues were identified that I would have to work on for the next event. One was advertising which was minimal in my case so we had only a small audience. I've got to find out how to advertise more widely.

The second was the lack of instruction I gave to the audience about how to raise your hand and perform the small feedback actions. Assumptions lead to some pauses that might be evident in the recording.

I thought Nicola was excellent in the way she responded to the typed ad-hoc comments. This made the sessions more interactive.

Summing up: a great topic, a great presenter and an average facilitator.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Recording of Eliminate session on e-Sustainability

Nicola Bould talks about the other other side of the social networking world. Some serious themes and ends on an upbeat theme, including Google's sea based servers.

You can hear see the session again here