In a purely social community, collaboration and communication can be very open and unstructured. But when incorporating online community approaches into courses, we normally need to adopt a more structured approach to meet needs of the curriculum and the learners.
Here are some tips for this situation:
- The start of the activity is important – so welcome people and set a positive tone. Don’t overload people with information – start gently!
- Focus on participant needs – so exploring and sharing existing knowledge is often a great place to start.
- Give clear instructions and information about the activity – break the activity into digestible chunks so participants can focus on one thing at a time. Move supplementary information (ie info which is not key to the activity) to subsidiary pages.
- Use triggers to build engagement – eg provide a video or a link to an online survey, then follow with a directly-related question.
- Use open questions – eg ‘why do you think…?‘ These are more likely to generate higher-level thinking and in-depth discussion.
- Be a bit provocative – a trigger or question which is controversial is likely to generate engagement. But avoid topics which are too risky as these can lead to dangerous conflict – if you’re inexperienced as a facilitator this can be hard to deal with.
- Consider the flow of the activity – it is often preferable to deal with one question at a time, allowing participants to focus on one question at a time. You can start with prior experience or knowledge, then move in a developmental sequence to more in-depth questions. If you pose multiple questions from the beginning, especially with smaller groups, the community focus can be easily dissipated and lose momentum.
- The end of the activity is important – you should at least farewell participants and thank them for taking part. Consider also how the key points that arose can be summarised and published – true collaboration is not just discussing but generating new and powerful knowledge that should not be lost. You might ask for a volunteer to do this.