on participation

Based on my experience of interacting with various communities on-line I am now inclined to believe that on-line participation is a function of on-line relationships, can be captured in the following formula:

The meaning of Media Richness can be found in the following table:

This means that with High Media Richness, even lower frequency of contact can bring on-line relationships. On the other hand, it will probably take a thousand e-mail messages or threaded discussions before the same impact of face-to-face contact or video conferencing session can be equalled.

I’d refer back to my earlier post about set-up. Choosing platforms that can provide higher media richness will determine success of an on-line community, to a very large extent. Along this line, I am looking forward to participating in Nellie’s & Minhaaj’s  “Connecting Online COO9” as they set it up on Ning, Blogger and WizIQ. It will be interesting to see how this set-up encourages greater participation and relationships.

additional insights re on-line communities

Earlier, I used a face-to-face model to understand the workings of an on-line community. Over the weeks that I have participated in the FOC course, I have come to use a new model as a handle of what might be going on in an on-line community. The model is as follows:

new model

new model

I now see four types of participants in an on-line community (ning, facebook, youtube, SL, etc.). At the bottom, yet the biggest in number, are the Browsers – people who visit the site and does nothing other than take a look and see. But, even if they don’t really do much with the site, they are still significant in that they add to the “hits” statistics of the site. In that way, they can still be considered ‘members’ though inactive and passive. Next comes what I will call the Users. Users come to a site and take something from the side by downloading, copying or linking. They are the direct beneficiaries of the community. Then, there will be the Contributors. These people do one better than the Users in that they are the people who contribute to the content of the site. In the case of YouTube, they will be the ones who would upload videos that eventually become available to the Users and the Browsers. At the top of the pack are the Designers. I would have called them Developers but that might become too limiting in that it might be construed to be a role exclusive to the system developers. Actually, these people I now call Designers will include the software developers but also those who will use it and craft it into creative application or even just redesigning how the content and the process of the community are structured.

In my mind I now realize that the role of the (full) Facilitator of an on-line community is to bring more members to move from Browsers all the way up to Designers, though understandably it will most likely always be pyramidical in shape, i.e., more Browsers and less Designers.

3d facilitation and on-line communities of learning

In the third edition of “Did You Know” a certain Allan November was supposed to have identified 3 essential skills we need (children) to learn:

  1. … deal with massive amounts of information;
  2. … global communication skills;
  3. … to be self-directed and understand how to organize more and more of their own learning.

I believe they are also competencies any participant in a community need to have. Inability to acquire such skills might be the reason why a) a number of members might be highlighting problems about reading so many blogs and catching up with discussions, b) some people might be ‘having headaches’ just being present and listening to what happens in the Elluminate meeting room, and/or c) why some people are even wishing that those proximate with one another can meet up personally/physically.

The whole paradigm of using on-line as medium of interaction is precisely that it is about colossal amount of information, interacting virtually within differing time zones, and finding a level of participation that is uniquely self-managed and self-driven.

This brings me back to a model of facilitating I developed recently. I call it 3D Facilitation.

The first dimension is about Content. This will be the relevant content that the group is concerned about. In the case of this on-line community, that will include what is outlined in the wiki – all about Online Facilitation of Communities. The second dimension is about Process. It is about how the members are interacting with one another through whatever model of community building or stages of formation that is being used. In the case of this on-line community, that will include how people are participating in the discussion forum, how people are commenting on each other’s blogs, etc. It also includes the navigational skills people need to make use of the different technologies. The third dimension is about Set-Up. This will pertain to how the first two dimensions are facilitated by the technology, platform and/or set of activities lined up – all geared towards achievement of the objectives of the community.

Given this model, one can appreciate that there will be some Facilitators who are very well versed with Content and will have interventions loaded with such. Others will be good in Process and will simply be moderating without any input at all to what is being discussed by the group. The third – those good in Set-up would have to be very good at both the Content and the Process.

Again, an on-line community can make use of the wiki, the blog, readers, tweeters, forums, groups, diigos, SL meetings, Elluminate meetings, etc. to facilitate learning about a subject matter. But Effective Facilitation will be achieve only when the question of how one can ‘set them all up seamlessly’ is answered — leading to total integration, thus enabling members to have a handle on how well they are doing, individually and as a community, relative to the 3 essential competencies listed above.

moving on…

Moving on the focus of the ‘course’ at this stage, of looking at the role and behaviour that distinguish Facilitator, Moderator and Teacher, and then to describe the skills requirements of each, I browsed through Extra Resources and found Leigh’s To Facilitate or to Teach and was intrigued by the following:

“Either I yield to the tradition of schooled learning and assume the role of teacher, instructor and assessor and forgo the role of facilitator, or I invest a lot more time with these courses and develop my skills as a communicator and become more sophisticated in ways of moving expectations towards a facilitated and individualised learning environment.”

I believe we get caught in such a dilemma when we take Facilitating as an exclusive term. The dilemma is resolved once we go back to its basic definition as: “to make possible or easier” And this is where context plays a very important role, because in the context of ‘facilitating as making it possible or easier,” then we can be facilitating as Teachers when we make learning possible or easier, and we can be facilitating as Moderator when we make discussion or exchange of information possible/easier. In the same manner, we can facilitate as a Teacher when we make whatever we do (lectures, presentations, demonstrations, etc.) easier.

In the context of where I am most involved in (Corporate Learning), we can be said to be facilitating in many roles. See illustration below.

Range of Facilitating Activities

By using two dimensions: “Participation in the Group’s Process/Life” on one side and “Contribution to Content” on the other, we can place certain activities accordingly, e.g., providing the platform where learning can happen (f2f or digital) will be both low in Process Participation (PP) and Content Contribution (CC) – yet can be still considered as facilitating; acting as host to a group (f2f or digital) will be low in CC but high on PP; moderating a group will be high both on CC and PP; while making a presentation of a pre-produced material would be high on CC but low on PP — again, all activities or roles entailing basic facilitating, which is to “to make possible/easier.”

In the next illustration below, one can also see that even Technology itself can perform different “facilitating” roles.

Technology as failitator?

For instance, Second life can be classified under all four quadrants where:

  • As a simple platform that anyone can use for their own purpose, it is a simple low CC and low PP facilitator (making possible and easier whatever you want);
  • As a ‘turf’ of a particular site, an owner can simply act as a Host, facilitating whatever you are looking for but within pre-determined ambiance of the place (low CC, high PP);
  • As a venue for the activities of a Community of Practice, it can be used with both high CC and PP; and
  • As a place where a company such as Reuters can download their activities or advertisements, it is facilitating with high CC and low PP.

  • So, to the question of whether to teach, to facilitate, to moderate or use any of the other terms? The answer is, It still depends on the context.

    Still learning…

    The thoughts shared by Amy as to Facilitating being that of “stewarding” & “nurturing” than formally “facilitating” and the role Leigh has modelled in this FOC08 as “host,” triggered a few more insights at my end:

    First, couldn’t the biggest contribution of a Facilitator in a community be that of hospitality? In a community, there will be many participants coming from very diverse backgrounds. Some would be more active and outspoken while others will be monitoring and silent; some would be more experienced and advanced in years while others will be relatively inexperienced and young; some would be extremely articulate and academic while others would be inarticulate and pragmatic, etc. The role of the Facilitator could be that of providing the atmosphere where members can optimally interact with one another (i.e., with as many members) and subsequently benefit according to their own needs. In this respect, the following description of the ideal interaction among participants as described in the video by Michael Wesch on the Future of Education is most relevant (thanks to link provided by Nellie).

    Hospitality is beautifully captured in the verses of Rumi as follows:

    “This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.
    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
    Welcome and entertain them all!. . .
    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    meet them at the door laughing,
    and invite them in.
    Be grateful for whoever comes,
    because each has been sent
    as guide from beyond.”

    Second, doesn’t the hospitality a Facilitator need to provide progressively increase with increasing number of personalities in the community. For instance, I can’t help but anticipate our FOC08 interaction in Second Life (SL). Potentially, a participant can be twice removed from his/her real self, i.e., self 1 would be their “real” personality in the physical world, self 2 would be their personality in the FOC08 class and self 3 would be their personality as represented in their avatar in SL. Facilitating (providing hospitality) would probably be “easier” if every participant can have an integrated self (i.e., self 1, self 2 and self 3 are all the same). However, it becomes extremely interesting if you assume the extreme case of everyone taking on three distinctly different selves. How many relationships does that create again according to Reeds law?”

    Just learning…

    How communities prosper/last

    It is not strong individual leadership (facilitator, moderator, etc) that sustains community but rather the continuing commitment of a group of people who have seriously taken into their heart the love for the community and what it stands for. Invariably, there will be many “members” who would claim to be members of a particular community. It is only a few, however, who will be there almost all the time getting the business of the community going.

    A good model in life is the organization known as Opus Dei which has members defined at different levels. In a way, the people at the core (which in their case are called Numeraries) are the ones who are really “running” the community. There are those who are at the periphery, like cooperators or in some communities are considered simply “friends of the community.” I would consider those who are a the core of any on-line communities as people who are totally committed to it while those who are lurking as similar to the cooperators, supporters or “friends of” the community.

    While the superficial problem at the lower end has been described by Christopher Johnson as “greatest problem with virtual communities is withdrawing, or attrition” and which he suggests “can be reduced somewhat through good facilitation techniques and adequate scaffolding, especially in the cases of online communication techniques and technical support,” the deeper concern that communities face is that of getting people to upgrade their commitment from “lurkers” to core members. The more core members, the stronger the community.

    Now, some will suggest that technology is a problem or a big concern. In a way it is… because an online community has to go online. In another sense it is not, in that it will always benefit from improvements in the platform provided by any technology. As in real life, the only critical 3-angeled question that should be asked of any aspiring technology is “is it better (easier to work with), cheaper, and faster?”.

    On Communities & Virtual Learning Communities

    This week’s focus is one closest to my heart – Communities. Sometimes I wonder whether the use of the word community has any actual differentiation from other terms such as Networks, Groups, Teams, etc. While classifications according to participation of members (such as those described in The Art of Building Virtual Communities are useful, they may not really give the distinctive characteristic of a community. I’d propose that the way to define, in relation to other terms used for a collection of individuals is as follows:

    vlc model Everything in the virtual community is dependent on the basic unit of virtual interaction which is the network. It is also the basic connection of individuals as in e-mails, ftp, web, etc. Within that network will be what I would classify as either groups, teams and communities.
    A group is any collection of individuals. It’s distinctiveness from network nodes is that groups would usually require some form of membership or, at the very least, some categorical identification.

    Some groups will further be defined by the commonality of a goal or objective that is being pursued through an intentional cooperative effort of the members. This we will call as Teams.

    Even more defined are communities – which will be a collection of individuals, with pre-defined membership and a common objective/goal being pursued, yet further distinguished by three important characteristics membes exhibit, as follows:

  • Responsibility. Communities are responsible for their own life and functioning. Responsibility is not left upon the coordinator, facilitator, moderator or any one single individual to control. Instead, everyone monitors the way the community lives its spirit;
  • Sharing. Communities thrive on the sharing that members do. There is an open outpouring of contributions from members. Members grow by both giving and taking from the community; and
  • Celebration. Communities enjoy and find meaning in being themselves. This is brought to celebration of togetherness — of wanting to be with one another — a celebration of being!
  • From this it is clear that while all communities are networks, groups and teams, not all networks, groups and teams are communities. In the same manner that while all teams are groups and networks, not all networks and groups are teams. And while all groups are networks, not all networks are groups.

    I believe this is an expanded model that goes beyond what Stephen Downes is talking about Networks and Groups.