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Facilitating online groups: First steps
Updated by Tessa Gray

The first steps...

So, you've started a group to connect with others...so now what? If we all want to set a collaborative, co-constructed tone for our online community, then some of the following facilitation strategies might help.

Step 1: Socialising

Shaking handsAs we begin to establish this community, we might need to think about what social networking actions or approaches we might do online, so that targeted group of individuals can feel comfortable, welcome and supported within our communities.

If we want to be an active part of this community, then we'll each want to be seen to:

  • Be visible online with an updated profile (image/avatar/information/passions/role/contact details)
  • Make friends with others in our group
  • Introduce yourself/ourselves in the designated discussion threads.

When you see new people join your group, you can acknowledge their arrival and send them a message on their message board similar to this:

Kia ora XXX, thank you for joining the XXX group. It is envisioned that this group will become a central hub for xxx.

You might like to take a few moments to introduce yourself, tell us where you're from, share a photo or perhaps your mihi in this welcome thread XXXX. This is a great way to establish and connect a community online, so we'd love to hear from you. Ngā mihi nui, XXX :-)

There's probably no point inviting people to this party - they turn up, knock on the door, take a look around and realise there’s no host and the other guests are all hiding.

                                         Parliment

Step 2: Access, motivation and co-construction

You will want to make the purpose of your group clear from the onset and start modelling this in facilitated conversations online. For example, go beyond socialising (welcoming) to resource sharing, knowledge building - to reflective practice, resulting in some kind of collective action. 

For example:

  • Model why you are coming together in a group by initiating threaded conversations.
  • Be a role model yourself, demonstrate good practice, and provide regular postings - related to localised need, share stories
  • Make yourself visible via personal messages or in the public forum (if relevant)
  • Take people on a walking tour of your group. During face-to-face events is also an invaluable time to do this.
  • As well as inviting people into the groups and sending personal messages to welcome them, shoulder tap and mentor others to engage, respond, ask questions online.

Step 3: Between face-to-face events

The blended part of supporting educators, leaders, community members with their PLD, might mean considering

  • What actions/outcomes/events are going to happen before/during/after any face-to-face (f2f) events? 
  • Are these going to be addressed virtually or in person? 

If the methodology or delivery method is virtual, then we can ask ourselves...

  • What resources (readings, video, research, collaborative docs, images, websites) can be 'presented' online prior to a live event/visit?
  • What understandings can be wrapped around these resources prior to this?
  • What trends/conversations have emerged during imagelive events/visits that we can leveraged online?
  • What stories, resources, templates, ideas have been shared during live events/visits that can be leveraged online?
  • Do I know who is engaging in the conversations online and who would benefit from engaging in these conversations, if they aren't already?
  • How am I making these conversations visible to my audience during live events/visits?
  • How can I mentor my audience to be proactive online connectors/feeders/communicators with each other?
  • How can I help to scaffold conversations that model information exchange, knowledge construction and development?

Step 4: Trouble shooting

Do you...

  • See any perceived issues arising with the group you've created? Technical or otherwise? 
  • Need any further clarity on facilitating online?
  • Have some ideas or resources of your own to share, so everyone can gain a collective understanding of what you're/we're trying to achieve?
  • Have enough time to mentor/monitor the online space?

Step 5: Growing community members

In the edTalks video on, Establishing a professional learning community, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach talks about establishing key roles for community members – as champions'go to' peoplementorscheerleaders

Who could...

  • be champion of your group?
  • help to start and respond to threads?
  • make contact/message with other group members?
  • be mentored to help facilitate your community (see tips above)?

Adding depth to online facilitation

Online framework

Many of us working online over the years, have come to use this model as a framework to support effective online facilitation.

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Facilitation strategies resources
 

Huge acknowledgement and gratitude to Karen Melhuish and Chrissie Butler for helping to collate this material originally for Blended e-Learning team and Te Toi Tupu.

Image source Creative Commons: 123

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