As you begin your online course, you will want to consider how to guide your students through the course. In other words, how will you facilitate their learning journey? Facilitation in an online course refers to the faculty’s ability to construct an environment where student discourse expands student knowledge and promotes the learning objectives.
Facilitating discourse can nurture student engagement and motivate students to interact in a knowledge-building process (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001), and this, in turn, supports learning objectives. Student success relies on the collaborative dialogue and activities that create higher-order thinking skills.
Faculty must relinquish the traditional role of lecturer and instead focus on creating a student-centered learning environment. To achieve this, the faculty member takes on new roles as a cultivator, engager, motivator, and moderator for the course. With so many other responsibilities, how can faculty become expert facilitators?
Become an Expert Facilitator
Cultivate an inclusive and proactive course environment.
Students need to be able to express themselves, develop awareness of others, and feel they are part of a group (Garrison et al., 2000). Students need to feel safe sharing their perspectives and opinions and contribute in a respectful manner. To create the right environment, faculty can first define what the participation requirements are and what behaviors are expected for the course. Many faculty accomplish this through a course policies page. Faculty need to model these behaviors and hold students accountable to the demands of the course. Start the course by offering your own introduction and creating an introduction activity or discussion for students so they can get to know one another and begin to build trust.
Engage with students and show them who you are.
Students want to know it is a real person on the other end of the computer. Share meaningful personal experiences and let them know who you are as an instructor and as a person. You can implement this through direct and specific feedback for students and open-ended discussions where you and the students can add different perspectives and learn more about one another. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences in the field of study as these are great ways for students to gain valuable perspectives on their future careers.
Motivate students to achieve the learning outcomes.
Provide students with ample opportunities to foster their knowledge base through research as well as listening to other students’ perspectives. Promote student interactions by encouraging them to participate in group discussions and activities. Identify and discuss agreements or disagreements, and provide closure to open-ended discussions.
Moderate your students.
Students develop best when they are assured of their progress and understand how to perform. Part of cultivating an inclusive environment means consistently review interactions in your course to ensure your expectations for participation and behaviors are being met. Moderate discussion to confirm productive conversations and shape the direction of them when needed. Lastly, offer multiple check-ins with students where they can discuss their grades, struggles, and successes. Having virtual office hours and providing consistent feedback are two important strategies for moderating your students and guaranteeing their success.
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking and computer conferencing: A model and tool to assess cognitive presence. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7–23